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Libby Care Center hosts 102nd birthday party for Montana WW II veteran

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
The Western News | May 10, 2024 7:00 AM

Thursday, May 2 was a special day at the Libby Care Center of Cascadia when World War II veteran Don Engel celebrated his 102nd birthday.

Engel was a career military man who rose to the rank of Major before retiring from the U.S. Air Force. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the Air Force, and was trained as a bombardier and navigator.

“Engel’s squadron flew daring and dangerous missions in B-26 bombers against the Germans in occupied Europe,” said Bill Lafrance, a member of the Troy Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5514. “Don was one of America’s truly greatest military generation heroes serving our country proudly during World War II.”

Lafrance, a Vietnam War veteran, was one of a group of people who organized the party for Engel.

A fellow church parishioner of Engel’s in Noxon, where he used to live, called the Care Center and spoke to Activities Director Hadassah Miller. Miller then spoke to Lafrance, who led an effort to celebrate Engel’s birthday.

American Legion Post 97 Commander Larry Pitcher, a few members of his staff and members of the auxiliary worked with the Care Center to host the event.

Engel, a South Dakota native, returned to his home state after the war. But he then served in Texas before being transferred to Montana.

“I’ve enjoyed my life,” Engel said in an interview with The Western News last Thursday. “You got shot at and I’m happy I made it out alive.”

Lafrance said he didn’t know of any other surviving WW II members in the region, including northwest Montana, northern Idaho and northern Washington.

According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 119,550 of the 16.4 million Americans who served in World War II are alive as of 2023. But the agency also said that 131 WW II veterans die each day.

Miller, who helped organize the birthday celebration, said it’s an honor to have Engel living at the Care Center.

“Don is the oldest guy here and he’ll still wheel circles around everyone here. His spirit is contagious,” Miller said.