On a recent Thursday afternoon, the Boulevard ALP Assisted Living facility in Fresh Meadows hosted a touching ceremony for a special resident, World War II veteran Irving Goldstein, who will celebrate his milestone centenarian birthday at the end of the year.
Staff Sergeant Goldstein, clad in his army cap, was awarded the Knight in the National Order of the Legion of Honour, an accolade referred to in French as Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur, by newly appointed French Consul General Jérémie Robert. This is highest distinction that can be bestowed upon a non-French citizen in recognition of merit and bravery on behalf of the French Republic. For Robert, this was an extra special occasion, as it was his first opportunity in this position to award membership in the Legion of Honour, an award first founded by French statesman Napoleon Bonaparte. Those gathered watched in reverence as Robert removed the medal from its velvet cushion and pinned it upon Goldstein. The Consul General was joined by the Federation of Elderly French War Veterans, who saluted Goldstein.
The awardee was modest about the tribute but took to the microphone to express his appreciation. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me,” explained Goldstein. “I did not look for the honor, but it means a lot.”
Irving graduated high school and earned a certificate in fixing machinery prior to joining the US Air Corps when he was 21. He then spent the better part of his three and a half years of service in France battling in the European theatre, saving lives, and eventually turning the tide of the war.
Goldstein recalled training in England and being a C-47 Crew Chief for the 439th Troop Carrier Group, who flew on D-Day and various other combat missions. “Our plane was the ninth to arrive at Normandy,” recollected Goldstein, who had a hand in liberating France from the Nazis. His missions included being a troop transport, responsible for moving paratroopers from the 101st Airborne, large machinery, and artillery.
Irving developed an everlasting love for the nation of France and its people. Irving conveyed his feelings best when he landed. In French, he symbolically expressed his thanks to Lafayette, the French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War. “Our countries have always been very friendly and helpful to each other,” said Irving.
His appreciation to the French consul general knew no bounds. “I am just an ordinary person,” he reiterated. “When we were fighting in the war, we did not know about French medals.”
Consul General Robert told the Queens Jewish Link, “Mr. Goldstein noted that this was the best day of his life. For us at the consulate, these words are priceless.” At the ceremony, Robert announced, “We owe him our freedom. We will never forget.”
Born in Paterson, New Jersey, and a prodigy of the Bronx, Irving was the youngest child to Polish immigrants. It was in the Bronx where he developed a lifelong affection for the New York Yankees. About a year ago, the Queens Jewish Link covered Goldstein being honored for his service at Yankee Stadium. “I am happy how my life turned out; I have a wonderful family that is my most prized possession,” he told those in his midst.
Sam Horowitz, executive director of Boulevard ALP, was keen on elbow bumps at the ceremony, explaining that the program was held in their outdoor gazebo to comply with coronavirus restrictions that allowed for Irving’s friends and family to participate. The courtyard was designed with socially distant seating for fellow residents and energetic family members to enjoy. Irving sat amongst his sons, daughters, and grandchildren, who traveled from the Bronx, Long Island, and New Jersey. Irving is privileged to have doctors, nurses, and even an engineer amongst his descendants. One grandchild, Lee, pointed out that this was the first time they had been able to visit their grandfather since the COVID lockdown. “I have never seen my grandfather cry, and today he has shed tears three times; this event was definitely life defining,” discerned Lee.
Rabbi Yoni Escovitz, rav of Khal Adas Boulevard ALP, describes Irving as “pleasant and easy going.” The rabbi remarked, “When I bring my kids to the facility, Irving finds them and asks them to wait around a moment as he goes up to his quarters. Soon, he returns with a special treat – Devil Dogs – to the delight of everyone.”
As the program came to an end, Irving’s family gathered for support – as the tunes of both nations’ national anthems played, Irving’s emotions got the best of him. “I am overjoyed to see so many people gathered here. This medal will live forever,” he was heard saying as he showed it off to his family. “It will be passed on to the younger generation.”
By Shabsie Saphirstein