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Merokean will fly POW/MIA flag for Veterans Day

Enlists help from Jewish War Veterans Post 652

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Irving Liebowitz isn’t exactly fond of change. In fact, the few times he’s endured it were only because life gave him little other choice.

He’s lived in Merrick for 58 years, raising three children and creating what he hoped was the perfect home for his wife, Claire. But kids grow up, friends and family grow older, and sometimes life deals the most difficult moments, like Claire’s death more than a decade ago from breast cancer.

Liebowitz has found a way to persevere; yet, as for many, 2020 has presented its own challenges.

First, the 90-year-old found himself taking up temporary residence inside the Hebrew Home of Riverdale’s RiverWalk community in the Bronx. And then the coronavirus pandemic hit, cutting off many from their regular routines and preventing them from spending time with family members and friends.

“For three months, we were like prisoners,” Liebowitz said. “We had everything we needed in our apartments, but we couldn’t leave. There were all these precautions beginning in March because no one was quite sure what to do, so the safest thing we could do was stay inside.”

As the world learned how to better battle Covid-19 and the weather warmed up, it became safer for Liebowitz and other residents to venture outside. Yet it wasn’t majestic views of the Hudson River or the Palisades that caught Liebowitz’s eye — instead, it was the flagpole where America’s stars and stripes proudly waved high in the sky. Having served in the Korean War in the early 1950s, this was a sight Liebowitz certainly needed after months spent cooped up inside.

Only there was something missing. And Liebowitz felt it was his mission to ensure that by the time he returned to Merrick, the Hebrew Home would be flying a POW/MIA flag.

“I’m pretty active with the Jewish War Veterans [Post 652] on Long Island, and I think of veterans — and the respect that all of us Americans have had for veterans,” he said. “If someone in a family served, and never came home, there should be something to honor them.”

The POW/MIA flag was designed in the early 1970s by the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. While the idea to create the flag was a result of the Vietnam War, which was raging at the time, it’s a flag that virtually covers all conflicts — including the Korean War, where more than 7,800 American soldiers still remain unaccounted for, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

“We, as Americans, don’t have the patriotic feelings that we used to have years ago,” Liebowitz said. “I was not in the Second World War, but I remember what it was like. We loved our country, and that’s just not a feeling that many seem to have anymore. But this flag represents the veterans that didn’t make it back. They should be remembered, and this is a way to remember them.”

Liebowitz was raised near Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and after graduating from high school in 1948, worked with his father selling floor coverings like linoleum and tile — “but not carpet,” he said. By 1951, he was already engaged to Claire when a letter arrived in the mail — Liebowitz had been drafted into the Army,

“I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “The mail was sent to me, it came, and I went. Uncle Sam is calling you, and you have to answer that call.

“I ended up going overseas to France to serve in a supporting unit for NATO countries,” he continued. “When people think of war, they think of the infantry men on the front lines. But for every infantry man, there are 17 supporting soldiers that are needed to do other jobs, to make sure that infantry man has everything that he needs.”

Liebowitz was responsible for distributing weapons through a quartermaster base, and didn’t see battle himself. Every day, he and Claire exchanged letters.

After two years of service, he returned home. The couple stayed in Brooklyn for a few years as they started their family, but eventually relocated to Merrick, hoping to raise their children in the best environment they could.

Liebowitz worked a series of jobs to support his family while attending school at night, eventually earning a degree in mechanical engineering. This helped him work at many of the defense manufacturers that dominated Long Island in those days. When the manufacturers left Long Island, he decided to go into business himself, selling Snap-on tools to car repair shops and gas stations.

Through all of that, he stayed active in veterans causes, primarily with the Jewish War Veterans Post 652 in Merrick, which also takes in members from Bellmore and surrounding areas.

When Liebowitz needed a POW/MIA flag for the Hebrew Home, the post was the first call he made. “Irving has been at the post since forever,” said Commander Gary Glick, of Bellmore. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Jewish war veteran, or a Korean War veteran — any vet that needs help, we’ll get it done.”

Liebowitz’s friend David Zwerin, a former JWV commander, “got on the stick” to secure a POW/MIA flag for his fellow vet, Glick said. Zwerin mailed a flag to Liebowitz right away.

The Merokean plans to raise it above the Hebrew Home for the first time on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, before he returns to Merrick.

“I’m ready to go home,” Irving said. “It’s not that I’m not happy to be here. It’s a beautiful place. But there’s nowhere like home.”

Alyssa Seidman contributed to this story.