Philip Kahn was born on Dec. 15, 1919, as the Spanish flu ravaged the world. He took ill shortly after his birth, though wound up living a century until experiencing another pandemic, this one costing him his life. He passed away on April 17 due to complications from COVID-19.

When Kahn was born, the dust of World War I had barely begun to settle, and the world was roiled in another crisis: the Spanish flu.

At its initial outbreak, many countries were in the midst of fierce battles on the war front; as such, their newspapers had strict wartime censorship. Spain, a neutral country, freely reported the toll that this new influenza was taking on its populace, thus gaining the moniker Spanish flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 500 million people, or one-third of the world’s population, became infected with this virus. The pandemic went on to claim the lives of an estimated 50 million people worldwide—more than the casualties of World War I at about 40 million. In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918. Upwards of 675,000 Americans succumbed to the virus, including Kahn’s twin brother Samuel, at just 3 weeks old.

Kahn’s parents, William and Roza, were Jewish immigrants from Poland. William owned a bakery, and Roza was the homemaker. He had two older siblings, Jack, born in 1914, and Louis, born in 1915. They lived in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where he had fond memories of his childhood.

“My mother and father, who had immigrated to America years before with their families to escape the growing anti-Semitism in Poland, taught my brothers and me to enjoy every piece of American life,” Kahn told the Published Reporter in an interview for his centenarian birthday. “ ... We especially loved Brooklyn, where our most enjoyable summer destination was to the beaches of Coney Island. ... Most importantly,” he added, “my parents taught us to follow and cherish our Jewish faith and to love and be loyal to the great country of America that had opened its doors of freedom and opportunity to them.”

As the temperature in Europe began heating up in the late 1930s, a young Kahn carefully followed the evolving situation. After war broke out, he became convinced that there was a distinct role for America to play. “I knew that the day would soon come when the United States would join the battle to defeat this evil,” he told the Published Reporter, recalling his fateful decision to enlist in the U.S Army in 1940—a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, which drew the nation into the war. Kahn enlisted into the Army’s Aviation Cadet Pilot Training Program in Fort Gordon, Ga.

Kahn would recall later in life that all too often, it was the Jewish servicemen sent to the front lines who first died for their country.

After Pearl Harbor, Kahn was deployed to the Pacific theater, where he flew 14 bombing missions over Japan.

Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. Kahn, then stationed on an airbase off the Japanese mainland, was elated and proud of his brothers-in-arms. “When I heard the news that Hitler and his genocidal empire had been destroyed,” he told the Published Reporter, “I felt a great sensation of joy and pride as an American. Also, having learned some frightening details about the genocide of European Jewry, I thanked G‑d that American troops had liberated hundreds of thousands of survivors.”

Kahn was overjoyed that his two brothers serving in Europe—one of them took part in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, and the other fought in the Battle of the Bulge—would soon be going home. Yet the Japanese had still not surrendered, and Kahn feared his brothers and fellow servicemen would simply be rerouted there. Ultimately, in early August of 1945, the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Kahn was tasked with a flyover to survey the bombs’ unprecedented damage. On Aug. 14, 1945, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.

Arriving back on American shores, Kahn married Rose Cohen and built a family of his own. He worked as an electrician for many years until his retirement, serving as the foreman for the electrical systems of the World Trade Center.

Kahn’s Jewish faith “meant the world to him,” a family member told His son-in-law, Dr. Simon Zysman added that Kahn would often recall spending Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in Japan, being flown to the mainland for services. This past Passover, Kahn was determined to celebrate, just as he had for a century, reading the Haggadah in Hebrew.

He frequently attended synagogue, most recently at the Lake Success Jewish Center in Great Neck, N.Y.

“He was very proud that he was a Jew and a fighting Jew, and that along with what he estimated as 500,000 American Jews, including his two brothers, he contributed to the war effort,” said Zysman.

Kahn is survived by his daughter, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

He was predeceased by his wife of 73 years, Rose, and their daughter, Joyce.

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