World War II veteran Gene Leavy, 88, of East Northport,...

World War II veteran Gene Leavy, 88, of East Northport, is a member of the Society of the Sons of Bitche, which includes members of the 100th Infantry Division. Leavy spoke about his wartime experiences at the Northport-East Northport Library on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. Credit: Tara Conry

Gene Leavy is proud to call himself a “son of Bitche.”

Bitche, France, that is.

The 88-year-old East Northport resident earned the title along with his comrades while serving in the 100th Infantry Division during World War II. Bitche was just one of the many towns the division liberated or captured during its months of combat in northeastern France and western Germany.

On Monday, Leavy shared some of his World War II experiences during a talk held at the Northport-East Northport Library. He fought back tears as he spoke of the soldiers killed in battle, particularly the thousands of men who died during the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

“They were all my brothers,” Leavy said, with two hands placed over his heart.

Leavy, a Brooklyn native, considers himself one of the lucky ones. Not only did he return from the war unscathed, but he also brought back his new bride Erne — whom he met in Germany toward the end of the war — with him.

In April 1945, his division was prepared to capture the German city of Stuttgart, but they were pulled back in order to leave the honor to the French. So Leavy, then 19, and a friend found themselves in Backnang when they happened upon two young ladies on bicycles: Erne Hasch, the future Mrs. Leavy, and one of her pals.

The pair began to date even though Erne’s brother, Walter, a German soldier, had just been captured by Leavy’s regiment. They married in July 1947.

“A month ago we were trying to kill each other and now he was going to be my brother-in-law,” Leavy said. “That’s the craziness of war.”

Had his infantry not been ordered to pull back, Leavy said, perhaps he may have never met “the love of his life.” (The couple was married for 61 years before she died.)

Leavy said so much of life is based on small decisions that can have major consequences. During war, such choices could mean the difference between life or death — bending down to pick up something off the ground sometimes meant a bullet would graze your head instead of kill you, he said.

“The randomness of who made it out alive and who didn’t didn’t make any sense,” he said. “I still have things running in my head.”

Northport resident Nick Emanuel, 74, was among the group of 20 people who had gathered to hear Leavy speak. Emanuel had also served in the infantry, but during peacetime in the late 1950s and early ’60s. His only memories of World War II were of participating in air raid drills inside his Washington Heights apartment when he was 4 years old.

“It’s very rare that you get to hear a firsthand account like this,” Emanuel said of Leavy’s talk. “These people are just fading away.”

Leavy said he won’t be “celebrating” Veterans Day on Tuesday, adding, “It’s not a day you celebrate.”

But he will be honoring his fallen brothers by flying over Calverton National Cemetery in a 1943 plane along with fellow members of the Bayport Aerodrome Society. Each pilot will tip their planes’ wings to salute the soldiers.

“I came home in one piece with a wife I adored,” he said. “What do I have to cry about?”

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