The Ernest Childers VA Outpatient Clinic in Tulsa threw a belated birthday party on April 24th for World War II Veteran Harry Friedberg who turned 100 on March 17.
Following an appointment at the clinic, Primary Care staff on Green Team 2 surprised Friedberg with balloons, cake and punch and sang happy birthday.
“As a Veteran myself, it’s a privilege to be here today to celebrate and honor Mr. Friedberg, who is a member of the greatest generation,” said Jonathan Plasencia, Associate Director for the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System and Navy Veteran. “It is a small demonstration of how much VA truly cares for our Veterans.”
For two hours, staff throughout the clinic stopped by the clinic’s conference room to honor Friedberg and offer birthday wishes.
“It’s quite a surprise,” said Friedberg with a smile. “I never expected anything like this.”
Dr. Uma Koduri has served as Friedberg’s primary care doctor since 2005 and said he often thinks of others before thinking of himself.
“He’s always telling me about his family and others he is helping,” said Koduri. “Today, we wanted to do something special for him.”
In 1912, Friedberg’s family fled Lithuania and emigrated to America as Jewish persecution increased in Eastern Europe.
The family settled in Kansas City and Friedberg was born on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1919 as a first generation American.
At the age of 10, he participated in the family’s distribution business and drove his grandfather’s Ford Model A pick-up truck through the muddy streets of Kansas City to deliver fresh vegetables.
After high school, he worked briefly as an optician. But after the fall of France and most of Europe to Nazi Germany, American was preparing for the likelihood of war with Germany and Japan. On Sept. 16, 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, the first peacetime military draft in U.S. history.
In October 1940, Friedberg was among the first wave of civilians drafted into the Army. Following basic training, Friedberg was assigned to Company H of the 140th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division.
Before his regiment was deployed to England to prepare for the D-Day invasion, Friedberg contracted rheumatic fever and was hospitalized. After his treatment, he was re-assigned to headquarters company of the Western Defense Command in California and remained in the U.S. throughout the remainder of the war.
Friedberg was put in charge of a Special Services Unit and was responsible for scheduling entertainers to perform shows for U.S. troops. He also provided transportation for Hollywood actresses such as Dinah Shore.
“It was a good job,” said Friedberg. “It was a lot better than getting shot at.”
After the war, he moved back to Kansas City with his wife Miriam and the couple had a son. He worked once again as an optician and for several jewelry stores. For 20 years, he managed 38 Zales jewelry stores in 14 states.
He also loved to bowl and played golf three to four times per week. When his wife Miriam passed away, he moved to Broken Arrow in 2005 to live with his son Ron and daughter-in-law, Kelly.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be around,” he said. “I have to thank them too.”
For the past three years, he hasn’t been able to go bowling but frequently bowls on a Nintendo Wii with family. He also visits the Broken Arrow Senior Activity Center twice a week to play bridge.
“It keeps my mind moving,” said Friedberg. “Other than that, I’d love to play golf.”
After falling in his bedroom, Friedberg has undergone physical therapy. Ron said he plans to take his dad to a driving range this spring and then have him play a round of golf if he is able.
“That’s my goal for right now,” said Friedberg. “I am determined to go out and play golf again. I’m going to keep trying.”