Two days after Bob Levine’s 94th birthday on June 4 this year, he and his family were in Washington, DC, where he was honored at the World War II Memorial in the morning and at the Pentagon in the afternoon. The occasion was the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when U.S. and Allied forces landed at Normandy in German-occupied France.
During the D-Day honors, Bob and family were welcomed by an assistant Secretary of Defense and the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Bob represented veterans of Operation Overlord, the code name for the invasion, which ultimately led to the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. Bob’s story is remarkable partly because of the what happened to him shortly after his 19th birthday in 1944 and partly because of how he and Ede, his wife of 68 years, have responded to the events of that long-ago day.
By June 10, 1944, when Bob and the rest of his infantry division landed at Normany, the beach had been secured. They moved inland. The following month, while overtaking Hill 122 in a fierce fight with German forces, an exploding grenade injured Bob’s right leg and he was taken prisoner. In a German field hospital at a nearby farmhouse, a German doctor preparing to operate on Bob’s leg asked him about the H (for Hebrew) on his dog tags. Silently, Bob “said goodbye to any hope of a 20th birthday,” he recalled.
When he woke up in the barn—the recovery room—his dog tags and the bottom half of his leg were gone, his surgeon’s efforts to save his life. There was a note in his pocket, in German, signed by the doctor, Edgar Woll, explaining why he had had to amputate part of Bob’s leg.
After re-visiting Normandy in the 1980s, Bob tried to contact the doctor to thank him. The surgeon had died but his widow and children were glad to meet Bob and Ede. “Now, we are like extended family,” said Bob, who has hosted Woll family members in his home and been a guest in theirs. Two months ago, on POW Recognition Day, the surgeon’s granddaughter, Daniela, who was temporarily in New York, visited Bob’s POW group in North Jersey “and made a beautiful speech,” Bob said. Daniella’s husband visited Bob and Ede in Teaneck earlier this month.
“My favorite word is perspective,” Bob said, a positive attitude he also shared during a videotaped interview at the Pentagon during the D-Day anniversary events.
Bob’s joy, and the honors bestowed on him, were not limited to his experiences in Washington, D.C. As he was traveling there on June 5, he and Ede received word that their first great grandson had arrived at Lenox Hill Hospital in the Bronx. His name? Robert.
As Bob’s namesake learns the story of his great-grandfather’s honors on the day after his birth, he will have an important memento of the day. Before they left Washington, Bob and Ede were given a U.S. flag and a document reading in part: “This is to certify that the accompanying flag was flown over the Pentagon on June 5, 2019, for Robert M. Levine in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day.”
Joining Bob and Ede in Washington were their daughter Nancy Harney of Seattle, daughter and son-in-law Jane and David Powers of Ithaca, NY, and grandchildren Sarah and Andy.
‘An Experience of a Lifetime!’
Below is an excerpt of an email Edith Levine wrote to friends about the D-Day anniversary commemoration.
This is the first time I have ever tried to write to our WORLD! But this past week has been an experience of a lifetime for usand we want to share it with you. It began on Sunday, June 2nd, when our very pregnant granddaughter, Kate and her husband, Jesse, surprised us by bringing us a fabulous brunch because she could not join us on June 6th.
What was so important about June 6? Of course, it was the 75th anniversary of D-Day and Bob had been invited to the Pentagon for lunch and an interview.
Then on Tuesday (June 4) we celebrated his 94th birthday with many tributes and lots of fun. On Wednesday June 5th, we were driving down to Washington with our daughter Jane and her husband, David. Word came that Kate had delivered our first great grandson and had named him joy!
That evening we were to have dinner in a Georgetown restaurant. A reporter from the local newspaper came to photograph Bob. To our surprise the owner stood up welcomed Bob and thanked him for his service. The entire restaurant gave him a standing ovation.
Thursday was the ceremony at the World War II Memorial. It is always very touching. Then our driver took us on a tour of the monuments before we arrived at our destination: The Pentagon. It was here that it finally dawned on us that Bob had been chosen by the Dept. of Defense to represent ALL the veterans of Operation Overlord, the Invasion!
We entered through the front door, which is used only by celebrities. We were assigned an honor guard who shepherded us throughout our visit. They had a wheelchair for Bob (the place has 17 miles of corridor) and we had lunch in the Defense Secretary’s private dining room. Good food, good conversation. Then we were taken to a conference room where 25 military personnel were to hear Bob interviewed.
There were beautiful printed brochures with his Regiment, agenda, his photo and story. What an experience! Then we had a VIP tour of the building. At the end, they presented Bob with the flag that had flown over the Pentagon specifically for him on June 5th–the day Baby Robert was born! Our grandchildren Sarah and Andy were able to share the day, as did our daughter Nancy, who had flown in from Seattle. And to top everything off, we were able to get to the hospital on Friday to hold Baby Bobby in our arms!!!
P.S. On Wednesday, June 12, Sebastian Maerker, the German doctor’s grandson-in-law, visitedus here in Teaneck and shared out pleasure! Love to all.
Edith and Bob