Everyone has a story

Everyone has a story

We’re still important, Jewish War Veterans say — and philanthropic, too

The Lt. James I. Platt JWV Post 651 of Fair Lawn installed officers earlier this month. From left, appointee Jack Wall, Commander Melvin Kaplan, New Jersey Department Commander Larry Rosenthal, Vice Commander George Pollack, and Vice Commander Jules Corn. (Courtesy JWV)
The Lt. James I. Platt JWV Post 651 of Fair Lawn installed officers earlier this month. From left, appointee Jack Wall, Commander Melvin Kaplan, New Jersey Department Commander Larry Rosenthal, Vice Commander George Pollack, and Vice Commander Jules Corn. (Courtesy JWV)

Edward Rosenblatt of Fair Lawn, soon to be installed as assistant commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 651, is justifiably proud of his organization, founded in 1946. With some 40 members, ranging in age from 85 to 96, the group includes former soldiers, sailors, and air force personnel who fought in World War II, Korea, and now, with the addition of its most recent member, Vietnam.

The majority of the post’s members live in Fair Lawn, Mr. Rosenblatt said, although its commander, 89-year-old Melvin Kaplan, lives in Elmwood Park. The post originally was housed in a building on Fair Lawn’s Plaza Road that now is home to a nursery school.

Founded by some 35 veterans of World War II, the post originally was led by Commander Lou Greenberg. When he died, the leadership role went to Mr. Kaplan, then senior vice commander, who has held it for many years. His goal, Mr. Kaplan said, was “to make 651 a viable post and to service veterans and the veterans’ cause.” And, he added, “to try to do good,” citing the post’s many philanthropic endeavors.

“You have to give great credit to Melvin Kaplan,” Mr. Rosenblatt said. “He runs this organization and tries to help everyone and do the right thing.” Now he is stepping down. At the upcoming installation, on June 26, George Pollack of Fair Lawn will become the post’s new commander.

Mr. Rosenblatt, at 85 one of the post’s younger members, says he is most proud of the fact that JWV reminds everyone that “we’ve served our country. Jews are a minority in the world and have served as well as people of all other faiths. We served with distinction,” he added. He has two medals. “They all mean something,” he said emotionally. “We are Americans.”

Acknowledging that the membership, given its age, is likely to decrease in the next decade, he hopes that younger people, veterans of more recent wars, will join the post.

“I hope we can get more members,” he said. “We’ve done a great deal for our country. Young people give up years of their life.” And while he understands that younger veterans, maybe now in their 40s, will look at his group and see only people appreciably older, he also hopes that they will see that “we have something in common. We’re all veterans.”

Mr. Kaplan said that new young people are not joining — “they’ve got two jobs, they’re busy, they’ve got children,” he said. That’s why “all veterans organizations are falling by the wayside. We sold our building and the Veterans of Foreign Wars sold theirs. It’s a difficult thing to maintain.” Still, he joked, “if you feed them, they will come,” noting that some nonmembers have attended when a free breakfast or free show is offered.

Both Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Rosenblatt are proud of the post’s philanthropic efforts. Through fundraising efforts such as the “Shake the Can” collection in front of ShopRite in Fair Lawn, the group awards a cash scholarship each year to two top students chosen by Fair Lawn High School. It also donates to a wide variety of Jewish organizations, including synagogues in the West Point area and in Annapolis.

“We donate to all Jewish organizations,” Mr. Rosenblatt said. “While our donations are not in the millions, they still help.” The group has contributed to the Jewish National Fund, Israel Bonds, Hatzalah, and various causes in Israel.

“Most people don’t know how philanthropic we are,” Mr. Rosenblatt said. He pointed to a recent group outing requiring a $25 bus fee, paid in advance. “Some took their checks back if they didn’t go, but some left them as charitable donations.”

In addition to monetary donations, on Memorial Day the group brings American flags to the gravesides of veterans at several local cemeteries. “We have a contingent of men at the cemeteries who put up American flags at the graves of veterans,” Mr. Rosenblatt said. Because some of the cemeteries are overgrown, “they go out and spend hours looking for names and putting up flags.” Among these volunteers, he said, is former U.S. Navy seaman and Stanley Sanders of Fair Lawn.

Every post member has a story, Mr. Rosenblatt said. His own military service, in the U.S. Army, was spent in Austria in the early 1950s, when the country was under the control of the United States, England, France, and Russia, under an agreement reached during World War II. Working in the ordnance division, housed in a bus factory taken over by the Americans, he helped oversee the maintenance of 655 vehicles.

He also participated in some military exercises. “We had some maneuvers, dressed up in white uniforms because of the snow,” he said. “We had to lie down in the snow. It meant something to the officers,” showing that “we were prepared.”

Mr. Kaplan, a naval veteran, was an electrician aboard the U.S.S. Mississippi, built in 1917. “I went from boot camp to a Grade A electricians school, a civilian college in Tuxedo Park, Maryland,” he said. “I lived on campus. When I graduated, I went to the ship.”

Another 651 troop member “was in the famous Harmonicats, who became popular in the 1930s,” Mr. Rosenblatt said. “He’s about 96 years old. He enlisted in 1940 and came out in ‘44 or ‘45. Another one, in Paramus, was in the U.S. Army band. He played trumpet.” The post just got its first veteran from the Vietnam War, “a full-bird colonel in the Air Force. He had to leave because of his age.”

Irving Beer of Fair Lawn, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the South Pacific, was a mailman in an area beset by typhoons, Mr. Rosenblatt said. “He was in a flat-bottomed boat and he didn’t know if he would live or die.” Mr. Beer worked in that area for two or three years and came out of the service in his early 20s, Mr. Rosenblatt added.

Former soldier Murray Richman, 93, also of Fair Lawn, had hoped to be an aviator in the service, but a medical condition kept him from going overseas. Instead, Mr. Richman remained in Maryland, where he had received his training, for several years, performing various jobs for the U.S. Army.

“Many members entered the service after I left,” Mr. Rosenblatt said. “Some served on the front lines in Korea. It wasn’t a great place to be.”

Nor was it always easy being  Jewish in the military.

“One of our members,” — Murray Richman — “said there was a fellow in his group who called him a Jew bastard,” Mr. Rosenblatt said. At the time, Mr. Richman was about 21. “He said, ‘I’d like to talk to you outside.’ He lifted his hand and knocked the fellow out. Everyone has a story.”

Another troop member, 85-year-old Julius Corn, not only is the post’s treasurer but visits the Paramus Veterans Home every week with a few others from the organization to lead games of bingo. “We entertain them by having bingo,” Mr. Rosenblatt said. “They enjoy the few dollars they make. Everybody loves to be a winner.”

Mr. Corn, who served in Korea during the war there, is the post’s senior vice commander and a member of the Fair Lawn Veterans Council and the Bergen County Veterans Council. He noted that Mel Kaplan also sits on the Bergen County Council, while George Pollack is on both bodies.

Mr. Rosenblatt said that after the post sold its Plaza Road building more than five years ago, it used the money to do “nice things for the people in our organization” — for example, funding trips to restaurants, plays, and dances. The wives of former members always are welcome to these excursions, he added. A recent trip took members to the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side and later to Katz’s delicatessen. “We couldn’t afford to run it,” Mr. Kaplan said of the post’s building. “We got a good price from it. We spend this money on veterans and on philanthropy.”

Troop leaders will take an active role at Fair Lawn’s Memorial Day Parade on May 30, riding or walking the route. “We are important,” Mr. Rosenblatt said. “We were, we are, and we will still be important” in the years to come. “We have done a great deal for our country.”

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