The man with the honorary doctorate in humanities from Villanova University learned long ago not to take anything in life for granted.
That’s why at 93, Irwin “Irv” Medway doesn’t like people asking about his age or the fact that he’s still driving. And he’s still hungry for learning — still yearning to explore his horizons more than 30 years after retiring as a marketing manager at Columbia Records.
If nothing else, it beats the alternatives that didn’t seem promising when he was under mortar attack and watching his superiors fall around him more than 70 years ago.
“I thought I would die every day,” said Medway, recipient of a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and other medals for valor during his time in the infantry in Belgium, Germany and Holland during World War II. “I don’t know if you have time to think about anything.
“All you think about is the next day.”
His papers say he served exactly two years, nine months and 24 days before his discharge on Nov. 11, 1945.
“I wasn’t involved in any festivities,” said Medway, who became the communications sergeant of his platoon one day due to a “battlefield promotion” when the sergeant on duty was killed in action. “I was in San Luis Obispo in northern California.
“I used the money they gave me to take a train home. I spent three days on the train.”
Then he finally spent time with his new bride, Corrine, affectionately known to all as Chickie. That’s the same Chickie who runs the gift shop at Har Zion Temple, where Irv volunteers a few days a week when he’s not taking classes. Come July, they’ll celebrate their 72nd anniversary.
Perhaps by then her husband will be more comfortable with his newfound celebrity. Three local TV stations covered his Villanova graduation, where the commencement speaker, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, twice mentioned Medway.
“All these years he’s been doing this just for the sake of doing it and without thinking he’d get any reward for it,” his wife said. “He got so much out of it.
“He doesn’t like to be in the limelight, but our family was so ecstatic about this. All seven of our grandchildren came to the graduation. I have to say it was one of the happiest days of our lives.”
It took a while recovering from the trauma of war, though, before Medway could feel any kind of happiness.
“I don’t think I came back complete,” said Medway, whose career took him to Syracuse, N.Y.; Fairfield, Ct.; New York City; and back to Philadelphia before his 1982 retirement. “I was nervous. I would never stand or be anywhere near an open window, and for a while I slept on the floor.”
One of the last things he encountered overseas was the horror of discovering German concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora. By the time it was liberated in 1945, only a few hundred of what had been as much as 50,000 prisoners remained among a pile of bodies.
“We had a breakthrough over the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine,” Medway said. “We run into this concentration death camp. You could see the corpses. I only had a feeling of sadness.”
Through it all, he endured, then went on to have a successful career in the record industry — part of which was spent making sure stars like Bobby Vinton, Sly and the Family Stone and Tammy Wynette were happy during their promotional tours.
He also took some college courses along the way, first at St. Bonaventure University near Olean, N.Y., before transferring to Rutgers University so he could be closer to Chickie, then Syracuse University.
But when Villanova offered him the opportunity to resume his education and get credits without having to pay tuition through its Senior Citizen Personal Enrichment Program, he couldn’t resist.
“I’ve had 43 professors, some two or three times,” said Medway, who grew up in Wynnefield, where he became a Bar Mitzvah and remained until joining the military at 18. “This university is warm and friendly.
“They want me there and want other people my age. I’ve had a wonderful experience.”
Not only that, he’s been able to pass some of his wisdom onto his classmates.
“When you become older, you can be very bold,” he said. “I believe in shock. They come into class and everyone goes to their own chairs and no one’s saying anything. I’ll stand up in the middle of the room and say, ‘This room is not made for silence. When I was in high school, we would talk. Here, there’s no conversation.’ It changed.”
And so on May 20, Medway, who said he’s made it a point to impress the importance of their Judaism upon his three children and grandchildren, received his diploma.
For the first time in his life, Medway, who never questioned being on the frontline in battle wondered, “Why me?”
“It’s unwarranted,” he said. “I’m not different than the other guys. I just lucked out.”
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