Matthew Reluga was the man of the hour on Monday, as staff and residents of the Delaware Valley Veterans Home, Southampton Road and Roosevelt Boulevard, celebrated his 100th birthday.
“It was actually a surprise that all the people took the time to come here. It is appreciated by me. I don’t know how to pay them back,” he said.
Reluga was born on Aug. 5, 1919. One of five children, he spent part of his childhood at an orphanage in West Conshohocken and with his family on 26th Street in Fairmount. He attended Central High School and eventually graduated from Abraham Lincoln.
An older brother, Henry, enlisted after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. Another brother, Charles, served in the military police.
Matthew enlisted in the Army in 1942 at age 23 and served in the European Theater in World War II. He re-enlisted in 1948 and rose to the rank of master sergeant.
On Monday, state Adjutant Gen. Anthony Carrelli named Reluga an honorary general and pinned a star on him.
Reluga received the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Bronze Star and other awards during his service, which included in Normandy, France. He’s been a member of the American Legion for more than 70 years.
After the service, he worked for the U.S. Mint and at manufacturing jobs. He married his wife, Stella, a beautician, in 1958, and they moved to Afton Street in Rhawnhurst the following year. Stella has passed away.
Well into his late 90s, Reluga drove, mowed his lawn and attended Mass at Resurrection of Our Lord. His next-door neighbor, Pat Lowe, cared for him until he moved into the nursing home last December.
“Here, you feel like a soldier,” he said.
The social hall was decorated with American flags and red, white and blue balloons and bunting. Everybody recited the Pledge of Allegiance, sang the national anthem and Happy Birthday and enjoyed lunch and music. Three nieces and a nephew were on hand.
The American Legion presented him with a red, white and blue blanket and a pillow with stars designed on it.
The Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation gave him two special coins.
Other gifts he received included a 90th Infantry Division hat and shirt and a “Tough ‘Ombres” jacket with a Silver Star.
Reluga is a healthy centenarian.
“Being a hundred is like being 21. It’s a peaceful gift,” he said. ••