101-year-old World War II vet still going strong - Northport VA Medical Center
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Northport VA Medical Center


101-year-old World War II vet still going strong

Herman Stephan poses in the pavilion lobby at Northport VAMC.

Herman Stephan poses in the pavilion lobby at Northport VAMC.

By Todd Goodman
Tuesday, October 6, 2015

When Herman Stephan was born, a stamp cost $0.02, and federal spending was $0.72 billion. A lot can change over 102 years, but the one constant has been Stephan’s robust health.

Born Nov. 13, 1913, in Germany, Stephan came to America at age 12. His German language skills paid off during the World War II, getting him moved up to intelligence. He smiled when asked if he still could speak German, and then rattled off a few sentences.

The veteran of the 101st Cavalry Division smokes cigars daily, drinks red wine when the mood strikes, and enjoys spicy foods and Reuben sandwiches. He only recently stopped driving his Audi convertible, at the behest of his son, Bill.

“I’m capable of doing it,” he said.

“Of course you are,” Bill, said. “I took his keys away. It was time to park the car.”

Stephan walks on his own to his VA appointments, his blue eyes still carrying a youthful spark—especially when he speaks of his wife.

“I met her in 1945 in Germany,” he said. “There she was sitting in a chair handing out tickets for the USO. She could speak French, Yugoslavian, German, and bits of English. We spoke German with each other.”

“She was a ‘War Bride,’” added Bill. “They were married 58 years.”

So far, his only health issues have been a pacemaker and bad hearing. Is it good genes, good luck, good nutrition, or a combination of the three?

“I think it’s primarily in the genes,” said Dr. Mark Kaufman, a neurologist and acting chief of staff for Northport VAMC. “It’s in the seed, not the feed.”

Speaking of feed, Stephan eats either Raisin Bran with sliced bananas or prune butter on toast every day for breakfast.  And he prefers his coffee black. There may not be clinical evidence to support it, but Stephan stressed the importance of having a good attitude.

“He has a very positive, can-do attitude,” said Bill. “He doesn’t dwell on the negative. He recently asked me, ‘William, do you still have that chainsaw?’”

Stephan’s secret to happiness sounds as if it was lifted from a Leave it to Beaver episode. “I would say respect your elders and parents, and be kind to animals. As far as religion, continue going to church and keep a happy household. Do the best you can for your kids. And bear in mind that the military is a good basis for everyone. As a career, there is nothing wrong with the military.”

Only about 17 out of 100,000 people make it to age 100 in the United States. Congratulations to Mr. Stephan on his centenarian status.


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