WWII veteran gets special birthday honor after party is canceled because of pandemic

Lt. Col. Sam Sachs, a World War II veteran, cheers well-wishers during a celebration of his 105th birthday.
Lt. Col. Sam Sachs, a World War II veteran who turned 105, cheers birthday well-wishers driving past Mom & Dad’s House, an assisted living facility, in Lakewood. “Does life get any better than this?” he says.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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A World War II veteran who appealed for birthday cards after the coronavirus outbreak forced the cancellation of a big party wound up receiving thousands, including a letter from President Trump, and celebrated his 105th birthday Sunday with a parade of well-wishers in cars, military vehicles and even an appearance from a Los Angeles County sheriff’s helicopter.

Lt. Col. Sam Sachs, a World War II veteran, salutes well-wishers during a processional outside his Lakewood assisted living home to celebrate his 105th birthday.
Lt. Col. Sam Sachs, a World War II veteran, had planned a birthday party to celebrate turning 105, but it was called off due to the coronavirus outbreak. An appeal for birthday cards reaped thousands, including a letter and photo from President Trump.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s a marvelous feeling, yes, really,” Lt. Col. Sam Sachs said while watching the caravan pass by Mom & Dad’s House, a senior living home in a residential neighborhood in Lakewood. “The emotions are running so high ... It just doesn’t get any better than this. It’s just unbelievable. This is a dream.”

A veteran waves to World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs during a birthday parade in Lakewood on April 26.
A veteran waves to World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs from his vehicle during Sunday’s hourlong parade, which included classic and modern cars, motorcycles, Los Angeles County sheriff’s vehicles, a county firetruck and a sheriff’s helicopter.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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The Army veteran — who wore his uniform for a video posted on YouTube titled “Sam Sachs 105 BDAY Wish” — said he wondered how many cards he would get after his birthday party was called off.

Since then, Sachs has received at least 6,200 cards from across the U.S., with even more sitting in a basket outside his home Sunday.

A man plays the "Happy Birthday" song on his trumpet in tribute to World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs on Sunday.
A man plays the “Happy Birthday” song on his trumpet in tribute to World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs as a parade of vehicles pass by Mom & Dad’s House, an assisted living facility where Sachs resides, on April 26.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

The roughly hourlong parade included classic and modern cars and motorcycles, along with nearly a dozen Los Angeles County sheriff’s vehicles and a county firetruck with sirens blaring, along with the sheriff’s helicopter flying over the neighborhood.

A driver and passenger hold the U.S. flag while joining a parade to honor World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs in Lakewood on April 26.
A driver and passenger hold the U.S. flag while joining a parade to honor World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs in Lakewood on April 26. Sachs, who served in the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, participated in the Normandy invasion in 1944.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Some of the vehicles were decorated with large American flags, balloons and signs honoring Sachs, with the vehicles’ occupants wishing him a happy birthday, thanking him for his military service and waving as he waved back and thanked them over and over again from a distance.

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“I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe all this is happening. Gee whiz!” he said, while speaking from a microphone near the frontyard, which was decked with hundreds of small, donated American flags. “Thank you, folks. Thank you for making my day. I had no idea what to expect ... This is magical.”

In an interview Friday with City News Service, Sachs said it has been exciting to get cards from all over the country.

The deliveries have included a letter and a photo from Trump citing the “tremendous milestone” and his “dedicated service to our country during World War II,” along with a framed flag delivered by about a dozen members of the Army National Guard.

Isabella Leader, 15, counts the American flags left for World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs at Mom & Dad's House in Lakewood on April 26.
Isabella Leader, 15, counts the American flags left by community members for World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs at Mom & Dad’s House in Lakewood on April 26.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Sachs — who served in the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, participated in the Normandy invasion and was later part of a unit that helped liberate a concentration camp in Germany — also received a letter from the mayor of his birth city, Grand Forks, N.D. , who proclaimed the day in his honor.

He is also expected to receive proclamations from Southern California-area politicians, including Lakewood’s mayor, Todd Rogers, who had called on the public to send cards to Sachs.

“How many World War II vets are around who landed at Normandy almost 76 years ago in a glider of all things, pulled by an airplane?” he wondered aloud, noting that he was inducted recently into France’s Legion of Honor.

A resident of Mom & Dad's House waves while members of the public drive by to celebrate World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs' 105th birthday.
A resident of Mom & Dad’s House waves while members of the public drive by to celebrate World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs’ 105th birthday.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Sachs, who had a teaching career in Southern California after his military service, said he’s also received birthday gifts from strangers. The presents have included $50 from a man who visited he home after seeing a news report about his birthday, Sachs said, adding the response has been “really touching.”

“He’s being overwhelmed in a good way right now,” said Ivonne Meader, who owns the assisted living home where the centenarian resides. “Every day is more. Every day ]it] just multiplies more.”

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Birthday cards for WWII veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs.
Lt. Col. Sam Sachs made an appeal for birthday cards in a YouTube post titled “Sam Sachs 105 BDAY Wish” after his birthday party was called off. Since then, he has received at least 6,200 cards.

(Genaro Molina/Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Meader said the birthday was giving people an opportunity “to be part of something special.”

When asked if his 105th birthday is his favorite, Sachs responded, “You bet it’s my favorite birthday. The question is will I be here at 106? Who knows? Who knows? I’ll work at it. You’d better believe I’ll work at it.”

Firefighters, neighbors and well-wishers honor World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs' 105 birthday in Lakewood on April 26.
Firefighters, neighbors and well-wishers honor World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs’ 105 birthday in Lakewood on April 26. “We’ll do this again next year,” Sachs said as the celebration drew to a close.


(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A group of people who had gathered in the neighborhood to cheer, prompting him to say that he would be happy to repeat it. “This is once in a lifetime, maybe more than once, hopefully. We’ll see,” he said with a laugh.

As the parade of cars wound to an end, Sachs said, “We’ll do this again next year.”