There are only a few souls who get to reach the golden 100 years of age. Fewer still are able to tell the tales of what transpired in one of the most unforgettable events in history, World War II.
Lewis Kaplan, has lived to be 100. He has also lived to witness and experience the poverty-stricken period of the Great Depression to the horrifying events of World War II.
When the war started in 1941, Kaplan was 28, unmarried and without kids. This made him a perfect candidate to enlist in the Army when Congress instituted the draft.
After a crash training of three months, the spirited Kaplan was assigned on Sand Island in Hawaii manning a station near Pearl Harbor. The island is “as far as a crow flies” in his gun sights as the harbor.
On December 7, 1941, the old veteran relates the day his life changed dramatically.
“Nobody bothered to look up and see that they were bombing our own planes until the smoke started coming up from Pearl Harbor,’’ he said. “Then we realized we were being attacked. We were sitting ducks.” And being that close to Pearl Harbor, he was one of the lucky survivors of the surprise attack.
During the attack, Kaplan and his unit were cleaning their 3-inch anti-aircraft guns. They were unable to immediately strike back at the planes that were raining bombs on Pearl Harbor with the disassembled guns.
“We were cleaning them (the anti-aircraft guns) and had to put them back together before we could starting shooting,’’ Kaplan relates sadly.
The Japanese fighter planes aggressively reduced to ruins the U.S. fleet. In the midst of the alarm and confusion, Kaplan said they gave their best to bring down enemy planes as commanded.
After the tragic bombing of Pearl Harbor, his unit trained to be sent to a battle in Saipan, a Japanese-controlled island. They trained on powerful 155 rifles with a range of 15 miles in a Marine field artillery division.
The unforgettable battle in Saipan, Kaplan claims, “was the most terrible thing” he has ever experienced.
The carnage was simply imprinted vividly in his mind. Yet, it was so traumatic he could only account the images. He could not describe the emotions identified to the event that were coursing through him.
The dead bodies and body parts that distributed along the shore of the island and the red waters that reeked of blood and tinted their uniforms as they landed left a haunting memory in the dark recesses of the mind of the old war survivor.
They invaded Saipan after painstakingly flushing the Japanese troops to come out of the caves with the convincing force of guns and bombs. They also successfully invaded another Japanese-controlled area, Tinian.
While the war left him scars, Lewis Kaplan left the Army for a job as a mailman after the war. He spent 32 years in the Postal Service and retired as a superintendent. He chose the serene life of a farmer in Vineland cultivated fruit trees in his 2-acre land upon retirement.
Then, after his wife died in the 1990s, he moved to West Orange near his sister’s residence. His sister, unfortunately died. Lewis Kaplan has a son who lives in New York. His old age and decreasing physical health many have limited some of his activities. But, these did less to dampen his memory.
He is considered a war hero as well as a living testament of a historic event that occurred almost 70 years ago, World War II.
To Lewis Kaplan, our salute!