Edward Levey doesn’t want any special acknowledgment for his service to the U.S.
“After the war, New York state held a vote to ask if veterans of World War II should get a bonus,” said Levey, a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps who served from 1945 to 1946. “It was something like $100 for men who served in the U.S., $200 for men who went overseas but didn’t see combat and $300 for combat veterans, which was a lot of money back then.”
Levey, who now lives in Baldwinsville, voted against the proposal, which ultimately passed.
“I didn’t think it was necessary,” he said. “I was doing my patriotic duty, and I didn’t think we needed any additional recognition.”
It wasn’t glory but love of country that led Levey, originally from Washington Heights in Manhattan, to enlist in the Air Corps in 1945 at the age of 17.
“I wanted to be in the Air Corps,” he said. “I don’t know why. I was 17. Who knows what I was thinking?”
By the time he was 18 and eligible to enter the service, World War II was coming to an end. As the Air Corps was part of the Army and that’s where men were needed, Levey was sent into the Army. After taking basic training at Camp Rucker in Alabama and Camp Gordon in Georgia, he shipped out in May of 1945, three weeks after Germany surrendered, to help police the defeated nation.
Levey’s ship landed at Le Havre, France, and he was put on what was known as a “40 and 8.”
“It was an expression from World War I,” he said. “A 40 and 8 was an empty freight car, and they’d put 40 soldiers and eight horses on it. Except we didn’t have any horses.”
Levey’s unit was undergoing training for an invasion of Japan, which was believed to be the only way to end the war — until Aug. 6, 1945.
“We were training for the invasion when they dropped the atomic bomb,” Levey said. “That was the end of that.”
Levey ended up in Munich as a military policeman in December of 1945, where he was charged with controlling the civilian population as well as German and American soldiers living in the city. While there, he took the opportunity to seek out a familiar face.
“My brother also fought in World War II, and I hadn’t seen him in a few years,” he said. “For a few days around Christmas in 1945, I went AWOL to go visit him.”
Movies, not mortars
After Levey’s illicit furlough, he returned to work and was sent to a prison camp — but not as a prisoner, he was quick to point out.
“They were building a new prison in the German town of Wertzburg to hold the American soldiers who had been court-martialed,” he said. “They wanted the military police to act as guards. I spent most of my time overseas there.”
But the prison wasn’t built yet, and the Army had to find other jobs for its would-be guards. Levey pulled an assignment with special services.
“I knew how to run a movie projector, so they had me showing the movies to the soldiers,” he said.
Levey recalled an interesting story from his time as movie projectionist.
“I would show the movies to the white soldiers,” he said. “There was also a Negro regiment, and they would come in and watch the same movies after we’d seen them. The white soldiers and black soldiers were never together. It’s interesting how different things were back then.”
Because the fighting was over by the time Levey arrived, he was never in a position to fear for his life.
“I was never in much danger,” he said.
A witness to history
Levey also had a unique experience outside of his job as an MP.
“I’m Jewish, and in April of 1946, they invited all of the Jewish soldiers to a Passover service in Nuremburg,” he said. “While I was there, I sat in on some of the trials. It was fascinating.”
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of trials most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg, Germany, from 1945 to 1949, at the Palace fof Justice. The first and best known of these trials was the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, which tried 24 of the most important captured leaders of Nazi Germany. It was these trials that Levey was able to witness.
“Everything was in different languages, so we all had to wear headsets to hear the translation,” Levey said. “It was very interesting to listen to.”
Levey had another brush with Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic past.
“As a military policeman in Munich, we had to go to Dachau every day to pick up German soldiers and bring them back to the city to clean up,” he said. “The city was just decimated after the war, and Dachau was being used as a prison for German soldiers.”
Dachau, located 10 miles northwest of Munich, was the first concentration camp in which the Nazis imprisoned and eventually exterminated Jews and other enemies of the German state. It served as a prototype for later similar camps and housed some 200,000 people, one-third of whom were Jews; over 35,000 died there between 1933 and 1945.
“When we went, obviously, it had already been evacuated,” Levey said. “There was no odor or anything, but you could still see the ovens.”
Levey was discharged in September of 1946. After a nine-day boat ride, he reunited with his then-girlfriend Judy, whom he later married.
“She was my girlfriend when I was drafted,” he said. “We corresponded while I was overseas and I had her photo up on the walls where I slept.”
After returning home, Levey tried his hand at college, attending the City College of New York, but his “mind wasn’t on it” and he quit. He went into the business world and worked until his retirement as a fine printing paper salesman. He and his wife had two children, a son and a daughter. His son, who is married with two children now operates a business in Baldwinsville, where his wife also works, and his daughter lives with her husband and two children in Washington, DC.
Looking back on his military career, Levey has no regrets.
“I was offered a chance to become an officer, but I didn’t do it,” he said. “If I had, I probably would have stayed in the Army. I got along very well in the military. I wasn’t in any danger, and I made some very good friends.”
Still, he said, things have changed since his days in the service.
“World War II was such a different war than the police actions we’ve been in lately — Iraq, Afghanistan, even Vietnam,” Levey said. “We had a common enemy in the Axis powers. They were so hated, and it was agreed that they were so evil, with the Bataan Death March and the German persecution.”
Levey said he is saddened by the sacrifices the new crop of veterans is making nowadays.
“I go to the VA every so often for care, and I see the results of the police actions in Iraq,” he said. “There are a lot of men and women missing their arms and legs. It hurts me that these young people will have to suffer through their whole lives like that.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.