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"You are invited to join us at our anniversary luncheon when we celebrate our 100th year in existence. I suppose you know that the Jewish War Veterans is the oldest veterans organization in the country."

The man who spoke those words is Maurice Sands of Williamsville, and as he said them, he was sitting across from me at a meeting of the Erie County United Veterans Council.

Now I found myself thinking that, since Sands is fairly new to this area, he might not know how I cringe when some organization is described as being the "biggest" or "oldest" of its kind.

Like most veterans, I had believed that the American Legion was the oldest veterans organization in the country. Indeed, I had once done a story on how Larry McPhail, the future baseball mogul, and some other dudes had started the Legion in 1919.

After seeing my eyebrows arch, Sands, a neighbor, took it upon himself to deliver the proof. I learned that the Jewish War Veterans had been founded on March 15, 1896.

Sure, we are going to hear from people who will argue that the first organization did not carry the name "Jewish War Veterans." To them I will recommend a letter that I will forward to Maurice Sands or a look at the history of the organization.

The words "Jewish War Veterans" brings to mind a day when a Jewish American soldier named Lou Handler taught me a lesson about courage.

Our Army platoon began as an all-volunteer outfit that was formed in answer to those who said our scouting would be improved if done in force. By the time Handler came to us, there were only about 15 of the original 63 men left, and we did not worry about people being drafted into our ranks, as Handler was.

The war with Germany was fast ending, but, of course, you never knew when you would run into a fanatic. And one day we ran a patrol that stopped at a road leading to a big house.

Organization in the military called for the man leading a patrol to move in third place while two scouts led the way. That was never done in our outfit because that would mean ordering two other men to go first. So, for me that day, there was a quick, "It was a pleasure to serve with you men," and a rush across the road.

There were no booby traps on the front steps of the house, and the front door was not locked. Now there was another rush up the stairs that produced another indelible memory that won't be discussed today.

The rest of the night was quiet. Then Handler came by before dawn and said, "Jumbo, there's a barracks full of German soldiers down the road."

My answer was, "Let them stay there. One of the line companies can get them."

He said, "I'm going to get them," and began walking down the road. Of course, I had to go with him.

As we stood outside those barracks an hour later, a dog began to bark a warning to the Germans. I found myself thinking, what a way to go after fighting in France, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. Now a replacement is about to get us killed.

Then the Germans, maybe 100 of them, came out of the building with their hands up in the air.

So I had a far-off look in my eyes when I read the words in the invitation sent to all members of Buffalo Frontier Post 25 by Maurice Sands. It read: "This anniversary has a special significance for Jewish Americans who served their country. It reaffirms the patriotism and commitment to a freedom that Jews in America have historically demonstrated in word and deed."

The luncheon will be March 24 at the Jewish War Veterans Buffalo Frontier Post 25 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There will be no charge for members, and admission tickets will be sent only to those who mail reservation forms by March 9.

Among the honored guests will be Mike Kogutek, former national commander of the American Legion and the main speaker. With him will be County Executive Gorski, who has proclaimed March as "Erie County Jewish War Veterans Month," and Mayor Masiello, who issued a similar proclamation.

The hope here is that all outsiders at the luncheon will learn more about what the Jewish War Veterans do for our country every day.

It is indeed a pleasure to have served with such men.

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