70 years after D-Day, local veteran still passionate about service to Jewish community
Bob Postal is living history.
“We were on Normandy beach. Guys started rounding up to do a Catholic prayer. I raised my hand to ask if someone wanted to participate in a Jewish service. One of the other fellows there said yes.
“That was 1944. Last year, my grandson was in school up in New Jersey. They were talking about the Normandy invasion. He raised his hand and said, ‘My grandfather led the first Jewish prayer on Normandy beach after the Allies arrived.’
“A kid next to him says, ‘No, he didn’t! Mine did!’ It was the grandson of the other guy who participated in the prayer! Do you believe that?”
It’s been 70 years since D-Day: the Allies’ invasion of Normandy during World War II that kicked off the invasion of German-occupied Western. Bob Postal was a soldier on the beach that day.
In fact, he was a soldier in many of the battles that contributed to the Allied victory in the war.
Mr. Postal, who is 94 years old, today lives on Palm Beach and is still passionate about his commitment to serving the Jewish community. He’s a member of the board of MorseLife, a seniors' healthcare provider whose subsidiary, Kramer Senior Services, is a partner agency of Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.
When you talk to him, you can’t help but notice a fresh sense of pride you would expect from a young man just returning from victory on the battlefield. He is full of stories that you could never find in a history book.
“One time General Patton yelled right in my face. He was returning from a battle with 50,000 men behind him. We were building a bridge to cross a river. He came onto the bridge to inspect it.
“He saw two guys I was with, asleep in their jeep with their helmets on their head. ‘How could you allow this to happen!?’ he asked me. He fined me 75 dollars for that.”
Bob also mentions a girl that had heard about him while he was away at war. She wrote him a letter and he wrote back. Soon, he says, they were exchanging love letters despite never having met.
There was not much time for writing. Bob was involved in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge – two of the most significant battles of the war.
But it’s his painful memories from his involvement in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp that brings tears to Bob’s eyes.
“We found people dying or dead,” he explains. “We fed them soup. Some of them died. But they would have anyway.”
He stops talking for a moment and then changes the subject. He shows off the French Legion of Honor he was awarded and the article written about him in The Palm Beach Post – both of which proudly hang on his wall.
Bob was preparing to go to the Pacific to fight after his service in Europe. But in September of ’45, the war ended.
He came home and met the girl he’d been corresponding with via letters while he was away at war.
“She was a cute girl,” he said. “So I proposed to her, right then and there – on our first date.”
The girl – Elaine – said yes. She and Bob became pillars of their Jewish community in New York. Elaine was campaign chair of their local Federation. They led members of their community on missions to Israel.
After they moved to Palm Beach County, they continued their involvement in the Jewish community.
Bob makes frequent mention of the need to educate people in hopes of avoiding the ignorance that led to the things he saw when he walked through the gates of Buchenwald.
He recognizes the anti-Semitism of today’s world, notably in the very places he fought to liberate from German rule. The anti-Semitic political action growing in popularity in Europe – as well as the recent anti-Semitic attacks in Belgium and France – is summed up with one word by Mr. Postal: “frightening.”
Bob is hopeful, however, about the future. He loudly expresses his belief in young people engaging with the Jewish community – such as Federation efforts like NextGen, Jewish Teen Initiative, Jewish Professionals Network and others.
“We need people like you! Young people!” he says with passion. “I’m finished, packin’ it in.”
Bob does that a lot – makes fun of himself for being elderly, mocking death. But he tears up when he talks about Elaine. She died in 2010 after 64 years of marriage. He’s still very much in awe of her devotion to the Jewish community.
Bob uses the example his wife set for Jews everywhere as a model for the enthusiasm one should bring to their community.