When retired Air Force Lt. Col. Egon Schottleutner walked outside his Colorado Springs home June 3, leaning on his red walker, he had no idea what was in store for him.
He certainly didn't expect to see a contingent of the Air Force Academy's Academy Winds band waiting for him in his cul de sac.
But, it was his 100th birthday. And special times — and special men — call for special measures.
"Happy birthday, Opa!" some yelled. Others clapped and whistled as the man of the hour was escorted to an umbrella-shaded chair in his driveway, his mouth open in apparent shock.
About 20 loved ones gathered that morning to fete Schottleutner, who served 30 years combined in the Army Air Corps and Air Force, as he hit the triple-digit mark.
Among them were children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, neighbors and friends, including Medal of Honor recipient Peter Lemon, who said he has the "utmost admiration for Schots." Relatives from as far away as India gathered via Zoom.
"We heard that about 80 years ago, you raised your right hand and swore an oath to protect and defend this country, its people and the Constitution, and the nation was grateful," said 1st Lt. Brian O'Donnell, flight commander of the band, which sent six of its members for a socially distanced birthday celebration.
"And then you went on to serve honorably for a period of time that included some of the greatest conflicts the world ever saw: World War II, Korea, Vietnam. And your nation was grateful. We wanted to be sure we were here today to say personally, from the Air Force Academy, we have not forgotten the sacrifices that you, those you served with, the men and women who served after you, and the men and women who still serve around the world today make to keep us safe and allow us to do things like this.
"Sir, on behalf of the Air Force Academy, I'd like to salute you and thank you for your service. Happy 100th birthday."
Schottleutner saluted back.
As the band played "Happy Birthday," a medley of service anthems, and John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever," the centenarian clapped along, tapped his feet and conducted with his hands.
But when the celebration concluded, he fell largely silent.
"He'll talk about this for weeks after, but today, he's speechless," said his daughter Kathy Snapp as the pop-up concert came to a close.
"I've never heard of such a thing," Schottleutner, a former pilot and linguist, said after collecting his thoughts. "This was above and beyond. I had no idea."
"I hope somebody took a picture of this," he added as photographers from multiple media outlets, as well as family and friends, joined in documenting the event. The crowd laughed.
"I want to see this in heaven some day."
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