WWII veteran is feted with parade in Lake Forest on his 100th birthday

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (KABC) -- Instead of the big party that was planned for Frank Wendzel, family, friends and veteran groups celebrated his 100th birthday with a parade. It was the first time in three months he was able to go outside of his skilled nursing home, Freedom Village in Lake Forest. We spoke to him through his bedroom window, writing our questions on a white board. Everything from World War II, to his work with NASA, to the coronavirus.

"In 100 years, have you ever lived through anything like this? No. Laughs. No siree," he said.

One of his life highlights is flying when the atomic bomb was tested on the Bikini Islands. In the beginning, he said he was working on the ground.

"I was reciting air space to test pilots and so I goofed up on one and they cancelled me there and so I got a better deal by flying on the Baker test," he laughed.

Frank also worked for NASA on Project Mercury - an experience he loved to share with his three kids.

"He used to take us outside, and we would watch the satellites go over like shooting stars going by and he would hold our hands and tell us how he helped those guys get into space," said his daughter, Sherry Wendzel Brooks of Irvine.

Since isolation started, she has come to visit her dad almost every day, sitting outside his window with the white board. Getting him outside for his birthday meant the world to her.

"Seeing him feel the sunshine on his face was, a pretty special moment. Cause he's 100. We don't know what could happen tomorrow," she said.

That's why she cherishes every moment, now taking time to read all of the thoughtful cards that have come in.

"It ended up being way bigger than I thought. So many people embraced it because it's such a great story, celebrating him and making it happen in another way," she said.

He doesn't really know what his secret is to a long life, but he does say to follow what's right.

"Just do your job that you're called for and fill the slot that you're brought into and that's all I can say," he said.

So far, he has received over 1200 of these cards for his birthday and they keep on coming. Reading them has become his absolute favorite thing to do.
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