Back in 1994, Louis Raiman, then 70 and the commander of Post 748 of Jewish War Veterans (JWV) of the U.S.A., in Carteret, got a phone call from fellow veterans in the Woodbridge post. The group was asking for help planting flags on the graves of Jewish war veterans at Mount Lebanon Cemetery and Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge.
“I was the only one from our post who responded and helped out,” said Raiman, then living in Carteret and now, at 95, a resident of Mattison Crossing at Manalapan Avenue, an assisted-living facility in Freehold. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”
This year is no exception; in what has become an annual Memorial Day tradition, Raiman again continued his tribute task by planting flags alongside the headstones of about 100 Jewish veterans who have died and are buried in the two cemeteries.
Raiman had some assistance from his daughter Sonja Erdelyi, a Belmar resident, and son Scott, who lives in Piscataway. “Dad may need a little bit of help from Sonja and me these days, but, at 95, he’s still in control of what we do at both cemeteries, believe me,” said Scott. “They are his to take care of as far as planting the flags each Memorial Day, and he will continue as long as he can.”
Though both the Carteret and Woodbridge posts were closed years ago, Raiman said that as a World War II Navy veteran, it is his duty to carry on placing the flag at the gravesites. Raiman served from 1942-45 on several destroyer escorts in the North Atlantic and at Seabees-built warehouse bases in the Pacific in the vicinity of Guam.
“I feel it is my obligation,” said Raiman. “I’m one of the last men standing among World War II veterans.” He was also was involved with the sale of Memorial Day Buddy Poppies — the official fund-raising flower of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States — in the Carteret area.
Raiman is quick to credit those who have helped him along the way. One is Leo Rosenzweig, who at 91 is commander of Covered Bridge Jewish War Veterans Post 536 in Manalapan, one of 22 posts remaining in New Jersey. He has obtained the flags for Raiman the past few years.
Around each Memorial Day, Raiman spends about 90 minutes planting the flags, taking breaks when he needs to. As he stops at certain headstones, he said, memories start flowing.
“I see the memorials to friends I spent time with,” he said. “I see the grave of the person who was the best man at my wedding. I’d say there are about 20 I was very friendly with from Carteret.’’
None, of course, as close to his heart as his wife, Toby, who died on May 26, 1998, Memorial Day Weekend that year. Raiman still planted the flags he planned to, but not until after his wife’s funeral.
“That was easily the most challenging Memorial Day weekend for all of us,” said Scott. Raiman has another son, Phil, and daughter, Harriet.
Raiman, who made his living working on the assembly line in General Motors’ New Departure Hyatt Bearings plant in Clark, which closed in 1987, was also an active member of the Carteret Jewish community, especially for the Carteret Jewish Center and JWV.
No doubt visiting the cemeteries also brings back memories of the once vibrant Carteret Jewish community that supported two synagogues and the Carteret JCC, which closed in 2002. In 2006, Raiman and Garson Gruhin, the last remaining Carteret JCC board members, arranged, through Gruhin’s son, Mark, a lawyer, to transfer the center’s building and adjacent rabbi’s residence to a group of rabbis looking to open a yeshiva. Yeshiva Gedola of Carteret opened in 2006.
“I was glad we were able to do that,” said Raiman. “It was important to us to keep a living Jewish presence in Carteret.”
In addition to his other activities and visiting his children, Raiman is a long-time fan of Jewish professional athletes; he followed all the past era’s Jewish boxers, such as decorated World War II veteran Barney Ross. And he is also enjoying the baseball season, particularly the Yankees.
“I stayed up to watch the Yankees’ games on their recent West Coast trip,” he said. “And I know all about that kid with the Houston Astros, Alex Bregman. His father and mother are both lawyers, and he’s a great Jewish ballplayer, just like Hank Greenberg was many years ago.”
“I can still remember Mel Allen’s home-run call, ‘Going, going, gone.’”