When Thomas Struth saw the balloons on the wall and a small throng of people laying out the food on tables in the Kincaid Chalet, he seemed surprised.
"Somebody tell me what's this all about?" he said,
"It's your birthday party, Grandpa," replied grandson Chuck Gilow. "You're turning 100 years old."
Actually Struth won't technically hit the century mark until Tuesday. That's the day after Veterans Days, which is fitting in that Struth is, indeed a veteran of two wars -- World War II and Korea.
He was born in Missouri, the son of a coal miner, on Nov. 12, 1913. America had not yet entered World War I at the time. He's actually older than the holiday; President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in 1919 and Congress renamed the observance Veterans Day in 1954.
Similarly, Struth's military service preceded the nation's entry into World War II by a decade. He enlisted in the Army in 1931.
"I got out of high school and jobs were hard to get," he said. So he signed up and found Army life to his liking.
His first duty assignment was with the 60th Coast Artillery at Fort Mills on Corregidor Island in the Philippines, where he served until 1934. The heavily fortified complex represented state-of-the-art defenses in its day. Struth referred to it as "tops."
He also helped defend the Panama Canal and, during World War II, served in combat units in Africa and Italy. By that point his specialty was radio communications.
For Sunday's party at the former Nike missile site turned public park, one table held photos of the young Struh in uniform, in the Philippines, in Sicily, in Korea.
Another table held festive treats, including the number "100" spelled out in cupcakes topped with red, white and blue icing. Old newspaper clippings hung along one wall of the chalet along with a large paper American flag. Well-wishers at the party included Alaska Sen. Mark Begich.
Struh is also due to be honored during Veterans Day ceremonies at the Alaska National Guard armory at 10:30 a.m. Monday, more than 50 years after he retired. His time in uniform spanned 32 years, during which time he served in both the Army Air Corps and the Air Force.
While in the Air Force he passed through Alaska several times, he said, but was never stationed here on a long-term basis. His last assignment was to Shreveport, La., where he lived after he retired in 1962, Gilow said. He moved to Alaska to be closer to his younger relatives earlier this year.
"The first 100 years are the hardest," he quipped. He was at a loss to give a specific reason for his longevity, "Maybe it's because I was lazy," he said with a laugh. "Just a lazy G.I."
"I'm a pretty lucky guy," he observed. "I haven't got a kick in the world."
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM