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World War II veteran gets surprise on his 100th birthday

Skagit Valley Herald - 3/5/2021

Mar. 5—ANACORTES — When Gail Olsen told her father Elwin Vernon she was taking him out for lunch Thursday to celebrate his 100th birthday, she said he wasn't so sure he was up for it.

What Vernon, a World War II and Korean War veteran didn't know was that once he sat down at an outside table at the downtown restaurant he was also sitting down for a drive-by parade in his honor.

"It's amazing," Vernon said as he waved while vehicles adorned with American flags, motorcycles ridden by veterans, and even the Anacortes police and fire departments drove by.

The event was organized in part by American Legion Post 13 in Anacortes, said Post Commander Wally Garland.

The post had been planning a big party to celebrate Vernon's 100th birthday, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced those plans to be changed, Garland said.

"He'd been really looking forward to it, hoping he'd make it," Garland said. "He'd been bummed out (they couldn't have it.)"

In 1940, at age 19, Vernon enlisted in the Army Air Corps.

During the war he was one of about 1,100 men in Gen. George S. Patton's "ghost army," a tactical deception unit that used inflatable tanks and aircraft to deceive the Germans.

Vernon continued to serve his country during the Korean War, and eventually retired as a colonel in the Air Force.

"I wish I'd had a colonel that I could have served with like him," said Tom Sheahan, an Army veteran who helped organize the event.

Because of the pandemic, not all of Vernon's family was able to attend, but he had plans to talk with other family members in the afternoon, his daughter said.

"This doesn't happen every day," she said of her father's big birthday. "The family loves him and we're very proud of him."

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141,, Twitter: @Kera_SVH,


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