WWII veteran who got thousands of cards for 105th birthday dies at 106
By TERRI VERMEULEN KEITH
A World War II veteran who appealed for birthday cards after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of a big party for his 105th birthday and wound up receiving thousands, including a letter and photo from then-President Donald Trump, has died just over a month short of turning 107, city of Lakewood officials announced.
Lt. Col. Sam Sachs, a former Lakewood resident, died Monday of natural causes, according to the city. He was 106.
On Tuesday, the Lakewood City Council plans to adjourn its meeting “as one more tribute to Sam.”
Sachs celebrated his 105th birthday in April 2020 with a parade of well-wishers in classic and modern cars, motorcycles, military vehicles, a Los Angeles County fire truck from the local fire station with sirens blaring, nearly a dozen Los Angeles County sheriff’s vehicles and an overhead appearance from a Los Angeles County sheriff’s helicopter.
“It’s a marvelous feeling, yes, really,” Lt. Col. Sam Sachs said while watching the caravan pass by the senior living home where he resided at the time in Lakewood. “The emotions are running so high … It just doesn’t get any better than this. It’s just unbelievable. This is a dream.”
The U.S. Army veteran — who dressed up in his uniform for a video posted on YouTube titled “Sam Sachs 105 BDAY Wish” — said he wondered how many cards he would get after his big birthday party was called off.
Sachs wound up receiving an estimated 6,200 cards, including a letter and a photo from Trump citing the “tremendous milestone” and his “dedicated service to our country during World War II,” as well as a framed flag delivered by about a dozen members of the Army National Guard.
Sachs — who served in the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, participated in the Normandy Invasion and was later part of a unit that helped to liberate a concentration camp in Germany — also received a letter from the mayor of his birth city, Grand Forks, North Dakota, who proclaimed the day in his honor.
“I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe all this is happening. Gee whiz!” he said, while speaking in April 2020 from a microphone while standing near the front of the home, in which the front yard was decked out with hundreds of small, donated American flags. “Thank you, folks. Thank you for making my day. I had no idea what to expect … This is magical.”
He wondered aloud how many “World War II vets are around who landed at Normandy almost 76 years ago in a glider of all things, pulled by an airplane?” and noted that he had recently been inducted into the French Legion of Honor.
After his military service, Sachs went on to a teaching career in Southern California.
He suffered a serious injury to his leg when he was struck by a car last year while taking his daily walk around the block in Lakewood, and recovered at a long-term care facility in Bell Gardens before settling into a senior facility in Seal Beach, according to the city of Lakewood, which reported that his family said he remained mentally sharp until the end.
In a letter to Sachs’ family, the Lakewood City Council wrote that it was “so honored to have Sam live in Lakewood for the years that he did” and noted he attended and spoke at city ceremonies for Memorial Day, Patriot Day and Veterans Day.
“We were honored that our community of Lakewood was the place where Sam celebrated his very special 105th birthday. That birthday was made all the more special and challenging as it happened during the second month of the COVID pandemic, when health and safety restrictions and precautions were at their height. Our community … and indeed people from throughout the nation and world … rose to the challenge and honored Sam in every safe way that we could think of.”