Eli Soblick, 98, is presented with a Purple Heart flag...

Eli Soblick, 98, is presented with a Purple Heart flag by members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart at Congregation Beth Israel of Cathedral Gardens in Hempstead on Saturday. Credit: Linda Rosier

To celebrate the 98th birthday of Eli Soblick on Saturday his Hempstead synagogue and area veterans honored the man wounded in World War II with a Purple Heart flag.

The ceremony was held at Congregation Beth Israel of Cathedral Gardens, where a handful of veterans draped the purple flag around his shoulders. Some 40 members of the congregation burst into applause and a congratulatory chant of "Mazel tov, mazel tov, mazel tov."

The flag, bearing the distinctive symbol of the Purple Heart medal, read, “Honoring America’s Combat Wounded Veterans.” 

Soblick, speaking in a low, wheezing voice, had a simple yet profound reaction to the honor.

"Overwhelmed," he said. "Overwhelmed."

Raised in Brooklyn, Soblick said he entered the Army when he was only a teenager. He served as a combat infantryman in the Pacific islands. He was wounded while serving on the island of Angaur in the western Pacific.

"I got hit by shrapnel," he said, pointing to his neck and back. The wounds were not life-threatening, so he was patched up and sent back to the front, he said. He later received a Purple Heart for the injury.

Soblick, who left the service as a staff sergeant, added, "I earned my stripes in combat."

Bob Chiappone, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for Long Island, presented the flag. 

"The World War II vets, there's not many left," he said. "We are honored to be here. He is our hero."

The ceremony was a proud moment for the congregation, said synagogue president Richard Krauss.

"He's a man who served his country," Krauss said. "We're honored to have a man like that."

After the war, Soblick became an educator at the New York School of Printing, now known as the High School of Graphic Communication Arts. These days, his challenges are those that come with time and age. He is legally blind, has lost much of his hearing and wears a pacemaker, but he still gets around with a red walker on wheels. He also has a 24-hour aide, Winsome Callum.

Callum was by his side through the ceremony. When the vets draped the flag around his shoulders, she said she felt tears rising.

"Some days are good, some not," she said of his health. "Today is good."

This was not the first time the community has rallied around Soblick. Nassau County lawmakers named him "Senior Citizen of the Year" for 2012, citing his volunteer work with youth and seniors.

Gary Glick, commander of the New York chapter of Jewish War Veterans of the USA, recalled when he visited Soblick a few years ago at his home. Soblick's wife, Doris, had died in 2013.

Glick said the house was a mess. Ceiling tiles were collapsing. The refrigerator handle was duct-taped in place. Cabinet doors came off in his hand, he said.

"The house was a disaster. He wasn't being taken care of," said Glick, who reached out to the group Rebuilding Together Long Island, which helped repair the place.

Soblick moved to Franklin Square in 1955. He and his wife had two children, a daughter Ronnie and a son Douglas. His neighbor of 50 years, Anna Maria Barone, also attended Saturday's ceremony.

"He's my best neighbor," said Barone, 73. "If I needed anything, he was there. Now it's my turn to pay back."

Soblick, for his part, shared his thoughts on living a long life.

"I worked hard, and I was good to other people," he said.

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