World War II veteran turning 100

Keith Wise of Morris Township will be celebrating his 100th birthday June 3. Here he poses with his wife, Alberta. The community is holding a birthday party for the World War II veteran from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Greene County Fairgrounds. (Photo courtesy of Judy Moninger)

Keith Wise of Morris Township is having a birthday that all of Greene County wants to celebrate.

The World War II veteran will turn 100 years old Monday. His family and friends are expecting hundreds to attend his birthday party at the Greene County fairgrounds from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

For men like Wise, age is relative. Last month he was up on his roof repairing a leak.

“Well, it needed to be fixed,” Wise said.

The man doesn’t slow down — it’s been a theme throughout his life, from zipping around town in a Model T Ford as a youngster, to becoming a member of the 7th Armored Division in the U.S. Army and going overseas to fight in some of the most famous battles of World War II.

According to his younger son Wayne Wise, of Pittsburgh, "what's kept him going is a complete and absolute refusal that he's getting older."

Even now, though he’s been retired 35 years, he’s got a little side business: buying, collecting and selling pocket knives. He’s known as “The Knife Man” throughout Greene County. He also spends time at flea markets and attends the county livestock auction every Thursday.

“I haven’t got any secret,” Wise said about reaching 100 years old. “I just live one day at a time.”

Anyone who knows them would know that Wise’s right-hand lady has kept his heart beating all these years. He met his wife, Alberta, 97, in grade school. According to Wayne Wise, Alberta was 5 years old when she moved from West Virginia to Morris Township, just down the street from Wise.

“Mom always said that she’s known since she was 6 years old that she was going to spend her life with the boy down the street,” Wayne said. “They are such a team.”

At 12 years old, Wise would drive his father’s Model T down the street to pick up 10-year-old Alberta and drive her around town.

“People used to say I was in love with his car and not him,” Alberta said.

They remained the best of friends until their marriage, when he was 22 and she was 20.

“She caught me — had a hard time of it, though,” Wise said.

Soon after their marriage, Wise was drafted.

“The war started and he was gone for three years,” Alberta said. “You were just scared to death. At that time, your fathers, boyfriends, husbands, brothers, everyone was gone. And the women went to work.”

Wise completed basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, before going through West Point, boarding the Queen Mary and sailing to Scotland in 1944, he said. He was on his way over when D-Day happened.

“I missed D-Day by two weeks,” he said.

His division landed on Omaha Beach in France. They went on to St. Vith, Belgium, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, a turning point in the war.

“We were in all of it,” Wise said, “fighting the war the whole time.”

He was overseas for just under two years. Wayne said his father never really talked about “the difficult stuff” that he experienced in the war.

While waiting for transport back to the states, Wise was stationed in Rothenburg, Germany, where he — amazingly enough — met up with other Greene County men and played horseshoes and baseball.

“I loved playing baseball,” he said. “I could run faster than a racehorse.”

Alberta said there were “no words to describe” their reunion when Wise returned home. They had two sons — Warren Wise of Waynesburg, and Wayne — who are 19 years apart.

“We took a vacation,” Alberta explained.

Wise drove dump trucks for 30 years, worked for Tri-State Engineers and worked for Benwood Limestone Co., from which he retired in 1974. He raced dogs as a hobby for decades and traveled to Ohio and West Virginia for coon dog field trials with the American Kennel Club. He has shelves of trophies in his home.

He’s a regular at the Morris Township municipal building, where he visits with the township secretary, Judy Moninger.

“I’ve known them all my life,” Moninger said.

Moninger has done much of the planning for Wise’s birthday party, and has partnered with the township’s volunteer fire department and local Veterans of Foreign Wars groups to provide food.

She’s also hoping Wise will receive 100 birthday cards this year, since that’s been one of his goals. People can send birthday cards to Wise by contacting Moninger at the Morris Township office, 724-627-9844, or by sending them to the municipal building, 1317 Browns Creek Road, Sycamore, PA 15364.

Wayne said he and Alberta had talked about throwing a party for Wise, but without help from the community and Moninger, that would have been difficult.

“He is well known and well liked,” Wayne said about his father. “And 100 is a big thing — not all of us make it that far.”

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