By Raiza Giorgi
Erling Grumstrup answered the door with a big smile and holding one of his tennis shoes. He was getting ready to ‘hike’ down to Olsen’s Bakery and celebrate Valentine’s Day with a few friends.
“I got them all little gifts and it should be a great day,” Grumpstrup said.
You could never tell by looking at him that he turned 100 years old on Jan. 26. His century of life was celebrated in a big way at Atterdag Village of Solvang, where Grumstrup’s friends and family got together for a wonderful party including a group from the Museum of Danish Americans who flew out from Iowa to honor him. They had a Danish style cake and Grumstrup was so overjoyed to have been celebrated.
“It was such a fun day,” he said. “I had no idea when I was a kid I would make it to see 100. I am thankful.”
Grumstrup was born in 1920 and raised on a small farm in a Danish community near Tyler, Minn. His mother taught him to speak Danish and he still speaks it today.
Grumstrup attended a vocational school in Superior, Wis., where he became a machinist. However, soon after he took on his first apprenticeship, he was drafted for World War II. Grumstrup entered the Marine Corps and attended training in California and Hawaii.
After completing his training, he was sent into combat. Grumstrup fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and witnessed the iconic raising of the United States flag there. He was wounded in combat by a grenade and was hospitalized for several months.
Grumstrup returned to service for a few more months after his recovery and received a Purple Heart for his bravery during the war.
After completing his service, he went home to his wife, Selma Henriksen, whom he had married shortly before being drafted. They had five children, two sons and then three daughters, the last being twin girls. The children were all raised in Minneapolis and attended the University of Minnesota.
Grumstrup also lived in Denver after his children had grown and loved hunting and fishing with his family.
Grumstrup moved to California and Atterdag Village in 2008. He knew several friends who lived in that retirement home, so he wanted to be closer to them. His children visit him every few months as well.
One of the hobbies Grumstrup brought with him was music. He has always enjoyed singing and even attended music school in Minneapolis for a brief period. He now has a keyboard in his room so he can practice frequently. Grumstrup also sings with another resident every morning after breakfast.
“Music really got me through those dark periods in my life after the war,” Grumstrup said. “It was a way to escape the memories.”
Last October, Honor Flights Central Coast California invited Grumstrup and many other local veterans to visit Washington, D.C., and for three days and they had a fun tour of the nation’s capital.
“I really enjoyed it,” Grumstrup said. “Sitting next to Lincoln was great and witnessing the changing of the guard. I got to meet other local veterans and visit the statue of Iwo Jima.”
The memorial was inspired by the iconic 1945 photograph of six Marines raising a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II taken by Associated Press combat photographer Joe Rosenthal. Grumstrup witnessed the raising of the flag.
Honor Flight provides trips to Washington, D.C., for veterans, giving them a chance to see the World War II memorial and uniting with colleagues at no cost to the former military member.
For more information on Honor Flight Central Coast California visit www.honorflightccc.org.