WWII Vet celebrates 100th birthday

Don’t make any plans for December,” says Harry Anderson, “I’m having my 100th birthday party, and it’s going to be a big party.”

Spry, delightful, almost impish, Anderson lives in a retirement park in San Marcos with a friendly roommate/caregiver. Full of stories, souvenirs and spice, it was a real pleasure to meet someone of that age, with all his faculties, ready for life’s next adventure.

Anderson is a World War II veteran and survivor, whose troop ship landed in Tokyo just two days after the official surrender of Japan in 1945. But Harry did not turn around and leave. He stayed for more than two years and lived among the war-torn civilians.

To this day, he proudly maintains written correspondence with descendants of his Japanese friends.

What keeps him going? An easy question to ask and much harder to answer.

Widowed, with many great-children, Anderson has survived most members of his immediate family. His real family members are his fellow residents at Madrid Manor, a resident-owned trailer park. There is much camaraderie and genuine friendship shared among the residents.

Harry is very proud of his Japanese souvenirs, which include a ceremonial cup and an ancient lantern. He collected rocks during his rockhound days. Part of his concerns now are how best to leave his collections to the right people and organizations.

Born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Harry worked in the aviation industry in California. When he was drafted into military service, he was trained to drive a tank. He kept busy being a clerk-typist in the occupied country.

Emotions run deep when the elder Harry remembers what he went through as the younger Harry in the immediate aftermath of the bombing destruction of Japan.

“I did whatever I could to help those people, who had nothing,” he said proudly. “War is so stupid.”

When the party gets fully planned, Harry expects relatives from across the country and friends from around the world to attend. Dawn, his caregiver, said that that may be a good time to suggest who gets what of Harry’s massive collections. Or, not. Harry just wants to have a good time.

Yes, his son in Northern California wants Harry to move closer to him, but his dad gently and firmly refuses.

“This is my home where my true friends are,” Harry said. “I am not planning to start over somewhere else.”

From what Dawn tells me, it appears that the trailer park is more like a form of assisted living, because neighbors keep helping neighbors to stay safely in their homes.

Harry is going to apply for the Honor Flights and just got registered with VA Health. He’s too busy sometimes sharing his spirit with his neighbors to take care of himself.

A talent that we all admire.



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About the Author


Heather Siegel

Heather Siegel is a well-known disability rights advocate. Each story brings Siegel’s unique insights into the complex lives of disabled veterans struggling to survive in the peacetime world. If you know someone who would be a good candidate for a profile, please contact Heather Siegel — The Siegel Sidebar at siegelsidebar@militarypress.com or (760) 432-8383.