FINDLAY TOWNSHIP, Pa. – The Pennsylvania National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing participated in a celebration honoring a World War II veteran who turned 102 years old on Nov. 12.
John M. Mahler, a resident of Butler County, is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and WWII B-17 bomber pilot. Mahler was surprised with a parade of vehicles consisting of local police and fire departments and members of the 171st Air Refueling Wing who greeted him outside the Butler Veterans Affairs facility. Staff Sgt. James Norman with the 171st Security Forces Squadron drove the police truck in the parade.
During World War II, Mahler, who was assigned to the 342nd Bombardment Squadron, flew 38 combat missions. His plane was hit with bullets and shrapnel for all but one of those missions. He survived a midair collision and two emergency belly landings. Through it all, Mahler continued to fly and fight for his country.
"It is an honor to help celebrate the birthday of one of America's heroes. We at the 171st are proud to recognize Lt. Col. (retired) John Mahler, who is part of America's greatest generation," said Col. Mark Goodwill, commander of the 171st ARW.
Mahler is an active veteran who, before the COVID-19 pandemic, visited the Butler Veterans Affairs Health Care Wellness Center office twice weekly. His favorite pastimes are woodworking, building model airplanes and gardening.
"My first interaction with Mr. Mahler was in November of 2019. There was an announcement that he was having a small birthday party to celebrate his 101st birthday in our wellness center. I decided to stop by and wish him a happy birthday. When I arrived, I didn't think he was there because the room was filled with only employees and some veterans working out. To my surprise, Mr. Mahler was burning off some cake calories on the shoulder machine," said Mark Okeson, a detective with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Police and a retired senior master sergeant from the 171st SFS.
Mahler's eyes lit up as he watched the parade of vehicles pass by. His advice for longevity is eating healthy and staying active.
"I am an active person – I'm on the go all the time. ... At my age, if you sit in a chair too long, that's where you are going to stay," said Mahler.
In addition to the 171st patrol car, the parade included vehicles from the local Army Reserve unit, dozens of emergency and law enforcement vehicles, family, friends, and American Legion motorcycle riders. Mahler waved to people in each of the more than 50 vehicles.
"It truly is an inspiration to see a man of his caliber put forth his best every day of the week. It's humbling to say the least," said Okeson.