Gerard G. Bernhardt, 88, optician

Gerard G. Bernhardt
Gerard G. Bernhardt
Posted: August 23, 2013

Gerard G. Bernhardt, 88, who earned a Purple Heart at Normandy and went on to become an optician and union leader, died Thursday, Aug. 15, of respiratory failure at a hospice in Mount Joy, Pa.

He had moved to West Chester to live with his daughter Jane Joyce after spending most of his adult life in East Falls.

At 17, Mr. Bernhardt volunteered for the Army and served as a rifleman in the 28th Infantry Division in World War II. When his unit landed on the beaches of France in 1944 as part of the D-Day invasion, a sniper shot Mr. Bernhardt in the front of the neck, and the bullet pierced his left lung, his son Joe said.

Mr. Bernhardt managed to survive and was awarded a Purple Heart. For the rest of his life, his military service would remain a large part of his identity, Joe Bernhardt said.

"If you met him, you knew within five minutes that he served in World War II," he said.

After the war, Mr. Bernhardt married Eileen Lawler, whom he had dated before he was shipped overseas.

They raised a family in East Falls.

Mr. Bernhardt was active in a neighborhood church and started a local optician's practice, where he worked for about 15 years.

"He was a real neighborhood guy," his son said, noting that his father offered bargain deals to community members. "He wasn't just a salesman."

Before he had his own business, Mr. Bernhardt crafted lenses at Philadelphia Optical Co. in Center City.

He also served as president of the local branch of the International Jewelry Workers Union. He briefly took time off from his career as an optician to work full-time as the business agent for the union.

In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Bernhardt is survived by sons Gerard Jr. and Bruce; daughters Eileen McStravick, Helen McMonagle, Frances Catherine, Theresa, Maryanne Brooks, Dolores, and Cecelia J.; two sisters; 23 grandchildren; and 19 great-grandchildren. His wife died in 1999.

Viewings will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, and 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, at McIlvaine Funeral Home, 3711 Midvale Ave. A Funeral Mass at St. Bridget Roman Catholic Church, 3673 Midvale Ave., will follow the Saturday viewing at 10:30. Burial will be in Westminster Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd.

Donations may be made to Disabled American Veterans, Box 14301, Cincinnati, Ohio 45290.

Contact Theodore Schleifer at 215-854-5607,, or follow @teddyschleifer on Twitter.

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