It’s been a long time since Harold “Dick” Handley’s had a chance to go outside. On Saturday night, May 23, he was able to go out to dinner for the first time since early March when he went into quarantine due to the coronavirus outbreak.
It was a treat to celebrate the veteran of World War II’s 99th birthday.
But the celebration really got going Sunday, May 24, with a surprise birthday parade in front of his house in Wildomar, which was organized by his daughter, Debbie Votaw.
“It was awesome, truly awesome,” Handley said, sitting in a camping chair surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “I can’t believe this many people came out to honor me on my birthday.”
Handley served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1942-1946 and served in the Philippines as a crane and heavy equipment operator.
“I was over there when they dropped the bomb,” he said. “And I came home after that.”
According to his daughter, Handley received the Victory Medal, American Theater Ribbon and Bronze Battle Star.
Upon discharge Handley lived in Detroit, Michigan, until his retirement when he and his wife moved to Wildomar. After 70 years of marriage, she died, and Handley moved in with Votaw and her family at The Farm.
According to Votaw, 186 cars came by to honor her father during Sunday’s birthday parade.
The city of Wildomar presented Handley with a plaque, members of the Wildomar Police and Fire came by to wish him a happy birthday and a lot of people got out of their cars and presented him with gifts.
Members from the Drifter Car Club, Black Sheep Motorcycle Club, a Jeep club, The Patriots, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Oak Stone Community Church all came by to celebrate Handley.
The little event Votaw had planned for her father essentially blew up into a huge event.
“I thought it was just going to be my neighborhood and my car club,” she said. “It turned out to be all these other people that wanted to get involved when they saw my post (on Facebook), that wanted to honor the vet and his number of years.
“I love this community. I love The Farm, and I love Wildomar. It’s a wonderful place to be,” Votaw said.
With his family surrounding him and many well-wishers leaning in to wish him a happy birthday and thank him for his service, Handley smiled, looked off into the crowd and said quietly, “This is just great.”
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.