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World War II vet celebrates 100th birthday with neighbors’ help

A WWII veteran's hat. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall)

The coronavirus made it impossible for 100-year-old World War II veteran Matthew Allen to properly celebrate his birthday. So his Palm Beach neighbors came up with an idea: Why not bring the party to him?

Many of Allen’s neighbors stood outside his 2774 S. Ocean Blvd. residence on April 10 to cheer and wish him a happy birthday from a distance, while he stood on the apartment’s balcony cheering and waving behind a surgical mask.

“It wasn’t really a surprise because I asked him in advance if he would be agreeable to the neighbors doing that and he said ‘yes,’ ” said Allen’s son, Steven. “He was so touched when it happened. I understand from friends who were there, that it brought tears to his eyes.”

Last month, President Donald Trump called for limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people, while states and municipalities have imposed restrictions to slow the spread of the disease.

Born April 10, 1920, in Connecticut, Allen enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 when he was 22 years old, and sent to serve in the Pacific, one of the major theaters of World War II.

“He was at home in Rockville, working in the family dry cleaning business when the war broke out,” Steven Allen said. “He saw an ad in the Hartford paper that said if people volunteered they would have a six-month delay before they were called up. So he managed to avoid another six months of service by doing that. He served with other men from Connecticut who would later become his friends for the rest of his life.”

When he returned from the war, Allen went back to helping out with the family’s dry cleaning business, forgoing his own education so his parents could put his younger siblings through college. In 1957, he married Marge Meisel. They were married until her death in 2005.

During the 1960s, Allen stepped away from the family business and became a real estate broker, even though he didn’t have the advantage of higher education. “It was a different era, when you could still maintain a career without a college degree,” Steven Allen said.

Allen remains active for his age, working as a trustee for a large Connecticut real estate trust that owns apartments in several states.

“Longevity runs in the family,” Steven Allen said, pointing out that his father’s younger sister ‘the baby of the family,’ is 91 and living in Boynton Beach and his uncle, who lives on Florida’s west coast, is 96. His grandmother, he said, died at the age of 102.

“My dad is a friendly person, and this was a sweet and touching salute to him by his neighbors,” Allen said of his father’s impromptu social distancing-themed party at the Ambassador South condominium complex. “By the turnout [of about 18 people], you can see the high regard he’s held in.”

He also said it had been wonderful for other family members that couldn’t be with his father to see his birthday celebrated.

“We really appreciate all the attention and recognition Dad got,” Steven Allen said.


© 2020 The Palm Beach Post