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Chris Smith: Healdsburg veteran celebrates 100th birthday with fly-overs, car parade

Living amidst us are precious few 100-year-old veterans of World War II. Precisely how many remain across the country, I can’t say.

But I know this. There is only one Del Tiedeman.

This modest and elegant and grateful gentleman expected that amid the pandemic, his first triple-digit birthday on Wednesday would be pretty much like every other day. He expected that his son, John Tiedeman, and his daughter, Suzanne Levie, would drop by his Healdsburg care home for a simple visit out by the garden.

That did happen. But not for very long.

Suddenly there were balloons and banners and grandkids and great-grandkids and a live band and several fly-overs by a thundering beauty of a P-51 Mustang fighter piloted by Lynn Hunt of the Pacific Coast Air Museum and a drive-by parade led by a Healdsburg police officer and followed by fire trucks and cars carrying friends and city officials and all sorts of well-wishers.

Even with the mask you could tell that Tiedeman, whose many combat missions flew GIs into battle and casualties out from D-Day until well into the liberation of Europe, was smiling. He said he truly did believe that with COVID-19 still posing a real threat, his 100th birthday would be no big deal.

“And look what happened,” marveled the trim and nicely dressed Army Air Corps veteran and retired energy and construction exec as the properly masked and distanced celebration wound down.

“This has been an extravaganza. It’s truly been wonderful.”

The birthday salute was arranged on the sly by the extraordinary Tony Fisher. He helps to run Healdsburg Senior Living, where Tiedeman lives, and is largely responsible for its lavish gardens and its farm animals and, before coronavirus, its many vital programs and connections with the community.

“Del expected nothing,” Fisher said.

Tiedeman, who lost his wife, Jean, seven years ago, was sitting quietly on a garden-side patio with his daughter and son when up pulled the parade. And Dixieland jazz poured forth from the Russian River Ramblers, who’d set up out of the guest of honor’s view.

Among the guests who wore masks and fought the temptation to hug Tiedeman or shake his hand was his physician, Jim Carroll.

“He’s loved by everybody,” said the Healdsburg family doc, adding, “He’s an easy patient, does almost everything I ask him to do.”

Also on hand were Healdsburg city officials Mark Themig and Dave Jahns. And also Benovia Winery owner Joe Anderson and the chief pilot of his restored WWII DC-3, Jeff Coffman. On their bucket list is to get Tiedeman, who flew a similar plane in the war, into the co-pilot seat and up for a flight in “The Spirit of Benovia.”

Tears rolled into a few masks at the sight of how deeply Tiedeman, a member in good standing of the Greatest Generation, was touched by the birthday surprise.

Not an hour into the celebration amid a pandemic, Suzanne Levie could tell that her dad was over the moon and also ready for it to be over. He is 100 years old after all.

“He’s going to be ready for lunch and his nap pretty soon, I can tell,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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