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For a 96-Year-Old Veteran, the Parade Came to Him

Jack Le Vine did not march in the big Veterans Day parade up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Thursday, or attend the small service at the Brooklyn War Memorial.

He spent the day on the block in Brooklyn where he was born, in the two-story brick-faced house with American flags out front and photos in the window of an aircraft carrier and a cargo ship and a handsome young man in a Navy uniform.

Still, there was a celebration, something of a surprise. It began after a neighbor in the South Slope neighborhood where Mr. Le Vine lives posted on the community bulletin board Nextdoor.com.

“A WW2 Vet lives on 18th St. He’s 97, lives alone, and may not see another Veterans Day,” she wrote on Tuesday. “Please consider leaving a little token of gratitude.”

The soldiers and sailors of Mr. Le Vine’s generation are vanishing quickly now. Nearly 99 percent of the 16 million Americans who served in the war have died, according to the National World War II Museum. There are fewer than 5,000 World War II vets left in New York City.

Mr. Le Vine said that as far as he knew, none of the men he served with are still around. And so, he said, he usually spends Veterans Day doing exactly “nothing.”

But by Wednesday evening, the tributes had begun. As Mr. Le Vine was taking out the trash, a woman he’d never met handed him an envelope with “Jack the Hero” written on it. “I just want to thank you for your service,” she said.

Then a man who lives down the block walked up with his two children and handed Mr. Le Vine a thick stack of cards that the children and their classmates had made. “You’ll be reading these for days,” said the man, Chris Polony.

When Mr. Le Vine poked his head out Thursday morning, on the bench inside the gate where he and his wife used to sit, someone had left a potted amaryllis and a card tied to it with a drawing of a soldier in camouflage. “Thank you for fighting for our country. From Abigail, age 7.”

On the porch by the screen door were two more letters. Mr. Le Vine, a slight but entirely unbowed man who for the record will not be 97 till January, bent and picked them up. “These people must love me on this block!” he said.

Mr. Le Vine, one of seven children, joined the Navy a few weeks before his 18th birthday because his oldest brother had been drafted into the Army and warned him against it: “He came home from basic training and he said, ‘All they teach you is to crawl around on your hands and knees in the mud. You get all slopped up.’”

The Navy, he said, promised “cleaner living.” He served two years in the Pacific on the U.S.S. Lesuth, then was a machinist’s mate first class on the U.S.S. Gilbert Islands, an aircraft carrier that sent fighter pilots to strike Japanese positions in Okinawa and the Sakashima Islands while Mr. Le Vine labored in the engine room.

“When they said, ‘Man your battle stations,’ my battle station was the throttle,” he said. “I controlled the speed of the boat.”

On top of the china cabinet in the tidy dining room of his house, a photo of Mr. Le Vine as a captain in the New York City Fire Department — where he served for 20 years starting in 1957 — sits beside a photo of a woman with laughing eyes, his wife, Joan.

“She died of Alzheimer’s,” Mr. Le Vine said. “This was her bedroom — the bed was up against this wall. I took care of her six or seven years.”

Hanging from the knob is a vest with medals, still displayed from when he taught World War II history to a group of local children in the living room a few years ago. Mr. Le Vine pointed to the chairs still lined up along the wall.

Then he spotted movement out the window, behind the blinds. “Is somebody coming?” A woman left another card. Beside it were a miniature cypress tree, and another card, and a bakery box tied up with string that Mr. Le Vine recognized as the handiwork of a neighbor. “That’s her famous banana bread.”

The woman who posted on Nextdoor, Elizabeth Dowling, 44, said Mr. Le Vine had been a friend since she moved to the block about nine years ago. She said she had reached out to her neighbors because “when our vets return home, they’re often forgotten and ignored.”

A few minutes later there was another rustling. Mr. Le Vine went to the door and stopped — “No, wait a minute” — to grab a ball cap from a hook. “World War II Veteran,” it said. “Proudly Served.”

Outside were a mother on in-line skates and twin 8-year-olds on scooters. The girl had made a flag of pink, white and turquoise tissue paper and affixed it to a paper towel tube and hung it from the gatepost.

“We are so, so grateful,” the mother, Ariel Clark, told Mr. Le Vine. “My grandfather was in Auschwitz.” Her voice tightened and sped up.

“My father was born in a displaced persons camp and so” — she gestured at her children — “without you, none of this would be possible.” She began to weep.

A droplet formed at the end of Mr. Le Vine’s nose. He squinted. He shook the hands of Ms. Clark and her children, posed for a picture with them and went back inside. “My eyes water sometimes,” he said.

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