The oldest war veterans organization in the country is still going strong on the North Shore.
Membership in the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America Post 336 may have decreased over the decades — the name even changed this year from Three Village to Col. Mickey Marcus Post 336 — but nothing has changed when it comes to the members’ mission of supporting their fellow veterans.
Stan Feltman, a member of the post, sells poppies to raise funds for veterans regularly outside the Middle Island Walmart or the 7-Eleven on Route 112 just south of Route 83. Recently he helped raise $5,000 for the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University along with his fellow post members. The World War II veteran said he brings photos from wartime with him on his fundraising excursions to show those who donate.
“Once they see some of these pictures, instead of giving me a buck, they give me five dollars,” Feltman said.
The 91-year-old was a B-29 tail gunner in the United States Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1945. Besides selling poppies, he participates in lectures at schools and senior groups. Recently he was interviewed for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, an initiative established to collect and preserve firsthand remembrances of wartime veterans. Feltman said he and members of Post 336 believe it’s important to educate others about their service.
“I think the kids don’t realize what we went through,” he said. “That’s why every once in a while I will go and talk to them.”
The Coram resident said he has been a member of Post 336 for a few years. The organization welcomes Jewish service men and women from the Three Village community and surrounding areas who served during a wartime period.
Among the members is Arthur Golnick of Stony Brook, who served from 1951 to 1952 in the Cold War as a private first class in the United States Army. He joined the post 35 years ago when the members would meet at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station. Through the decades, he said he has participated with his fellow local veterans in countless parades and ceremonies.
“We want people to know the history of past events,” Golnick said.
He said overall he’s most proud of the post’s main function of helping their fellow veterans, especially those at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook and Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Stony Brook resident Robert Sandberg, a member of the post for 30 years, said Civil War soldiers who fought on the Union side founded the Jewish War Veterans in 1896. Sandberg said it was started after stories, propagated by author Mark Twain, circulated that Jewish men didn’t serve in the Civil War.
Sandberg served for 25 years in the United States Air Force and retired in 1982 as a lieutenant colonel. He said while he was in Vietnam, he didn’t see battle. His son Scott followed in his military footsteps and became a tanker pilot in the Air Force and recently retired as a colonel.
While Sandberg continued to work after leaving the military, including for Suffolk County and Huntington, he said he hasn’t done anything nearly as interesting or challenging as his time in the military.
The post members have the opportunity to share stories of their days in the military during meetings held once a month in the New Village Recreation Center on Wireless Road in Centereach.
Golnick said he was stationed in Germany for a while. He said he has fond memories of being an umpire for the regiment’s softball team, but doses of reality were never too far away. He said the barracks were just walking distance from a former concentration camp.
“You could tell by the smell,” he said.
Feltman, who grew up in Brooklyn, said it was during his stint in boot camp that he first encountered anti-Semitism. He said one of his fellow soldiers kept giving him a hard time about his religion.
“I was flabbergasted,” he said. “I got along with all of the other soldiers that were in that barrack.”
One day after calisthenics class and another verbal altercation, he said the dispute turned physical. Instead of facing punishment, the commanding officers asked him to box for his section — considering at 5 feet 9 inches tall and 136 pounds he had just sent a 6 feet 2 inches tall soldier weighing 220 pounds to the hospital. In 1944, Feltman won a boxing championship in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Despite the bond among the veterans, membership continues to decline, and out of the approximately 50 official members of Post 336, about 20 are active.
“The challenge for our organization, like all veterans organizations, is that the younger generations aren’t interested in joining,” Sandberg said, adding that the number of Jewish War Veterans members doesn’t accurately represent Jewish people serving in the military over the years. During World War II, 500,000 Jewish soldiers served, and 11,000 were killed.
As for the post name change this year from Three Village to Col. Mickey Marcus Post 336, Sandberg said while Marcus wasn’t a Long Island resident, he was an admirable Jewish veteran. A United States Army colonel, Marcus went on to assist Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and became the country’s first modern general. He was killed by friendly fire and is buried at West Point Cemetery.
Sandberg said sharing time with others who have served is vital for veterans, and he encourages them to join organizations to share their unique experiences.
“Other vets will understand instantly when you start talking to them,” Sandberg said. “You sense an understanding. It’s maybe like a subconscious language or something because of the common experience that you had. When you meet other vets, and you hang around with them, you get this tremendous feeling. It’s not quite camaraderie, but it’s a bond; it’s a meeting of people that have the same experience that others don’t. So that’s a special thing that you get from being in a veterans organization.”
For more information, visit the website www.jwvpost336.blogspot.com.