... D Day Landing veteran, political activist, and all-time
stand up guy succumbs at 90.
At 10 o'clock on Tuesday morning two city workers had set
up barricades on East Foster Street at Dell Avenue. Doing
this would shut down an area in front of Temple Beth
Shalom. The space would be needed to accommodate
Levine Chapels in their effort to remove a casket from a
hearse, place it on a gurney and take it into the Temple for
a funeral service. The service would be for Irving Smolens, a
long-time Melrose resident who had participated, along
with other members of the Melrose Jewish community, in
converting the building from a dance hall into a place of
worship, named Temple Beth Shalom, where, at one time,
he served as its president.
On the previous Friday night Irv was finishing out his short
stay in a rehabilitation facility. He was expected to be
coming home the next day. He watched the Sox game on
TV and then went to sleep. He never woke up. Irv Smolens
passed away sometime on Saturday April 11.
Every seat in the Temple was filled for Irv's funeral service.
The congregation included the city's elected officials
including the Mayor, our State Representative and other
city personages who sat in the front row. Everyone was
there to remember and honor Irving.
The Temple's presiding Rabbi, Arnold Fertig, delivered the
eulogy. It had a gentle tone, he was remembering someone
who was respected and loved. There was also a sweet
humor. A soft laughing accompanied the Rabbi's story
about how he discovered that Irv was someone who spoke
his mind. He recalled how Irv stood up to comment during
a service the Rabbi's was conducting at the Temple. The
Rabbi was shocked, he had never experienced such a thing
before. Eventually he would realize that this situation was
part of Irv's personality. He provoked a hearty laugh when
he went on to say that, in future services, the question
would not be if Irv would intervene, but when.
The Rabbi went on to speak of Irv's activism in both social
and political issues. He mentioned his practice of writing
letters to newspapers to give his views and stories that he
had written for the Melrose Mirror. Irv was prolific, if you
check his bio in the Mirror it will show that he wrote over
50 stories. The Rabbi's eulogy left the picture of a man of
character and someone who will be missed by anyone who
Irv's daughter Karen spoke after the Rabbi. She delivered
what could be called words of remembrance about her Dad.
She, too, spoke with a gentle humor about his love for Jazz
and how his Sundays were devoted to listening to it. The
stories she told showed how much Irv loved her and her
late sister and her mother. It was a daughter's public
testament about how much she loved her father.
The ceremony moved to its conclusion when two soldiers
dressed in their dress blues slowly marched over to take
positions at either end of the casket. They paused before
they slowly removed the American flag that was covering
Irv's casket. In a precise moving ceremony they folded the
flag into a triangular bundle. Then both soldiers slow
marched until they are standing in front of Irving's wife
Edith where they pivoted to face her. The soldier with the
flag leaned over to present it. After she took it they move
one step back and held a long salute before they turned
away and slow marched to the exit.
Irv's funeral was celebrated with military honors. How very
fitting. He was drafted when he was 19 years old. He would
be trained to serve as a member of the 4th Infantry
Divisions 29th Field Artillery Battalion. The 29th's weapon
was the 105 millimeter howitzer. 105's are light artillery.
They are are highly mobile, towed to their assignments by
trucks, and can be fired very rapidly, talents which keep
On D-Day, June 6, 1944 Irv landed with the 4th Infantry
Division on Utah Beach as part of the Normandy invasion.
From there they fought across France and Belgium
participating in 5 major campaigns including the Battle of
Hutgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge and finally
penetrating into Germany to collapse the Nazi Third Reich.
After a battle experience like that you have to wonder if
"veteran" is an adequate description, "survivor" seems more
There is probably nothing that better describes Irv's
personality than what happened last year at Coreville-Sur-
Mer France. This site directly overlooks Omaha Beach and
an international collection of heads of state were there to
commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
The President, Barack Obama, was part of the contingent
and he had to walk by a group of D-Day veterans to lay a
wreath. As he walked by the vets Irv Smolens stepped out
of line directly into the Presidents path. He looked and held
out his hand in greeting to the President who towered over
him. As the pictures show Obama was very gracious he
took Irv's hand while he smiled down at him.
With the unexpected suddenness of what happened it
would not be much of a stretch to think of what Obama
must have been saying to himself when he looked down to
see Irving. Who the heck is this guy?
It would be hard to find someone in Melrose who couldn't
tell you, Mister President.
May 1, 2015