My husband Phil came into my office the other day and delivered the news. "Irving passed away. His funeral is the day after tomorrow." My jaw dropped, my eyes filled, and I thought, "He’s not suffering anymore." After four heart attacks and a bout with Crohn’s Disease, our friend and comrade, Irving Hauptman had a difficult last few years.
Irving was a decorated Korean War vet who earned two bronze stars and was company clerk in the 453rd Construction Battalion. That suited his personality. He worked at International Multifoods for 30 years as a bakery equipment designer and could be exacting and demanding. First and foremost in his life was his family five kids and his wife Mary, a fellow veteran. His patriotism was fervent, his defense of the Jewish people fiery. He even carved the mahogany Jewish chaplain’s insignia that hangs in the Paramus Veterans Home’s Chapel.
Irving was senior vice commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 498 for life, it seemed and occasionally district and department vice commander, too. As a proud JWVer he represented his comrades by volunteering for local politicians or charity groups, doing things no one else wanted to do stuffing envelopes, collecting goods. Irving’s way was visit veterans’ hospitals, get out the vote, cook for the homeless, put flags on veterans’ graves on Memorial Day, clip coupons for charity, bring food to Shelter Our Sisters whatever it was, he and Mary were always available to make it happen.
Irving and Mary, in their JWV caps and matching outfits, were fixtures in our lives. They marched in every Teaneck Fourth of July parade until last year. For years, right after the parade, Irving and Mary hosted the annual JWV barbecue in their backyard. Now we do it at our place. Irving’s legacy (he taught me to parboil the chickens before putting them on the grill) was to celebrate America.
Did we always appreciate him? Honestly, not enough. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. And therefore the JWVers honored him with a military service, a privilege for those of us who participated in the solemn ceremony.
We met our compatriots from the Jewish War Veterans at Temple Emeth in Teaneck and then marched into the sanctuary. We stood at attention behind the traditional simple pine box that was draped in the Stars and Stripes, as the JWV state commander performed the service. Then we were ordered to give the slow salute, the acknowledgment of Irving’s status as a veteran and our peer, an acknowledgment of the esteem in which we held him. Phil, the post commander (Irving always called him the Commando), offered a eulogy, reflecting on how Irving had always been a bit of a pain in the neck, a gadfly who constantly forced us to hold a mirror up to ourselves to ask if we were doing as much as he was, to ask if we were doing our fair share. Who was more dedicated to the cause of making the world a better place than Irving? We gave another slow salute, and filed out in two ranks.
The Hauptman daughters described their dad as playful, and talked about his obsession with his tools and workshop, the envy of all their friends. He could do anything electrical or build a birdhouse and then turn around and demand that their dates come to the door so he could meet (and evaluate) them. His son, Eddie, delivered a funny, honest, loving eulogy that reflected his dad’s sense of humor and integrity. Irving, who knew he was no saint, made Eddie promise he wouldn’t lie at the service and make grand claims about his father. So Eddie told his father’s favorite (unprintable) joke. Everyone who knew Irving knew Eddie was right on point. Eddie told the truth and had us laughing and crying as we remembered our own moments with Irving.
The chapel ceremony over, we JWVers stood in rows at the door, once again saluting our comrade as he was brought to the hearse that would take him to Cedar Park.
At the cemetery, the ground soft and muddy, the bugler played the plaintive tones of Taps. Old Glory was lifted from the coffin and the flag folded in the timeless ceremony that links all those who have laid their lives on the line for their country. As the commander of the honor guard handed Mary the flag, I heard him murmur, "We present this flag to you in thanks for the service rendered by your husband for the people of the United States of America." We saluted Irving for the very last time.
Sr. Vice Commander Irving Hauptman, at ease, sir.