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WWII veteran turns 100 years old with a driveway birthday party in La Jolla

It’s not the close-knit birthday party World War II Navy Pilot Leo White really wanted, but it is a celebration he’ll always remember.

SAN DIEGO — A World War veteran, who turned 100 years old on Earth Day, was expecting to have a big birthday party in La Jolla, but as COVID-19 would have it, this veteran took his party to his driveway as family and neighbors did a drive-by parade.

Celebrating this centenarian in style, family members and neighbors drove up carrying signs with a U.S. flag that said “Leo rocks” and “Hooray for 100.”

“It’s been a great 100 years, I’ll tell you,” said  Leo White with a big smile.

Leo was surrounded by most of his seven children,16 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren, who were all wearing masks or bandanas.

“We try to remain six feet apart if we can, but as you can see, it doesn’t work out too well,” Leo said.

COVID-19 complicated the centenarian’s birthday plans, since he was to have a party for 150 people at the La Jolla Country Club.

”We made it work and wanted to make sure people had treats. Dad loves his desserts, so we had to make sure that was covered,” said Leo’s youngest son Jeff White, who was in town from Washington D.C.

The family prepared individually-wrapped cupcakes in lemon, chocolate chip, red velvet, and white chocolate raspberry flavors, all near a birthday banner that read “100 fine as wine.”

“I feel great. I really do. I’m very, very lucky,” said Leo as friends passed him birthday cards and gifts.

Leo’s 4th son, Bill White, said staying away from friends is tough for a social butterfly.

“We need to chain him to a chair. He loves to get out. He is so social. He has so many friends, and he has this routine of breakfast and church and volunteering that he loves so much,” said Bill White, the owner of The Ascot Shop in La Jolla.

“My dad has not spent a single day in the hospital in 100 years. He survived World War II and all the other pandemics and flus, stock market crashes, and recessions. He’s been through so much, you know,” Bill said.

Leo joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 and served as a pilot in World War II before moving his family from Minnesota to San Diego as a Merrill Lynch stockbroker for 48 years. He outlived all three of his wives and still drives a car.

“He drives really well. As a Navy pilot, he treats his car like an instrument panel, so he really has command over his vehicle,” Jeff said.

Leo said his secret to longevity is to “smile and be happy.” He said his secret to staying in great health is “no smoking and play a lot of tennis and have a lot of children.”

The war hero’s happy birthday celebration continued with a Zoom call with all seven of his children present, including a daughter in Bozeman, Montana and one living in Santa Cruz.

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