SOUTHINGTON — Dozens of cars paraded by the home of a World War II veteran on Monday to celebrate his 100th birthday.
“I never expected all of this,” said Henry Sklarski, as neighbors brought presents and glasses of champagne to his Stony Creek Road home. He’s known in the neighborhood for sitting outside his home and sharing stories of his three years serving in the Army, where he was deployed to France and Germany and rose to the rank of staff sergeant.
One of those stories reveals how Sklarski met his wife while stationed in France. While Sklarski and his future wife were separated when he was sent to Germany for five months, by happenstance he was moved back to the same town where they met. She died five years ago.
As he was recounting the story in his garage on Monday, a neighbor passed around glasses of champagne and held a toast for Sklarski. Before taking a sip, Sklarski thanked everyone, saying “merci beaucoup” and “thank you.”
“You’re all great and wonderful neighbors,” he told them, as they lined up to hand him gifts.
After the war, Sklarski worked in a coal mine in his home state of Pennsylvania for a few years until moving to Connecticut in 1956 after narrowly avoiding a mine cave-in. He settled into a job at the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in New Haven, where he worked as a general foreman. He now spends much of his time gardening and only gave up driving a few months ago, due to declining eyesight.
Though he knew a week ahead of time that his neighbors were planning a party for him,
Sklarski was surprised by how many people showed. Seeing all the new faces — people who had come to honor a veteran — resonated with Sklarski.
“We didn’t go over there fighting for nothing,” he said.
One of those new faces was Matthew Jalowiec, who brought his iconic 1942 Ford Jeep to the celebration and gave Sklarski and his guests rides around the neighborhood. He noted the Jeep was made the same year that Sklarski began his military service.
He was compelled to make the drive from his Cheshire home to recognize the sacrifices made by World War II veterans like Sklarski.
“The perseverance and grit the greatest generation possessed secured the freedoms we enjoy in the 21st century. We have an obligation to remember, preserve and teach that to the next generation,” he said.
Seeing so many other people gathered to wish Sklarski a happy birthday gave Jalowiec hope for the future.
Capt. Jacob Huber, an active duty army recruiter, said the celebration showed him there’s an overwhelming support for veterans in the Southington community. Joined by a dozen soldiers from his company in Hartford and the Bristol recruiting station, he said it was an honor for them to meet Sklarski and recognize a member of the ever-diminishing ranks of World War II veterans.
“It was a thank you from the young soldiers for those who came before us and blazed the path,” he said.
One of the organizations neighbors contacted was Mission BBQ on Queen Street, a restaurant that raises money for nonprofits that serve first responders, veterans and their families. Staff there helped arrange the motorcade, reaching out to military recruiting stations and securing cruisers from around 10 local police departments for the parade.
“This is what it’s all about. This is the epitome of what we do,” said Mission BBQ employee Caitlyn Jones.
The restaurant also donated lunches and dinners to Sklarski and his guests, and welcomed them to come into the restaurant before opening, to allow the retirees to have extra social distancing.
“It’s so unique to be able to do something for World War Two (veterans),” Jones said. “ … It’s an honor for us to be able to do it.”