“I feel I earned some of them,” Jerry Elzinga said as he was surprised with a shadow box filled with the medals and ribbons he earned during his 18 years of military service.
Elzinga celebrates his 90th birthday Thursday at Emeritus in Gardnerville.
“It’s strictly psychological,” Elzinga said of turning 90. “It doesn’t bother me a bit. I’ll still kick the soccer ball around.”
Elzinga enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II, and served in Europe with the 82nd Airborne in France at 19 years old.
One of the highlights from his service included backing up the Battle of the Bulge, capturing bridges on the Rhine River in Germany and taking part in the victory parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City.
“We marched eight people broad and had a line of 15,000 deep,” Elzinga said of the parade. “The crowd went wild. There must have been a million people there.”
In 1949 he joined the newly formed U.S. Air Force.
He trained as a navigator and went to Korea, flying 50 missions over North Korea, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary and courageous service in those dangerous missions.
“I was elated,” Elzinga said of the honor. “I always kid around saying, ‘I deserved it.’”
Later, he flew missions out of Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany. Some of his cargo included celebrities, politicians and high-ranking officers.
“Bob Hope, he was a tremendous guy,” Elzinga said. ”When Jerry Lewis got on the plane he had a bottle of liquor in each hand.”
As the Cold War continued, Elzinga became a missile commander, commanding the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile site in Kansas. Elzinga retired in 1967 as a major in Blytheville, Kan.
“I had a good career,” he said. “I was in the right places at the right time.”
After his military career, Elzinga spent the next 20 years as a civilian supervisor with the Los Angeles Police Department before moving to Carson Valley.
He has a son, Randy, and a daughter, Vicky.