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WWII Veteran gets surprise birthday party at La Salle VA Clinic

World War II Navy Veteran Ervin Safranek, of Paw Paw, Illinois, celebrated his 98th birthday during a surprise party thrown by La Salle VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic staff, on July 21, 2022.
World War II Navy Veteran Ervin Safranek, of Paw Paw, Illinois, celebrated his 98th birthday during a surprise party thrown by La Salle VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic staff, on July 21, 2022. (Photo by Matthew Moeller, Hines VA Hospital Public Affairs Office)

A World War II Navy Veteran celebrated his 98th trip around the sun with a little help from the La Salle VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC).

Ervin Safranek, of Paw Paw, Illinois, went in for a regular checkup. Afterward, he found a surprise birthday party thrown by a cheering La Salle VA staff.

"How does it feel to be 98?" asked Sally Washkowiak, La Salle's Nurse Manager.  

"You know, truthfully, I don't think I am 98," joked Safranek to the group of VA well-wishers. 

Eighty years ago, an 18-year-old Safranek was drafted to fight in World War II. According to Safanek, the draft board gave him a choice to join the Army or Navy. He chose the Navy for one reason – Safanek hated the Army's uniform.

"I didn't want to wear a tie, and in those days, the Army always was wearing ties," he joked. 

Safranek's strong dislike of decorative neckwear found him sailing, tie-free, across the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters during the war, including combat missions in Naples, Italy, and Okinawa, Japan.

After the war, Safranek returned to Paw Paw, eventually opening a grocery store for his community. Now retired, Safranek bragged that he can still drive the 30 minutes from his home to his medical appointments at La Salle VA Clinic. 

"The day he came in to schedule his appointment, the clerk noticed it was going to be his birthday, so it got me thinking to do a little celebration," explained Laura McNally, a social worker at La Salle and party planner. "We don't have a lot of World War II Veterans anymore. Anything we can do to make our Veterans feel extra special is what our goal is."

Although Safranek was happy to reach another milestone, he insisted it wasn't a big deal. The Veteran has his sights set on reaching his 100th celebration.

"I have to wait a couple of years before the big one," he said, smiling.

"We'll be here," Washkowiak exclaimed.  

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