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In 1927 Walter Fradin, Fred Hecht and Harry Bader were childhood friends in Spring Valley New York. They were Jewish boys, around 7 years old. They became buddies and grew up together, helping their families scratch by in the depression, becoming hellraisers constantly in trouble with their teachers and other assorted grownups.In the early 30's, Walter and a number of other Jewish and non-Jewish boys got into several running brawls with the local Bundists, who would come up from NYC and hold pro-Nazi rallies/drunken parties at places like the Platzl Brauhaus, near Pomona, NY. After having the snot beat out of them, the Bundists stopped coming.The boys graduated from High School in 1939. Walter worked in his fathers grocery store and had been accepted by U.of N. Carolina, but there wasn't enough money to send him, so he kept working. By then, Hitler had been in power for over 7 years, concentration camps were being planned and built, the Nazi regime had swallowed Austria and Czechoslovakia, Poland was on the brink, the Japanese were threatening to overrun Asia, and the world was descending into a frightening violent madness.After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, lots of young people volunteered to join the armed forces, including Walter, his sister Charlotte, Fred and Harry. Walter joined the Army Air Corp and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt., a co-pilot and a navigator. Fred joined the Army infantry and Ben joined the Marines. Charlotte was accepted into the first class of female officers for the Army Air Corp, and was also commissioned as a 2nd LT in 1942.Walter married Marjorie on the 4th of July, 1942, and after a 10 day honeymoon, shipped out to the Pacific. Paul Lefkowitz married Marjorie's sister Bertha. Paul and his three brothers also had enlisted in the army. Many young people got married and then were separated by the war, in Walter and Marjories case, for 3 years.Fred was killed in action in Africa near the end of 1942. Walter, Harry, Paul and his brothers all survived the war. Walter flew many missions against Japanese targets, while Harry went island hopping with the Marines in some of the heaviest fighting in the Pacific theater.In early 1946 Walter was approached by Ben Wild, an older Jewish man and an American veteran of WW1. Ben told Walter that a local post of the Jewish War Veterans group should be formed in Spring Valley since so many young Jewish men from that area had served. Walter agreed and let Ben convince him to organize it. Walter was 26.The Jewish War Veterans (JWV) is the oldest veterans group in the United States, now in its 111 year. Walter visited the Hecht family and told them that he wanted to name the new post after Freddy, his buddy who had fallen in Africa. The family agreed and the Fred Hecht post of the Jewish War Veterans was born. Walter became the founding President in 1946. The next year, Moishe served as President, and the following year, Harry did.In 1947 some of the vets decided to help the Jewish fighters in Palestine in their struggle for independence. Walter and some of the others quietly visited many of the veterans and made their pitch, and in that process, collected over 100 guns of various kinds, war surplus and souveniers.The guns were stored in the back room of a kosher butcher in Spring Valley, and one night a representative of the Haggenah, a Jewish underground fighting group, came and took the weapons. According to Pauls brother Moishe, the Haggenah man was shocked that so many guns had been collected and that they were in such good shape. The Jewish fighters were greatly outnumbered and had few weapons.Over the years. the Fred Hecht post of the Jewish War Veterans became one of the most active Veterans groups in the US, doing tremendous fundraising for American veterans of all faiths. Today they are supporting returning Iraq war vets. Many of todays veterans are older than the vets of the Vietnam era when the typical age was 18, 19 20. There are many Iraq wr vets in their 30's and 40's and older. Some of them have been sent on multiple duty tours and the ones who had small businesses have seen many of these ventures go under, their families have struggled, and they face problems that are unique to older vets.I got an email from my Walter, my dad, around a month ago inviting me to a breakfast hosted by the JWV, honoring its members. I accepted and last Sunday we went, along with my brother. Like so many vets of his era, my dad is a pretty modest guy. When we got to the event, I discovered it was not just an event to honor the members of the post, as my dad had told me, but to honor the past Presidents, especially the first President, my dad Walter. Over two hundred people were in attendance, with many older vets in their 70's 80's and 90s, mostly WW2 and Korea, some Vietnam vets too. I got friendly with one of the ex-Presidents, a Brigadier by the name of Elliot Herman, who served in Korea and 2 tours in Vietnam. Pretty friendly guy for a General, with a deadpan sense of humor. The local congressman was there, several local judges and assemblymen, and some media representatives. Lots of speeches were made, thankfully mostly short. During the breaks the politicians went trolling for votes and worked the crowd, which was friendly enough.Of the 60 Presidents of this post, only 10 are still alive. They were all invited to make speeches, in reverse chronological order. When they got to the last third President, Harry Bader, now 85, shook his head and shouted that too many speeches had already been made. Everyone laughed. Then they handed the microphone to the second President, my uncle Moishe, now 94 years old and in attendance with his girlfriend (I kid you not). Moishe is in great shape and his mind and speech still sharp. He gave a wonderful speech, about 5 minutes long, talking about the old days, the butcher shop in Spring Valley, his brothers, now all dead, his fallen comrades. Tears were in attendance.And then finally, the first President, my Dad, now 86 years old, had his turn. He also gave a great short speech, about being a Jewish American, being in a room with his old comrades, some of whom he had known for 75 years, and again, tears and laughter. He recounted how proud his parents were to be able to say that their two oldest children, my father and my aunt, were officers in the American armed forces. To Jews in most other countries, serving in the armed forces, let alone being officers, was beyond imagination.It was a privilege to be there, to see these old men and their families embrace each other, recount the recently departed and the shrinking number of those remaining, seeing men who had not seen each other in 50 years in some cases (happened twice to my dad) find each other again.During dark times, and it sure seems like we are entering an era of dark times, it is easy to get discouraged and apathetic. There is violence all over the globe, governments and movements that are venal, corrupt, aggressive and ruthless, and a great fear for the future is taking hold.But spend time with a group like this and you realize that the human race has some nobility, has some good, and we do not have the luxury to be resigned, to be complacent, to be discouraged.It's our turn now.Dov ben WalterPs – I did use real names. Thought about using fake names for security reasons, but what the hell, these guys deserve the recognition … just don't stalk them, lol, cause even though they are all old, they know how to defend themselves, trust me.
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