By Janee Law
The four years that Robert “Bob” Bookbinder served across World War II and the Korean War have shaped him as a person. The 94-year-old veteran and former Huntington resident, looking back at his U.S. Army service, said it helped him grow into who he is today.
Bookbinder currently lives in Pompano Beach, Florida, and grew up in upstate Woodridge. There, he graduated from Woodridge High School in 1940.
But, at age 20, he put his University of Kentucky education on hold and began serving his country. The year was 1943 and Bookbinder was soon 1st lieutenant with headquarter company, 1st Battalion, 343rd Infantry, of the 86th “Black Hawk” Infantry Division. He and his fellow soldiers arrived in France in March 1945.
While overseas, Bookbinder said, the 86th Division served under several field armies, including the First, Third, Seventh, and Fifteenth. He added that the 86th fought in the Ruhr Pocket battle and liberated a slave labor camp that held Polish, Soviet and Czech laborers in Attendorn, Germany in April 1945. The war ended in Europe soon after on May 8, 1945.
It was then that the 86th returned to its original post in San Luis Obispo, California. After a 30-day stay, it was then redeployed to the Pacific with other U.S. military forces to make an assault upon the Japan mainland.
When Japan surrendered in September 1945, Bookbinder and his division were at sea.
In the wake of the war, 86th became an Occupational Force in the Philippines until it was deactivated in December 1946. Bookbinder, a platoon leader, said that none of the members of his platoon lost their lives while fighting in Europe. “I was very satisfied… I consider that a measure of success.”
When he returned to the U.S., he finished his education at University of Kentucky, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1947. He later earned a master’s degree at Columbia University in 1948.
While studying at Columbia, Bookbinder worked one day each week as a physical education teacher at what was then Cold Spring Harbor Elementary School. After graduation, he needed a full-time job. So, with the help of Mildred Jannicky, then Cold Spring Harbor school board president, he landed a job working one day a week at different schools around town, including Centerport, Cold Spring Harbor, Commack, Dix Hills and Greenlawn.
The school districts began expanding soon after and sought full-time employees, leading Bookbinder to work full-time as both a physical education and science teacher at Greenlawn’s Broadway School, which is now Harborfields Public Library.
While working at Broadway, Bookbinder lived in Huntington with his wife, Natalie, whom he married in 1946, and their children, Howard, Pamela and Susan.
But his country soon came calling again.
In 1951, he was ordered to serve in the Korean War, although not overseas. Bookbinder was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia for some advanced training. He then served as 1st lieutenant physical training officer at Fort Dix in North Carolina. He was discharged in 1952.
When he returned to Huntington, Bookbinder picked up where he left off.
Bookbinder helped shape what would become Harborfields School District as schools in Greenlawn and Centerport came together. He worked closely with his mentor, Thomas J. Lahey, during that time.
With the district formed, Bookbinder worked in several different roles at different times, including elementary school assistant principal; junior high principal; district director of curriculum; and assistant superintendent of personnel and administration.
Outside of the schools, Bookbinder was also president of the Huntington Jewish Center from 1958-1961. He also had roles as president of both the Huntington chapter of American Cancer Society, and Kiwanis Club of Greenlawn-Centerport.
“I was very deeply involved and I really enjoyed my 25 years in the Greenlawn-Centerport area,” Bookbinder said, adding they were the most satisfying years of his life. “I felt rather sad when I did leave. I filled all kinds of positions and enjoyed working with the children and the community there.”
He left Huntington in 1973 to work as superintendent of schools in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
When retirement came calling in 1990, he moved to Pompano Beach, Florida, where he continues to volunteer in his community.
For his military service during World War II, Bookbinder earned the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Black Hawk Warrior Award and French Legion of Honor Medal, France’s highest military and civil distinction.
He earned the honor for his efforts in the freedom of France, where he was involved in destroying a number of minefields in the French area, he said.
Along with community service, Bookbinder plays the harmonica. He also teaches others how to play.
“It’s been a great trip and I’m not completely finished yet. Although I’m now 94 years of age, I have lots more to do,” said Bookbinder, now a grandfather of three, and great-grandfather of two.
One thing on Bookbinder’s list is checking in with the recently-formed Huntington branch of the Combat Infantrymen's Association. He said he’s looking to join up and reconnect with Huntington residents.