For most people, surviving the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Europe would be the defining moment of their lives. Men like Major General Sidney Shachnow aren’t most people. The Lithuanian-born Shachnow survived a forced labor camp and went on to join the U.S. Army, serve in Vietnam, and lead the Army Special Forces’ ultra-secret World War III would-be suicide mission in Berlin during the Cold War.

He was only in his mid-50s when the Berlin Wall came down. After almost 40 years in the U.S. Army, he was inducted in the Infantry Officer’s Hall of Fame and is still regarded as a Special Forces legend. He passed away in his North Carolina home at age 83 on Sept. 18, 2018. His life and service are so legendary, inside and out of the Special Forces community, that it’s worth another look.

Shachnow was born in Soviet Lithuania in 1934. In 1941, an invasion from Nazi Germany overran the Red Army in the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa. Initially greeted as liberators, the Nazis soon began their policy of Lebensraum – “living space” – to create room for German settlers to populate areas of Eastern Europe that Hitler believed should be reserved for the greater German Reich.

This meant the people already living in those areas, which included Shachnow’s native Lithuania, would have to be removed — either through physically removing them or extermination. The young Shachnow was not only a native Lithuanian, but he was also from a Jewish family. He spent three years in the Kovno concentration camp. He survived where most of his extended family did not. When the Red Army liberated the camp, Shachnow fled West.