Paul Levy was a baby living with his family in South Bend when his uncle, Phil Levy, went off to war in 1943, so he didn't know the tank commander who was killed in action during the Battle of Wingen-sur Moder in France on Jan. 7, 1945.
The book "Finding Phil: Lost in War and Silence" recounts Paul Levy's efforts to learn about the battle where his uncle made the ultimate sacrifice, and to perhaps meet the man that he never got a chance to know. Levy says that he managed to achieve those goals, and in doing so realized how much he had in common with his heroic uncle.
"At the end of my research, I felt that I knew Phil real well," Levy, who currently lives in New Hampshire, says. "I really loved him. He was a neat guy and I missed having him in my life."
At the start of Levy's research, the retired social worker, lawyer and educator only knew the basics; his uncle, Lt. Phillip A. Levy, was born in 1922 and died on Jan. 7, 1945 -- exactly two months shy of his 23rd birthday. He was born in South Bend, the fourth child of Louis Levy , a Jewish immigrant who came to America to escape anti-Semitism in Russia, and Bessie Levy. Phil followed his older brother and the father of the author, Nathan Levy, to the University of Michigan and selected a course of study that would lead him to officer training school and the United States Army. Phil fell in love with a coed that he was acquainted with named Barbara Sternfeld in a romance that began when the two shared a train ride to Miami to visit relatives during winter break in late 1942 or 1943 and culminated when they got married about a year later.
Phil eventually shipped to Europe and he was serving as a lieutenant with the 191st Tank Battalion at the time of his death.
Levy says the family rarely talked about Phil in the years after his death. "That generation, and maybe other generations, too, if they lost a boy in the war, they didn't talk about him," Levy says. "And even those who came back didn't talk much about the war."
Levy's grandparents died in the 1950s and his parents died in the 1970s. Barbara remarried and eventually settled in Indianapolis, and even though Levy would see her when he resided in Indianapolis, she did not talk about Phil prior to her death in 1987.
Levy didn't push the issue. That began to change after Barbara's death, and Levy received a package in the mail that contained his uncle's Purple Heart and a 96-page, handwritten journal that belonged to the lieutenant. The journal recounted in rich detail a 12-day period in which Phil Levy took part in the invasion of southern France. Levy says the journal piqued his interest, and he wanted to learn more, but he was too busy with work and family obligations. However, Levy promised that he would try to learn more when he had more time.
"When I retired, I started to look into him," he says. "I didn't think I would find anything, but I found a lot." And although Levy didn't begin his research with the intent of writing a book, the research led in that direction.
Levy says he started his research by posing a set of questions that ranged from how did Phil and Barbara met to why Phil support American involvement in the war before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a time when many people in this country wanted to stay out. The biggest question that Paul Levy sought to answer is how and where did Lt. Phil Levy die.
Paul Levy used his uncle's journal along with coverage in the "Army Times," records of military troop movement records and particularly a book published by German Lt. Wolf T. Zoepf not only to learn details about the battle in which Phil Levy died, but the location, circumstances and to be fairly sure that Zoepf led the troops who killed his uncle. Near the end of the book, Levy walks down the road to the area where the battle took place.
"Just finding where he died, and, more than that, how he died and who killed him was totally stunning," Levy says. "I was shaken with each piece I found, but being at the site was moving, and I just stood there." ___
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