Navy Veteran Ervin Safranek went in for a regular checkup on July 21. He was then treated to a surprise birthday party thrown by a cheering La Salle clinic VA staff.

“How does it feel to be 98?” asked nurse manager Sally Washkowiak.

“You know, I don’t think I am 98,” joked Safranek, native of Paw Paw, Illinois, to the group of VA well-wishers.

Ervin Safranek and VA staff at his 98th birthday surprise party

Ervin Safranek and VA staff at his 98th birthday surprise party

Eighty years ago, an 18-year-old Safranek was drafted to fight in World War II. The draft board gave him a choice to join the Army or Navy. He chose the Navy for one reason—he didn’t like the Army’s uniform.

“I didn’t want to wear a tie and, in those days, the Army always was wearing ties,” he joked.

Still drives to medical appointments

Safranek’s strong dislike of decorative neckwear found him sailing, tie-free, across the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters, including to combat missions in Naples and Okinawa.

After the war, he returned to Paw Paw, eventually opening a grocery store. Safranek brags that he can still drive the 30 minutes from his home to his medical appointments at the La Salle clinic.

“The day he came in to schedule his appointment, the clerk noticed it was going to be his birthday, so it got me thinking to do a little celebration,” explained Laura McNally, a social worker at La Salle and party planner. “Anything we can do to make our Veterans feel extra special is our goal.”

Have to wait a couple of years for the big one

Although Safranek was happy to reach another milestone, he insisted it wasn’t a big deal. The Veteran has his sights set on reaching his 100th celebration.

“I have to wait a couple of years for the big one,” he said.

“We’ll be here,” Washkowiak exclaimed.

By Matthew Moeller

Public affairs specialist at the Edward Hines Jr. VA

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Published on Aug. 7, 2022

Estimated reading time is 1.6 min.

Views to date: 1,084


  1. Jack L Skidmore, US Army ( RET)) August 18, 2022 at 10:46 am

    Congratulations Sailor!

    Every World War II veteran is a hero to me!

    My dad was drafted also and spent two years in Burma (11th Army Air force) and in India. He and most of his unit members survived the disease and war.

    Thank you for keeping the USA free for another several decades.

  2. David Vega August 17, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    My was ww11 infantrymen scout bushmaster 5 years in the front line in the pacific. So brutal to survive this he caught malaria in Africa , Purple Heart silver star bronze star and cib . All those vets were heroes. But he filed a claim the Va denied it so bad .

  3. Sue Wren August 9, 2022 at 10:54 pm

    Love to read this! My dad, WWII vet, is now 101. Marine, Guadalcanal, Tarawa. I would love to see an acknowledgment of his service. I also worked for VA for 35+ years – he needs to be recognized.

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