Melvin Kaplan of Elmwood Park, the longtime commander of Jewish War Veterans Lt. J.I. Platt Post 651, Fair Lawn, died last week at the age of 89.
According to fellow veterans, he will be sorely missed.
“He was a good leader, really devoted to the post,” Julius Corn, JWV’s treasurer for the last five years, said. “He bent over backwards for it.” Indeed, he added, since Mr. Kaplan’s wife, Millicent, died, about 16 years ago, “he spent almost 100 percent of his time working for the post.”
In an interview with this paper in May, Mr. Kaplan said that his goal was “to make 651 a viable post and to service veterans and the veterans’ cause.” And, he added, “to try to do good.” He cited the post’s many philanthropic endeavors.
“You have to give great credit to Melvin Kaplan,” said Edward Rosenblatt, the post’s new commander. “He tried to help everyone and do the right thing.” For example, through fundraising efforts such as the “Shake the Can” collection in front of ShopRite in Fair Lawn, the group has been able to award 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,” said Mr. Rosenblatt, crediting Mr. Kaplan for the philanthropic bent of the post, which has contributed to Jewish National Fund, Israel Bonds, Hatzalah, and various causes in Israel. In addition to monetary donations, on Memorial Day the group brings American flags to the gravesides of veterans at several local cemeteries.
In May, Mr. Kaplan, a naval veteran of the Korean War who served from 1949 to 1953, said he was an electrician aboard the U.S.S. Mississippi. The battleship was built in 1917, saw service in both world wars, and then was converted to test guided missiles.
“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.”
A realist, the commander was quite aware that veterans groups around the country are rapidly shrinking. “All veterans organizations are falling by the wayside,” he said. “We sold our building and the Veterans of Foreign Wars sold theirs. It’s a difficult thing to maintain.” Still, suggesting that young people are not joining because “they’ve got two jobs, they’re busy, and they’ve got children,” he joked, “if you feed them, they will come.” Some nonmembers have attended when a free breakfast or free show is offered, he reported.
Mr. Kaplan was born in Manhattan and lived in Elmwood Park for 59 years. He worked for Allmake Appliances in Teaneck, retiring in 2005. While he devoted himself to his JWV post, he also served on the Elmwood Park Planning Board and was a former vice chairman of that body. In addition, he served on the town’s rent leveling board and on the Bergen County Veterans Council and other veterans groups throughout New Jersey. He received the Bergen County Executive Volunteer of the Year Service Award in 1994.
Mr. Kaplan’s survivors include his daughters, Samone Kaplan and Felice Preefer, his son-in-law, Alan Preefer, and two granddaughters, Michelle and Allison.