The breakfast tables were filled at the Patty Wagon restaurant Thursday. Some people wore party hats, and then a hush came over the crowd. The door opened and a man walked in. Some were there for him. Some were there for eggs.
Everybody soon realized they were in the presence of greatness. Even strangers stopped for a minute.
“Happy Birthday!” people called out as Eldon Beaver walked in. Beaver had turned 100 years old.
Kids wanted hugs and got them. Grown men wanted pictures and got them. Ladies wanted hugs and pictures, and Beaver sure smiled and obliged.
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But what was talked about besides the longevity was Sgt. Beaver spent four years, all of World War II, on active duty. Much of it was in combat.
That was before cell phones and computers. Eldon Beaver left for war for four years and aside from letters, nobody knew where he was or what he was doing.
He was doing what those soldiers did. Save the world.
“This man right here was deployed on Christmas Day 1941, and he was gone the whole war,” said retired Lt. Col. Charlie Funderburke, himself a veteran of two wars. “This man right here is what it means to be an American. He represents the best of America.”
Beaver, one of 11 children, grew up in York County at a time before indoor plumbing, joined the Army because that’s what able-bodied men did.
State Sen. Wes Climer, R-Rock Hill, stopped at the party to give his thanks, too.
“Men like Mr. Beaver are America,” Climer said.
Beaver for years went daily to the Varsity Restaurant in Rock Hill, which closed a year ago but was open for decades. Varsity owner Roy Russell was at the party. Russell, a Rock Hill institution himself, said the reason America is free, and so great, is because of people like Beaver.
“That old saying about the greatest generation -- this is it right here, this man, and he is still alive at 100 years old,” Russell said. “Gave four years of his life for America and freedom and the people of this country and the rest of the world. You know what that is called? It’s called heroism.”
Russell said people sometimes don’t take a minute to recognize what people such as Beaver mean.
“But they should,” Russell said.
Beaver’s daughter, Hilda, said her father was a military policeman then a B-17 bomber waist gunner. Those gunners were in ball turrets at the belly of the planes. After the war he came home and did what men do -- work.
“My daddy loved his country,” she said.
Eldon Beaver still does.
World War II veterans are rarer and rarer. Most are long gone. But that restaurant of people, young and old, wanted one of them still around to know those veterans are loved and respected.
A stranger came up during the breakfast and asked if he could shake Beaver’s hand.
Beaver smiled and shook the hand. The man leaned down and said, “Thank you, sir, for the country I live in.’