Montville man led during WWII
86-year-old 'an inspiration' to anyone who knows him
SPECIAL TO THE DAILY RECORD
Caption: Jules Lipcon, 86, who served in the Army during World War II and later worked as an engineer at Maidenform, moved to Montville with his wife, Vivian, after raising two daughters, who both became doctors.
MONTVILLE - Time may have passed, but the recollections that transport Jules Lipcon to a distant place are as vivid today as they were then.
Raised in the South Bronx, Lipcon, 86, is a 1935 alumnus of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. He graduated from New York University, where he studied mechanical engineering.
He and his wife, Vivian, moved to Montville after raising their two children in Westfield.
In late 1941, the year after his college graduation, Lipcon was drafted into the Army.
Because of his engineering background, he was sent to basic training at an ordnance training center in Aberdeen, Md. There he applied and was accepted to officer candidate school. He was assigned to be an instructor, training mechanics in artillery repair.
After a transfer to a similar ordnance training school in California, Lipcon was given command of the 544th Ordnance Maintenance Field Army Company. Composed of experienced mechanics, the men had been recruited or drafted into the Army from a civilian agricultural machinery business, International Harvester Co., formed by the 1902 merger of McCormick Harvesting and four other major reaper companies.
The group trained in this country for a year before going overseas to England, landing three days after D-Day.
Lipcon led 250 men from Normandy, France, to Germany, as they repaired tanks, trucks, artillery, small arms, instruments and "everything imaginable."
"It was a big responsibility for a 24-year-old," he said, adding that he served for five years. He started as a captain and was promoted to major by the time of his discharge.
During their journey across Europe, Lipcon's unit spent time in Sprimont, a municipality in the Belgian province of Liege. The troop set up its work station in a quarry in the Ardennes Mountains, where they stayed for three months. This site became the scene of the Battle of the Bulge.
ŇA 6-year-old boy sort of attached himself to me," Lipcon said. ŇAs I went about my daily job, he followed me around. I've always had a liking for children and I took his picture."
When he received the photo, Lipcon wrote the child's name, Louis, on the back. Anything he collected during the war he mailed to a girlfriend with whom he corresponded in California.
"When I came home, I went to California thinking I would like to live there, but it was too difficult at that time," he said. "But she presented me with a scrapbook of all the stuff I had sent her, so I've always had that."
Before the 50th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1994, one of the men from Lipcon's unit called and said he and his wife were taking a D-Day tour and would be visiting Sprimont. He wanted to know if Lipcon had any memorabilia.
"I sent him a few things, including the picture of Louis," Lipcon said, adding that the man found the boy. "He was now 56, living in Sprimont. Not only that, we did ... repair work and Louis watched us, he became an auto mechanic. He had his own little business."
After his friend's trip, Lipcon began corresponding with Louis. In 1996, he and his wife arranged a stay in Sprimont.
"It was a very heartfelt visit," Lipcon said. "He took us to his home, where they had a back patio decorated with American and Belgian flags, dinner laid out on the table, and his whole family there, children and grandchildren."
One of the children had renovated a World War II jeep and took them to see the sites. They also went to Bastogne, a town in southeast Belgium near the Luxembourg border, which the Germans surrounded during the Battle of the Bulge. "People were waving to us."
During the war, Louis' father was in a German prisoner of war camp. "He was fatherless and it was a very emotional experience. "
In 1947, Lipcon became a mechanical engineer at Maidenform, the lingerie company. He was vice president of engineering when he retired in 1987.
"It's a very labor-intensive type of industry," Lipcon said, referring to the importance of an engineer to keep the business running smoothly. "They have extensive factories and lots of machinery to maintain.
"It was challenging, and it was a very high-pressure job because that type of business is seasonal. There are deadlines for the manufacturing, and if there's any problem in a factory, there'd be hell to pay."
Being under constant pressure, Lipcon said, is one reason that he was happy to retire. He did it later in life so he and his wife could put their daughters, one who is his and one who is hers, through medical school.
"I'm very proud of that," Lipcon said. "The older one is a radiologist; she's a full professor at NYU Medical Center and heads the department of nuclear medicine. The other one is an internist in California and works as a hospitalist," a physician who specializes in the care of hospitalized patients.
'A fine human being'
The Lipcons met 35 years ago at the Westfield Y Single Parents Club. Vivian, Lipcon's second wife, is from Montreal and was a microbiologist at Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical giant. The company had moved her to its research center in Rahway.
The couple are active members of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, where he volunteers in the office. "It's a very creative and supportive community," Lipcon said. ŇAnd it's the center of all our activities, social and otherwise."
Lipcon stays physically active by hiking. He skied into his early 80s. "I gave up downhill skiing only two years ago."
Writing is a favorite pastime. He writes for a monthly newsletter distributed by Longview, his apartment complex. "I've written quite a few articles for them, mostly about my World War II experiences," he said.
Dorothy Sommer, who moved into the development eight years ago, said Lipcon and his wife "have been really very lovely to me, especially after and including the loss of my husband.
"I just experience him as just a fine human being," Sommer said. "If I had to give him some extra letters after his degrees, I would say 'FHB,' for 'Fine Human Being.'
A book lover, Lipcon started a club at Longview and is a member of the MUF Book Club.
Since its inception 17 years ago, Lipcon has been taking part in the MUF Men's Group, "We have formed very close friendships, it's been a wonderful experience," he said.
Paul Mitchell, a professor of English at Kean University, retired public school teacher and a friend for 19 years, met Lipcon through the MUF. "I would call Jules an ageless miracle. He's an inspiration to everyone who knows him.
"The way a lot of us who know him well would put it is 'we hope we are as lively and caring as he is when we get to be that age: intellectually alive, socially conscious, cares about family; friends and community, has many cultural interests, an avid reader, spontaneous, takes joy in living.'Ó
Jillian Risberg is a freelance writer.
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Reprinted with permission of the Morris County, NJ Daily Record