Dean Meyer Hosts Q&A With Dan Rosenthal, Son of Hero 1941 Alumnus Featured in “Masters of the Air”

Masters of the Air

Dan Rosenthal, who spent the last decade helping filmmakers depict his father, Lt. Col. Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal ’41, in the new Steven Spielberg war drama series Masters of the Air, visited the Law School on Thursday to share the story of his dad’s life and heroics with our community.  

The event, which included the screening of several key clips from the Apple TV+ series (which may be viewed here) began coalescing several months before the series premiered in January, when Rosenthal shared news of the series and his dad’s role in it with President and Joseph Crea Dean David D. Meyer. 

“I looked up Robert Rosenthal to learn more about him and was suitably blown away, and enormously proud that Brooklyn Law School has such an incredible figure connected with our history and was so grateful that Dan was willing to come and share the story with us,” Meyer said. 

The illustrious Brooklyn Law alumnus, known both as “Rosie” and “Legal Eagle” in his military pilot days, was a Brooklyn native who flew 52 missions over Germany as a World War II Army Air Corps bomber pilot and survived after his plane was shot down twice. Depicted in the series by actor Nate Mann, the young pilot and his cockpit maneuvers became the stuff of legend among fighters in the “Bloody Hundredth,” the nickname for the 100th Bomb Group in the Eighth Air Force, which is the focus of the series.  

One thing the series brings home is how frightening the missions were. For example, since U.S. fighter planes did not have the range at that time to fly all the way to Europe as escorts, the bomber planes that the 100th pilots flew were on their own, serving as “sitting ducks” as they attempted to bomb enemy territory. 

“As my father would say, during his first 25 missions, [the bombers] were escorted by the U.S. planes to the to the edge of Europe, to the coastline. And then we were promptly escorted by the German fighter pilots to and from the target,” said Dan, a former president of the 100th Bomb Group Foundation, which his father co-founded. 

To add to the terror, the bombers themselves provided little protection for those within.  

“During World War Two, it was so bloody up in the sky…you were flying five miles up in the air in open windows … it was 50 to 60 below inside the plane,” Dan said. “These guys would have to wear extremely heavy suits, and they had new oxygen (systems) that they were utilizing. And the pilot or copilot would call around every five minutes up in those conditions to check in whether the oxygen was working.” 

One time, the co-pilot of a 100th Bomb Group plane had ice develop around his feet, and he had to have them chiseled out of the plane after returning from a mission. Waist gunners would find they had to take off their gloves to work the weapons, and their hands would stick to the cold metal. 

After the war, Robert Rosenthal went on to serve as an assistant to the U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, meeting Dan’s mom, another lawyer, on the way to Europe. They married in Germany.  

Robert died of multiple myeloma in 2007. He was inducted into the Jewish-American Hall of Fame, which featured him in the documentary “From Brooklyn to Berlin,” where his storytelling abilities, keen memory for detail and drive to do his best were on display.  

“He was my best friend, the hero role model, and somebody we could easily share a laugh or a cry or an ice cream with,” said Dan who described his father’s entertaining personality. “He would make us breakfast every day. And on the occasional days that he would make pancakes, we would challenge him to see how high up he could flip these pancakes.” 

The pancakes had to be cleaned off the ceiling, he recalled. His dad grew up in Flatbush, at 21st Street and Avenue S, which was farmland at the time. “At one point, he rode a horse down Flatbush,” Dan recalled. Despite a love of singing, he was ejected from the glee club at James Madison High School after the teacher discovered he was the source of a “sour note.”  

Instead of his beloved music, his father played football and baseball and was a “fabulous athlete.” He attended Brooklyn College and then Brooklyn Law School, after finding that he had a real interest in constitutional law. His family was of humble means, and Robert worked as a soda jerk, and in a cafeteria, attending the Law School at night.  

“So, what he wound up doing was he developed this photographic memory of all of the case studies and all of the notes that he was learning and memorized everything,” Dan said. After graduation, he worked as a lawyer, but as a history buff, became deeply disturbed by the rise of antisemitism. His concern heightened especially after the Kristallnacht pogrom of Nov. 9, 1938.  

“The country was severely divided and didn't want to enter the war. My father was feeling very, very frustrated by that time,” Dan said. He felt that something had to be done to curb Nazism and stop Adolph Hitler, whom he considered not just a threat to Jews like himself, but “a menace to decent people everywhere." He enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor, and the rest is history. 

Joining Dan Rosenthal at the Q&A was his son, Sam Rosenthal, who played a gunner in Masters of the Air, as well as his wife, Paula Rosenthal; daughter Joanna Rosenthal; and niece, Kate Schneiderman. See event photos on Flickr.