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Patient Stories

101-Year-Old Veteran Honored for His Service

Physician Makes Travel Possible

Don’t let his age fool you: At 101 years old, World War II and Korean War veteran First Lieutenant Henry Flora’s determination has been a constant force throughout his life. When he was invited to attend a commissioning in San Francisco, California, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

A Legacy Forged by Determination

Born in 1918, Henry lost his parents at a very early age. For that reason, Henry was raised on his uncle’s farm with 12 other children-- but he calls them his brothers and sisters. Despite being the youngest, he laughs that he worked just as hard as any of them. His work ethic extended beyond the household chores, attending a one-room schoolhouse from first through eighth grade. He earned a degree in electrical engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1941.

Henry’s education earned him a well-respected position in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was stationed in the South Pacific from 1943 until 1945, where he served under five-star General McArthur.

“I provided low frequency radio transmission to the United States for General McArthur and his headquarters,” Henry says. This allowed General McArthur and his staff to talk directly to President Franklin Roosevelt.

“To be an American is a privilege. I gladly served my country and had no regrets — ever. And let me say, that isn’t a glory to me. Every man’s service in World War II, as well as the civilian population, were united in making sure we remained a free democracy,” he says.

Henry later served at the Pentagon in the Korean War until 1952.

“We live in a land of freedom, choice and equality. And while that might be questioned by some, I have seen a lot of progress in 100 years.”

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An Honorable Recognition Made Possible

Henry received an invitation to be honored at the commissioning of the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward, where the U.S. Coast Guard hosted several other World War II veterans in San Francisco. The namesake of the ship, Robert Ward, served as a coxswain during the invasion of Normandy in World War II.

Henry, suffering severe back pain, initially doubted he could make the trip. But once again, determination kicked in. “When I got that invitation, I said I’m going, period,” he recalls.

Prior to going, he sought the help of Northwestern Medicine Physiatrist Steven E. Mayer, MD, whom he had been seeing for lumbar spinal stenosis for several years. Stenosis causes a narrowing of the spine that puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing pain.

“He was worried he wouldn’t be able to do the trip,” says Dr. Mayer. “We used an epidural to calm down the symptoms.”

The treatment worked, and Henry made the trek out west without issue. “My two sons went with me, and I went through the whole period as good as they did. We did a lot of traveling, and found the old radio site where the transmission went in northern San Francisco,” says Henry. “It was a great weekend.”

During the festivities, Henry was also reunited with other 13 other veterans, including another member of his unit – 70 years after they served together. “It was moving and emotional,” he says.

Henry credits his faith as the guiding light in his life. He also thanks Dr. Mayer for allowing him this opportunity. “Dr. Mayer is a very skilled and caring physician. I value his friendship,” says Henry.

The feeling is mutual. “It was a privilege to enable him to do this,” says Dr. Mayer. “I asked him what’s the secret to living so long, and he said you have to keep moving. And that’s what he’s still doing.”

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