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Sonoma County celebrates veteran’s 106th birthday

A small, masked crowd gathered, cake was sliced and vintage airplanes rumbled skyward Saturday in tribute to Sonoma County community pillar Al Maggini, who’d be a historic rarity even were he not 106 years old.

“You’re not a hard act to follow,” Windsor Mayor Sam Salmon told the dapper, amicable Maggini at the midday birthday celebration at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport. “You’re an impossible act to follow.”

Maggini is a modest man whose distinctions nearly outnumber the candles on his cake.

Born Sept. 5, 1915, in San Francisco, he is believed to be Sonoma County’s oldest military veteran. He flew 35 combat missions over Nazi Germany as a navigator aboard a Boeing B-17 Super Fortress bomber.

After the war, Maggini resumed his career as stockbroker, moved to Sonoma Valley with his wife, Helen, and then worked into his mid-90s.

Immersing himself in the community as a young man, he served more than three decades on the trustee board of Santa Rosa Junior College. In 1990, SRJC honored him with the dedication of the Santa Rosa campus’s first three-story classroom building, Maggini Hall.

Maggini volunteered tirelessly also for Hanna Boys Center and the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Foundation. He’s credited with attracting donations to their missions, and others, in excess of $200 million.

Maggini once said, “As long as the cause is right, I don’t have any problem asking for money.”

A widower since he lost Helen in 2002, the sharp-minded centenarian has given up driving. But just a few years back he was here and there in his shiny, black, turbocharged Porsche Carrera GTS.

Saturday’s 106th birthday party was hosted by Josh and Julia Hochberg, owners of the Schulz airport’s Sonoma Jet Center. Guests included a pair of U.S. Air Force recruiters who presented Maggini a quilt from the Vietnam Veterans of America; SRJC president Frank Chong; “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz’s widow, Jean Schulz; Press Democrat columnist and history writer Gaye LeBaron; and representatives of Rep. Mike Thompson and state Sen. Mike McGuire.

Present also was a good showing of members of the airport’s Pacific Coast Air Museum, whose collection features a good number of warbirds.

Maggini wore a smile as he inspected several vintage military jeeps and propeller planes whose owners brought them to honor him. The handful of open-cockpit Boeing-Stearman biplanes and North American Aviation SNJ Texan trainers took off one after another, then flew in low over the runway and tipped their wings to the guest of honor.

Maggini was not invited up for a flight in a Stearman or SNJ, but the long-ago bomber navigator took no offense. “They’re not going to put me in one of those,” he said from the comfort and safety of his seat on the tarmac.

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