Jewish War Vets Giving Back to Pittsburgh

From the Post-Gazette.

Jewish war veterans to meet, visit and give back to the city

Monday, August 11, 2008

By Abra Metz-Dworkin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Clarence “Code” Gomberg, a World War II veteran and Pittsburgh native, is Allegheny commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, a group he has been involved with since he returned from active duty in 1948.

Mr. Gomberg was stationed with the 343rd Medical Battalion in Europe during the war, where he served as a quartermaster on a hospital train that covered France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

“It was like a MASH unit,” he said. “Every time we ran a trip we picked up 450 patients – from first-aid stations, field hospitals, off the roads or in fields – and escorted them back to a port.”

This week, Mr. Gomberg will gather with more than 700 members of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America expected to attend the 113th annual national convention at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown. The organization predates the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said Edwin Goldwasser, convention chairman and former commander of the group.

The oldest continually active veterans organization in the nation, founded in 1896 as the Hebrew Union Veterans Organization to combat anti-Semitism, the group adopted its current name after World War II.

The organization has roughly 100,000 members nationally, said its current commander, Larry Schulman.

With more than 25 million veterans living in America today, and 800,000 returned soldiers from the war in Iraq, “there is a lot to catch up with,” said U.S. Rep. Robert Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

A native of Pittsburgh, Mr. Filner is the son of a Jewish war veteran who owned the former Filner’s Bakery in Squirrel Hill. Now a resident of San Diego, he has served 16 years on the veterans’ affairs committee. He said his Thursday morning speech to the convention will address funding for a new GI Bill, mental health care for newly returned veterans and attention to previously overlooked veterans.

A full-day tour of the city will start the convention today, with a reception honoring the 50th anniversary of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History to follow.

From a Pirates game tomorrow night to a dinner cruise along the three rivers, convention delegates will enjoy local attractions amid presentations from speakers including Dr. Michael Kussman, undersecretary for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs; Maj. Gen. Jessica L. Wright, the state adjutant general; and Maj. Gen. Baruch Levy, chairman of the Israeli Defense Forces Veterans of War Association.

Funded by private contributions, fund-raising efforts and dues collected from active members, the organization contributes to its host cities. Local branches also fund housing projects for veterans.

In 1980, local Post 318 constructed a veterans home and senior high-rise in Monroeville, East Borough Apartments, which still is in use today. In 1992, Post 318 and the Department of Veterans Affairs collaborated on a second housing development, Veterans Place on Washington Boulevard, which grew into a row of houses designated for homeless veterans.

The veterans will be giving back to Pittsburgh – charitable projects include teddy bear fund-raisers for Children’s Hospital, fire and police departments; cell phone drives for victims of violence; and Make-A-Wish gifts to VA Hospital or Ronald McDonald House patients.

“When we come to a city,” said Mr. Goldwasser, “we bring to the city.”