VACAVILLE, Calif. (KTXL) – Out of the 16 million men and women who served during World War II, about 100,000 veterans are still alive today.
When one of them makes it to 100 years old, it’s cause for a big celebration.
Residents at Pacifica Senior Living in Vacaville, California, had all been waiting for Friday when they would be able to see WWII veteran Theodore Albertus Mertz take the first few steps on his centennial birthday.
“For about a year, we’ve been planning on having something great and special for him,” said Susie Shurtleff.
“It is going to be a great day,” said Lindsay Martin.
Mertz was born on June 4, 1921, and is originally from Danville, Illinois. He joined the Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to become an aviation ordnanceman first class V-6.
He spent years in the Philippines before marrying the love of his life, Claire. The couple was married for 59 years before Claire died in 2005. To this day, Mertz says their love is his proudest achievement and he misses her every day.
He now has four daughters, seven grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren, with number six on the way — all of whom were proud to see him make it to this grand milestone.
“His physical therapist was with him today and she says she’s amazed,” Shurtleff said. “She tells her 90-year-olds, ‘You should see who I work with.’”
“He would say what his key to longevity is is forgiveness, because he has such a forgiving heart,” Martin said.
To show their appreciation of Mertz’s service to his country, members of the Vacaville Fire and Police departments, Travis Air Force Base, Getting Involved thru Volunteer Engagement and Pink Heels, as well as multiple Vacaville car clubs, showered him with special gifts and emotional tributes.
It all would not have been possible without the hard work of Pacifica’s Rosa Gracida.
“I looked at the day of his birthday, I right away said he’s going to be 100 in two months,” Gracida told FOX40. “At that point, we decided to do a 100-car parade for his 100th birthday.”
Even though Mertz is a man of very few words, the excitement could be seen on his face as hundreds of people drove by in a parade fit for a king.
Gracida said they counted all of those cars that went by and it added up to 200 for his 100th birthday.
“He’s such a great dad and such a great person, and I feel so honored and so proud of him,” Shurtleff said, crying.