'He's battled back': Erie-area veteran survives COVID-19 twice, prepares to turn 108 (2024)

Eighty years after he landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, Al Klugiewicz has one more battle to fight.

Klugiewicz, a World War II veteran and longtime General Electric worker, will turn 108 on Friday. He is the 13th oldest living man in the United States, according to the Gerontology Research Group.

The past few months have been difficult, however. Since September, Klugiewicz has dealt twice with COVID-19, as well as bouts of pneumonia and RSV.

"It looked like the bottom of the ninth with two strikes on Dad, but he overcame all of it," said Klugiewicz's son, Tim. "He's battled back."

The illnesses have taken a toll on Klugiewicz. He moved in October from his longtime home in Lawrence Park Township into the Community Living Center at the Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

This also will be the first year in recent memory that Klugiewicz won't be able to attend the reunion of his 83rd U.S. Army Infantry Division. He also used to attend reunions of the 3rd U.S. Calvary Regiment, in which he served on horseback in the 1930s.

'He's battled back': Erie-area veteran survives COVID-19 twice, prepares to turn 108 (1)

"He loves going to those reunions," Tim Klugiewicz said. "We used to see 600, 700 veterans at those reunions and now seven or eight guys would make it."

Instead, his family and staff at the Erie VAMC will host a birthday party for Klugiewicz on Friday.

But Klugiewicz's thoughts last Thursday, the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, were back in Normandy. He landed on Omaha Beach about two weeks after the initial invasion.

"I saw a lot of mixed up people (in Normandy)," Klugiewicz said, wearing a baseball cap honoring the 80th anniversary of the invasion. "People were getting in each other's way. Germans still on the top side, hammering us with artillery."

He was supposed to be among those in the initial D-Day invasion, but flooding in Wales delayed his transport to the staging area.

In July 1944, Klugiewicz saw significant battle action among the famous hedgerows near Normandy.

"Every time we went up a hill, the Germans were waiting for us and so was their artillery," Klugiewicz said. "They always had the advantage and were waiting for us."

'He's battled back': Erie-area veteran survives COVID-19 twice, prepares to turn 108 (2)

The difference was a decision to have thousands of Allied planes carpet bomb the area as part of Operation Cobra.

"Even though the bombing was a mile from where Dad was, the concussions from the blasts shook his clothes," Tim Klugiewicz said.

Klugiewicz eventually made his way to Berlin, where he refused to be in a photo with Russian soldiers. His father had emigrated to the U.S. from Poland and Klugiewicz resented what Russian soldiers had done while going through Poland during the war.

Klugiewicz served in U.S. Calvary, rode horse in FDR's second inauguration

Before the war, Klugiewicz had served in the U.S. Calvary, which at that time included soldiers on horseback. He chose the calvary when he joined the army in 1934 because "I didn't want to walk anymore so I chose the calvary," he said in a 2021 Erie Times-News interview.

Klugiewicz, who rode a horse in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's second inaugural parade, gave a toast to his first horse, Napoleon, at a recent calvary reunion.

The oldest surviving veteran gives the first toast, and a few years ago it was Klugiewicz.

"Here's to my first horse. His name is Napoleon," Klugiewicz recalled saying. "Here's to Napoleon, yay!"

'He's battled back': Erie-area veteran survives COVID-19 twice, prepares to turn 108 (3)

'I started at 46 cents an hour': Klugiewicz worked at GE for about 40 years

Klugiewicz returned to Lawrence Park after the war, where he married his wife, Eleanor. The couple raised three sons in a house Klugiewicz built himself.

He worked at GE for about 40 years, helping produce refrigerators and assemble motors for atomic submarines.

"I started at 46 cents an hour," Klugiewicz said.

In his free time, Klugiewicz built model aircraft and learned languages. Tim Klugiewicz said his father spoke Polish and English as a child, and attended night school as an adult to learn Spanish to prepare for a trip.

Klugiewicz still has an appetite like a lumberjack

Eleanor Klugiewicz died in 2012 and Klugiewicz spent more time at home as he grew older. He and his son would watch classic movies and political shows on television.

"I don't know if it's because dad's sight and hearing have declined or what, but he doesn't focus on TV much anymore," Tim Klugiewicz said.

But one thing hasn't changed and that is Klugiewicz's appetite. His son, who is usually with Klugiewicz for breakfast, said he eats like a lumberjack, wolfing down eggs, sausage and bananas.

In fact, the staff at the Community Living Center usually has to bribe Klugiewicz with potato chips to get him to participate in any group activities.

"He'll come to bingo, but when the chips are gone, he's ready to go back to his room," said Kathy Miller, the center's hospice coordinator.

Tim Klugiewicz knows that no one ever holds off Father Time forever, even a member of the Greatest Generation. He just hopes to share many more lumberjack breakfasts with his dad.

"He's lived such a good, long life," Tim Klugiewicz said. "It started with good genes. His sister lived to be 102 and his parents both lived until their late 90s."

Contact David Bruce atdbruce@timesnews.com. Follow him on X@ETNBruce.

'He's battled back': Erie-area veteran survives COVID-19 twice, prepares to turn 108 (2024)


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