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Former World War II B-24 Pilot Marks Milestone 100th Birthday In Santa Maria

John Ferenz Sr. receives certificates from Honor Flight Central Coast California and Congressman Salud Carbajal's office during the celebration

John Ferenz Sr. performs an impromptu dance during his 100th birthday celebration in Santa Maria on Sunday. Click to view larger
John Ferenz Sr. performs an impromptu dance during his 100th birthday celebration in Santa Maria on Sunday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

John Ferenz Sr. spent Sunday joking with friends, dancing and making plans for his next birthday celebration— despite the fact he turned 100 years old just days ago. 

“I’m going to stay here until I get it right,” Ferenz told one friend. 

A 30-year resident of the Santa Maria Valley, Ferenz remains active exercising regularly, playing piano, sharing stories about his role as a B-24 pilot during World War II, and making others laugh.

A crowd of about 75 people attended a birthday luncheon Sunday for Ferenz at the Historic Santa Maria Inn days after he marked his centennial Jan. 11, 2018.

Born in New York City to parents who emigrated from former Czechoslovakia, Ferenz became the first in his family to earn a college degree from Manhattan College with a degree in biology.

When Uncle Sam came calling for WWII, Ferenz jumped at the chance to attend Officer Training School choosing to become a pilot.

He completed 35 missions flying B-24 bombers over German and France while serving in the Army Air Corps including during the Battle of the Bulge. He earned five Air Medals, his son, John Ferenz Jr. from West Linn, Oregon, said.

While growing up, Ferenz Jr. recalled, his dad didn’t talk much about his military service, instead saying, “I think we killed a lot of cows.”

Ferenz Sr. shared stories with his son about fighting with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. George S. Patton and Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

“I was very impressed until he added with a smile, ‘I just didn’t get along with anybody,” Ferenz Jr. said of his dad.

As a young boy, Ferenz Jr. recalled considering characters in television as his heroes. 

“Now I realize I didn't have to look very far for a real hero since I was living with one,” Ferenz Jr. said. 

During Sunday’s celebration, Honor Flight Central Coast California representatives presented Ferenz Sr. with a certificate of appreciation to note the milestone. 

Ferenz Sr. also received a certificate of special congressional recognition from Rep. Salud Carbajal’s office.

Sporting a sweatshirt noting his 100th birthday, John Ferenz Sr. stands with his son John Ferenz Jr., daughter-in-law Veronica Ferenz and daugther Susan Corbett during Sunday’s celebration. Click to view larger
Sporting a sweatshirt noting his 100th birthday, John Ferenz Sr. stands with his son John Ferenz Jr., daughter-in-law Veronica Ferenz and daugther Susan Corbett during Sunday’s celebration. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Honor Flight provides trips to Washington, D.C., for veterans, giving them a chance to see the World War II memorial and uniting with colleagues at no cost to the former military member.

Ferenz Sr.’s son, daughter-in-law, Veronica, and daughter, Susan Corbett of Georgia, also went on the trip, and he recalled crowds waving flags greeting the veterans during the visit.

“It’s a very moving experience,” Ferenz Jr. said. 

Many of the veterans who take Honor Flight trips have never visited the war memorial in Washington, D.C., “and more importantly they were never thanked properly,” Honor Flight’s Jay Conner added.

“For the veterans, I think it’s their opportunity to finally meet other veterans and talk about it,” Conner said. “When they get there with other veterans they can talk, and share their experiences. And then it’s almost as if they’ve been given permission to share with everybody else.”

The centenarian credited a lifelong focus on fitness for his longevity, saying he still lifts weights and takes long walks. Previously, he performed not only hand-stands but also hand-stand push-ups.

“I got into the habit of exercising a lot and that’s what keeps the circulation going,” he said. “I’m grateful I got into the habit too.”

A love for music, including learning the piano at age 11 and continuing to play for decades, also has fueled his life and led to him regularly entertaining others. Music remains a vital part of his life.

In fact, asked if he wanted to say something during his birthday luncheon, Ferenz Sr. looked at a table of fellow musicians, before quipping,  “Old musicians never die. They just decompose,” prompting laughter from the crowd.  

The centenarian called Sunday’s celebration of his centennial milestone fantastic.

“If there’s a repeat tomorrow I’m gonna be right here,” he said. “I really feel that I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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