A local World War II veteran was the toast of the town Wednesday, at a belated celebration of his 100th birthday.
Harold “Jim” Eils was the guest of honor at the weekly gathering of the American Heroes Café at Festival Foods in Somers.
His birthday was Dec. 26, but the extreme cold weather in the days before Christmas and an elevator failure last week waylaid the celebration by nearly two weeks.
None of that mattered, however, on Wednesday morning, when Eils arrived at a warm reception in his honor, complete with a mass singing of “Happy Birthday” and a proclamation presented by Kenosha County Executive Samantha Kerkman.
“Third time is the charm!” Kerkman said, kicking off the festivities and reading a rundown of Eils’ service to his country and the Kenosha community in the proclamation that she signed along with Sheriff David Zoerner and County Board Chairman Gabe Nudo.
Born in Kenosha on Dec. 26, 1922, Eils married the former Mary Ann Soule on June 28, 1947, at St. James Catholic Church. The couple marked their 75th anniversary last year.
The wedding came after Eils had returned from his World War II service, which began when he was drafted into the U.S. Army on March 25, 1943.
Eils served in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France in Battery B of the 62nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion. For his service, he was awarded a Good Conduct Medal, an American Campaign Medal, a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, a World War II Victory Medal and a Sharpshooter Medal.
Following his honorable discharge on April 29, 1946, he returned to Kenosha where he and his wife would raise four children. Eils owned gas stations in town and later worked as an equipment manager at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, retiring in 1990 and earning a spot as an honorary member of the UW-Parkside Athletic Hall of Fame.
Today, Eils is a member of a World War II veteran population that continues to shrink locally and nationally. Ali Nelson, Kenosha County Veterans Services Director, estimates there are roughly 40 to 50 World War II veterans living in the county.
“It’s not every day a person lives to be 100 years old, and it’s not every day that we get to celebrate a World War II veteran reaching that remarkable milestone,” Nelson said. “Bless Mr. Eils and all of our World War II veterans, because they have done a tremendous amount of heavy lifting for the United States of America.”
Asked if he had any words to share with his fellow veterans at Wednesday’s celebration, Eils had just three: “War is hell.”
And, with that, the understanding crowd applauded, and the celebration went on.