A WWII Veteran Boogies on His 108th Birthday


Louis Stein didn't want to waste time cutting his birthday cake -- the World War II veteran and self-proclaimed "lover of life" -- just wanted to dance.

He let go of his walker, held on to his friend Sandy Heckendorf, and swayed to the sounds of I Can't Help Falling in Love with You.

Meanwhile, the candles burned -- luckily they used the numbers 1-0-8 instead of 108 individual candles.

"There'd be a lot," joked Stein, who proudly donned a birthday crown displaying his age.

The key to his longevity: "wine, women and song,'' Stein said.

But as he gets older he believes it has to be more than just what he is doing.

"There is someone up there who wants me here," he said, adding jokingly that his daily shot of apricot brandy and bottles of Tabasco sauce might help.

Stein, who served as an oral surgeon in World War II, is believed to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest veteran in South Florida.

Born Nov. 8, 1903 on the lower east side of New York, Stein was only 13 -- far too young to be drafted -- when the United States entered into World War I.

But he always wanted to be in the military.

He went on to study at New York University and became an oral surgeon. But two days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, pulling the United States into World War II, Stein enlisted in the Army. He was 38. He was assigned to treat soldiers who needed facial reconstruction after being shot.

"I've seen everything,'' Stein said. "It was hard work.''

After 27 years, Stein was discharged from the military, but remained an oral surgeon and stayed involved with veterans groups.

Being in the military is an important part of who he is, Stein said from his apartment at The Sterling in Aventura. And he's always taken great pride in the fact that his birthday was the same week as Veteran's Day.

A frequent guest at local events, Stein plans on helping with the flag presentation at North Miami's Veteran's Day Ceremony Friday.

"He is such an amazing man," said William Hoppner, the Southern Area Commander for the American Legion.

Stein moved to South Florida from Bradenton in 2004. His wife Gladys had passed away, and daughter Judy Turbin was here.

He immediately called Hoppner, and got involved in the North Miami post.

One of his proudest moments was when, at age 105, Stein rang the bell of North Miami's newly installed Veterans Tower.

"He talked about that forever," said Turbin.

Over the last few years, Stein has had to give up a few of the things he loved doing, such as traveling. At age 100, he wanted to see Tibet. But Turbin put her foot down, saying the altitude would be too much for him. He was still driving and playing golf when he was 101.

But he still loves to dance. Although his girlfriend couldn't be there for the festivities -- she recently broke her hip -- Stein took over the dance floor, with and without his walker.

In his apartment, a sign hung near the piano he still tries to play: "The First Hundred Years are the Hardest.'' On the menu at Tuesday's birthday bash: spicy chicken wings, his favorite.

"It feels pretty good to be 108," Stein said.

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