by Terry Rogers
Being 99 years old did not slow Ellan Levitsky-Orkin down on her recent trip to Normandy to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Allied invasion. Lavitsky-Orkin travelled to France for the first time without her sister, Dorothy Levitsky-Sinner, who passed away in 2015. The sisters joined the war effort together with the stipulation they would not be separated when they traveled to France as Army Nurses.
“I was queen for eight days,” Levitsky-Orkin said about the trip that began June 2. “I am absolutely happy I went. I visited a lot of areas that were so important and saw a lot of people I knew. So many people remembered me and Dorothy from previous trips. My friends came for the events from Belgium. It was just wonderful.”
One of the events that touched Levitsky-Orkin’s heart was the unveiling of a monument with photos of her and her sister. Calling it almost “overwhelming,” Levitsky-Orkin said that the main reason she decided she had to go on the trip was in honor of her sister.
“When they pulled the cover off and our photos were there, it was so very touching,” Levitsky-Orkin said. “Everyone was crying. My sister and I are part of their history and I am very proud of it. The Catholic Church held a memorial mass for my sister as well.”
Before her trip, Levitsky-Orkin called this trip her “last hurrah” as she will be 100 years old in December. Now, she is busy planning her 100th birthday party and would be thrilled to see some of her friends from overseas at the celebration. She is already talking about returning to France next year for the ceremonies.
“The only thing I did not get to do that I wanted to do was the ceremony celebrating Omaha Beach when President Donald Trump visited,” Levitsky-Orkin said. “My aide and my aide’s daughter were my traveling companions. They were concerned that the ceremony would be too long. In the past, World War II veterans have been required to sit for long periods without any breaks. They were a little worried it would be too much for me so I did not go.”
Throughout the trip, Levitsky-Orkin as presented medals and gifts from mayors of the various towns she visited. She was even presented a teddy bear “at my age if you can believe it,” she said. She said that everyone was thrilled to see her return. Levitsky-Orkin and her sister had attended the ceremony every year for many years and, after her sister passed away, Levitsky-Orkin decided not to go for a while.
The Levitsky sisters were born n Salem, New Jersey. Dorothy was the oldest, born in 1915, followed by Ellan four years later. Their mother, Fanny, was a Ukranian immigrant and, when their father, Isador, died in 1920, their mother opened a grocery store to support the family. Levitsky-Orkin said that her mother wanted her daughters to prosper despite struggling financially when they were young.
After graduating from high school, Dorothy attended Wilmington Hospital School for Nursing. Four years later, Levitsky-Orkin began studying nursing in Philadelphia. Both sisters paid for nursing school by working in a sewing factory. It was Levitsky-Orkin’s decision to join the Army as a nurse as she wanted to help wounded soldiers. Dorothy was not happy when her sister enlisted but decided that if Ellan was going, she would go as well. She wrote the Army recruiters and offered to enlist as long as the two sisters were always assigned together. The Army agreed and the Levitsky sisters headed to Fort Meade, Maryland, for boot camp, something that Levitsky-Orkin said the two women hated. After being trained as Army nurses, they were sent to France where they served for almost a full year in France. Once they finished that tour, they could have been sent to the ongoing war in the Pacific but the Japanese surrender in 1945 allowed them to return home.
Levitsky-Orkin considered making the Army a career but their mother fell ill and both sisters returned home to care for her. Dorothy married and retired after working for 28 years at the Veterans Administration in Elsmere. Levitsky-Orkin married Benjamin Orkin, a native of Milford in 1946 and her mother lived with the couple for 21 years, passing away at the age of 101 in 1993.
In 2012, the Levitsky sisters were presented the Legion of Honor at the French embassy and they were made honorary citizens of Bolleville, France, that same year.
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