Navy vet celebrates 104th birthday on Coast Guard vessel

A Navy vet celebrates his birthday aboard a Coast Guard vessel

08/30/2012 5:00 AM

08/30/2012 10:22 PM

Harry Miller looked pretty spiffy for the occasion Thursday, dressed in khaki slacks, a beige button-down shirt and dark blue coat.

His white hair poked out from under a U.S. Coast Guard cap, and a colorful button, bigger than a baseball, proclaimed: “It’s my 104 birthday.”

The years, all 104 of them, have been good to Miller, who was actually two days past the big day.

But who’s counting?

As he stepped aboard the 45-foot U.S. Coast Guard response boat at the Miami Beach Coast Guard station, a member of the guard greeted him holding a Party City bag.

There are times when he needs the help of a walker to get around his home at The Preserve at Palm Aire in Pompano Beach. Thursday was not one of them.

He walked, on his own, down the floating pier, onto the boat and smiled for the cameras.

A media entourage — a photographer, two television cameramen and three reporters — followed. As Miller has learned, there’s something special about living for more than a century.

As he stepped aboard, the media chronicled his every move, and captured the crew singing “Happy Birthday, Harry.”

“Thank you, thank you. I love all of you,” Miller responded.

Soon, he was seated near the front, answering questions, joking and inviting folks to have lunch with him one day at The Preserve.

“I feel great,” he said. “I woke up this morning and all I could think about was the day I was going to have with the people from TV and the newspaper, and I’ve never been better.”

Miller will tell anyone he has lived a full, rich life. He was a U.S. Navy signalman during World War II. He ran a dress manufacturing business, first in New York, later in Atlanta, before settling into the South Florida retirement community.

He has a son, four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and even more family members and friends that he adopted over the years.

Around the time he was 50 or 60, he started looking younger than his age, he said.

And though his hearing, he conceded, is “a little old,” and he occasionally needs some help walking, he has an active social life and dozens of friends at The Preserve.

Right now, most people guess his age at about 82, he said — “and I act it.”

They ask his secret to longevity.

No secret at all, he replies. Just do the things you should do: Stay active, pray, say thank you, don’t smoke, don’t drink too much.

And dance.

For his birthday last year, he said, he wanted to celebrate on the water. He still loves the water from his Navy days.

With the help of friends at The Preserve and the Coast Guard, he got his wish — along with a flurry of news stories about the man who lived to 103 and spent the day at sea. When friends in Atlanta saw a newspaper story about him, they called.

Strangers sent him birthday cards.

Long after his day had passed, folks kept wishing him a happy birthday,

So, with 104 approaching, friends asked him what he wanted to do this year.

The exact same thing he did last year, he said.

“The Navy is still in me.”

On Thursday, he brought two friends from The Preserve, including Leon Glassman, 88, who served in the 79th Infantry during World War II.

And, there who a special guest all the way from New York City: Cara Chiarelli, who calls herself his step-granddaughter. Her grandmother dated Miller for 15 years. Even after her death in 2009, the family stayed close to Miller, Chiarelli said, because “he’s in our hearts.”

They all stepped onto the boat and put on their red life jackets, with Miller in the front. The vessel pulled out of the dock slowly, building up speed until they were zipping across the water, taking in views of Miami and Miami Beach.

When they got back, Miller again said thank you.

Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Carl Jester told Miller, “We look forward to having you next year.”

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