Hearing the phrase, “Happy Birthday,” Howard Weiner flashed a big grin for the camera. He had reason to smile: Not every World War II veteran celebrates his 23rd birthday 67 years after he doffed his Army uniform.
And not every World War II veteran celebrated his sixth birthday while wearing that uniform.
Family and friends gathered at the Brewer Rehab and Living Center on Wednesday, Feb. 29 to celebrate Weiner’s 23rd birthday. Technically he’s 92, but “I don’t celebrate other years where there is no holiday (Leap Year),” said Weiner, who hails from Providence, R.I.
“He’s celebrating 23 Leap Year birthdays,” said his daughter, Rachel Daigle of Stetson. “We’re celebrating his 92nd birthday.”
Born to a Latvian father and an American mother, Weiner grew up in Providence and graduated from Brown University. He was pursuing post-graduate studies at Harvard Law School when inducted into the Army in 1942; Staff Sgt. Weiner later served with a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Philippines.
“He retains some of his military bearing,” said Daigle, who moved to Maine in 1986. Employed as the documents manager at WBRC Architects-Engineers in Bangor, she visited Weiner several times a year in Rhode Island. Weiner also has three sons who live in Florida.
A successful businessman, Weiner belonged to a Monday bridge club “for more than 50 years,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’m the only one left.” He celebrated his 20th (or 80th) birthday with 100-plus guests and a formal sit-down dinner in 2000 and, although he uses a wheelchair, he flew to Florida with Daigle in 2003 to celebrate the 80th birthday of his ex-wife, Charlotte.
“They had stayed friends forever and forever” after their divorce, Daigle said. When her mother died in May 2011, “that was hard for Dad.”
Daigle figured she would continue traveling to Rhode Island, but “he called me up one day [later in 2011] and said, ‘I’d like to spend the next five years of my life in Bangor, Maine.’ I did some checking around before he came up, and I was told this (Brewer Rehab) was one of the best facilities in the area.
“Brewer was the place for him to be,” Daigle said. She moved her father to Maine last September.
Grinning from ear to ear, Weiner said that he enjoys living in Maine “very, very much,” but “certainly not the weather.” He likes the food — probably much better quality than the Army chow of 70 years ago — and the care he receives.
“He is quite pleased. He is very thrilled with the staff,” Daigle said. “He has lived in a nursing home for [the past] seven years, so he has adjusted quite well. He has had very few medical problems.”
For Daigle, having her father live perhaps a 35-minute drive from her home means that “now I see him two or three times a week. He’s here for the duration. If he sees another Leap Year birthday, I will be amazed.”
“I plan to be here for the next five years,” Weiner proclaimed.
Is that the next five Leap Years? Could be for the skilled bridge player from the Ocean State.