Don Stutzman 100th birthday

Don Stutzman and Atrium administrator Traci Leitenberger wave to Johnstown firefighters as they drive past during a parade for Stutzman's 100th birthday on Monday, July 20, 2020.

Sitting in a wheelchair, surrounded by family, friends and The Atrium staff, Donald Stutzman spent a few minutes of his 100th birthday party recalling when he served during World War II.

He joined the Army in July 1943 and went to the Pacific Theater in 1945.

Stutzman's contribution to the war effort included fighting at Okinawa, one of the last and bloodiest battles against the Japanese.

“I'm proud that I was there,” Stutzman, who lived in Johnstown's Moxham neighborhood, said during the party on Monday. “I'm pleased that I was there. I even befriended the enemy, and the government likes that. We had men, women and children we had to protect because the bombs were coming down, so I did what I could. I took them over chocolate and cookies. And they would greet me like this (with arms wide open). That's the enemy.”

He also remembered seeing the mounds of dead Japanese soldiers.

“The enemy had places where they buried their dead,” Stutzman said. “There were a lot of skulls. We used to get in with the skulls and sit on them, sit around on these skulls. They called us 'skull sitters.' ”

Stutzman, who was born on July 20, 1920, was originally denied the opportunity to join the military.

“He was dedicated,” said his son, Dan Stutzman. “He was really dedicated. When World War II broke out, he went to serve and they said, 'Nah, you failed the physical.' So he had to get a hernia operation, so he could qualify. That's what he did. He was very, very much in love with the country. He wanted to do it, so he did have that operation, otherwise he wouldn't have had to go.”

The birthday celebration included a vehicle parade by the Johnstown Fire Department and Johnstown Police Department, along with cake and singing.

“This is something that I didn't think would ever happen,” Dan Stutzman said. “Dad has had a hard life. He was an orphan in Tiffin, Ohio. After that, he got into the war. He built his own house. It was rough.

"He's a survivor. He pretty much made everything, all his furniture, did the whole kitchen. He used to build houses. When he got out of the orphanage, he got a job for Gulf Oil. He was kind of a shipping clerk for them. He didn't like that job. He liked the construction stuff more, so that's what he went for. It's been tough.”

Traci Leitenberger, The Atrium's administrator, called the party “a big deal for us.”

“I've only been the administrator for a few years, and we've never experienced something like this,” Leitenberger said. “We try to honor our veterans, so this gave us the opportunity to really celebrate life. During these hard times, trying to find some good things to do and to celebrate these guys, it means a lot to us.”

On Sunday morning, about a dozen motorcycle riders from American Legion Riders-Parkhill Post 970, stood outside The Atrium, located on Main Street in downtown Johnstown, and saluted Stutzman, who was watching through a window. They also brought a cake and signed banner, along with gifts for the personal care community's other veterans.

“It made us all feel good to do something for a veteran after what he's done for us and our county,” said Red Loya, a member of the American Legion Riders-Parkhill Post 970.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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