The Hippo


Jan 20, 2018








Finding Phil: Lost in War and Silence

Learn more about the book at

Family silences
Concord’s Paul Levy on Finding Phil

By Kelly Sennott

 In 1987, Concord resident Paul Levy received a package that held his Uncle Phil Levy’s World War II Purple Heart medal and the 96-page journal he’d kept during World War II before he died.

Levy didn’t know the sender — Marjorie Cohn, the sister of his uncle’s wife, Barbara Fischback, who had recently died — but she told him in a note Barbara wanted him to have these items. He felt surprised and intrigued; he hadn’t known the medal or diary existed. But he didn’t have time to learn more about them just then.
“I was in the middle of life. I had a lot of stuff going on — my kids, my career,” Levy said during an interview at Springfield College in Manchester, where he used to teach. “I thought this was really interesting stuff. But I just set it on a shelf and said to myself, maybe someday I’ll learn a little bit about my uncle.”
Someday came in 2011. By that point, Levy had retired from law and from teaching, and while he didn’t expect to find much, he hoped to learn more about his mysterious uncle, who died in France Jan. 7, 1945, at age 22, months before the war’s end. Levy had some details — like the name of his best friend at college (Mark Van Aken), and that he played the drums and attended the University of Michigan — but not much else.
“I literally knew nothing about him. My family had been silent. That’s how they dealt with their grief, and I think that’s what a lot of families did,” Levy said. “My research worked this way: I’d ask a question, and then I’d try to go find an answer. What did Phil do in his youth? How did he meet Barbara? I knew Phil had died somewhere in France. I wanted to know where.”
He sent out requests for military records (it would be three months before he’d receive them) and began following troop movements in 1944 and 1945. He checked into veterans and World War II networks and extracted information from the few people left who knew Phil Levy. He started with his aunt, Phyllis Jean Brown, but didn’t learn very much from her.
“[The silence] had a real interesting effect on her. She couldn’t remember much of her brother,” Levy said. “I found that pattern all over the place, with people who lost a kid in the war, and also with soldiers who came back. They didn’t talk about it. They moved on with their lives as best they could. Maybe they did talk later in their lives, when they got into their 80s. … But there was a lot of silence.”
However, Levy was able find some people who could talk about his uncle. He tracked down one of the soldiers who fought alongside Phil Levy, Jack Delmonte, who was in his 90s and living in Long Island. 
“When I called him out of the blue, I said who I was and that I wasn’t sure if he would know Phil or not. He said, ‘Of course I remember Phil! And wasn’t his wife named Barbara?’” Levy said.
Eventually, Levy found answers — lots of answers, in old records, books, newspaper articles and interviews, and he chronicled them in a self-published book, which he printed 50 copies of and shared with family and friends a few years after beginning his research. 
Levy learned his uncle studied French and Italian in school and served as a translator in the war. He learned Phil Levy was part of Operation Dragoon, which was a counterpart to D-Day in Normandy, and that his uncle was at the front of the 191st Tank Battalion, and thus one of the first American soldiers to cross over into Germany. Levy learned the exact spot his uncle was killed, and he learned the name of the man who did it.
About a year ago, Levy pitched the story to Bauhan Publishing, who took on the project and released Finding Phil: Lost in War and Silence July 2016. Levy describes the book as a mystery, love story and reflection — on heroism, family silences and military history. The process has inspired his wife, Elizabeth Levy, to look into her own family history. 
“In some cases, the book is about encouraging people to go out and explore. If you have any interest in learning about World War II, do it now. If somebody is still alive, definitely try to talk with them. Some vets still aren’t talking, but many are,” Levy said. “My generation never knew Phil. We didn’t miss him because he wasn’t a real person, and we didn’t know what we were missing. So for my family, it’s really been a chance to get to know somebody.” 

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