Edward H. “Ed” Comly Sr. was more than a lifelong Northeast Philadelphia resident. He was a community icon.
Raised during the Great Depression to a local farming family, Comly served at Normandy and in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II before returning to the area and becoming one of its leading veterans advocates while raising a family of his own.
He always brought a smile and kind words to the many community meetings he attended regularly for decades.
Comly’s life of service came to an end last Wednesday as he passed away in an area hospital following recent surgery. The longtime Bustleton resident was 87.
In death, the tall, lanky character known to friends as “Slim” is being remembered as a devout soldier and family patriarch.
“We were just watching TV the other night. It was a show about Normandy,” said Ed Comly Jr., one of his three sons. “They were showing (soldiers) bringing pontoons from the ships to bring tanks in and he said, ‘I built that.’ He was always watching World War II shows.”
Among his many accomplishments, the elder Comly’s military service stands out as a defining one. Although eligible for a draft exemption due to his work on the family farm, Comly enlisted in the Army anyway.
“I didn’t want to be seen as a draft dodger,” he told the Northeast Times in 2007.
He and local pal Joe Heller signed up, trained and were deployed together.
Comly sailed for Europe in April 1944. By June 6 that year, D-Day, he had become part of the largest amphibious invasion force that the world had ever seen. His 992nd Engineer Treadway Bridge Company of the 8th Armored Division embarked at Plymouth, England, and landed on the beaches of Normandy.
The company built and guarded treadway pontoon bridges spanning rivers, creeks and ditches allowing Allied tanks and infantry to advance across the continent toward Berlin. Comly’s outfit crossed the Vire and Meuse rivers in France, the Albert Canal in Belgium and the Ruhr and Elbe rivers in Germany, meeting up with Russian forces about 50 miles west of the German capital.
The war in Europe ended soon after.
Then Comly returned to his father’s farm on Grant Avenue near the present-day site of Northeast Airport.
As a youth, Comly helped his family grow vegetables and flowers that they would cart to the old Reading Terminal Market to sell and barter. He attended St. Luke’s Memorial Church and graduated from Frankford High School.
Despite his 6-foot-3 frame, sports were not an option as there was work to be done.
“There was no fooling around. The only thing was going to a movie on Saturday night,” he said.
His brother J. Byron Comly Jr., also a military veteran, operated Comly Flower Shop in Bustleton.
Ed Comly married his childhood sweetheart, Ann Curry, after the war. Together they raised sons Ed Jr., Jay and Ron.
Ann passed away in 1971. In time, Ed Sr. married another lifelong friend, Jayne Vaders, who brought a daughter Jayne into the marriage. The elder Jayne passed away in 1996.
Comly is survived by seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
He was a relative of Watson T. Comly, a 19th century local farmer and school board member after whom the Watson T. Comly School is named. Comly Road is also named after the family, according to Ed Jr.
Among the elder Comly’s many efforts in support of military veterans, he co-founded Bustleton Post 810 of the American Legion.
“He and my uncle Doc (Byron) were founders and my father was the oldest living member,” Ed Jr. said.
The elder Comly also was one of the driving forces in the creation of the Delaware Valley Veterans Home at Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road, teaming with Vincent Malatesta. Comly served on the home’s board of directors for a year. Malatesta passed away in 2007.
Comly also was a longtime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6617, the Delaware Valley Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, Greater Bustleton Civic League and the 7th Police District Advisory Council.
In 2007, Comly was chosen as the grand marshal of the annual Somerton Memorial Day Parade on Bustleton Avenue, although he refused to accept the label of “hero.” He did what most young men did at the time.
“I felt that if I was going to be at home, what was I going to do? Have people say, ‘Why are you still over here, Comly?’” he said. ••EndFragment