Rochester West Resident Marks 100th Birthday

Rochester West Health Services resident Albert “Ken” Axelson got a birthday present unlike any other.

Not only did Ken turn 100 years old on April 2, but he received a set of paratrooper boots to replace the ones he was forced to give up while serving in the Army as a combat medic. During World War II, he stormed Omaha Beach, a landing area in Normandy, France, on D-Day in 1944. On Jan. 3, 1945, Ken was one of several people captured and sent to a German prisoner of war camp. He was liberated from the camp on April 2, 1945, his 21st birthday, and sent home.

But Ken did not come home with everything he left behind. The uniform Ken wore while in the camp had to be burned for both health and sanitation reasons, including his paratrooper boots. He was promised a replacement pair of boots, but never received them. At his birthday celebration, 10-year-old Declan Watson and his mother, Georganne Watson, traveled from Philadelphia to Rochester, Wisconsin to present him with a new pair of Army-issued paratrooper boots on the 79th anniversary of regaining his freedom.

Julie Clennon, Life Enrichment Specialist at Rochester West Health Services, helped plan the celebration. She reached out to veteran-based organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1215 in Rochester, and the community to create an event that honored Ken’s legacy.

Ken’s family and friends, including his children, attended the birthday celebration at Rochester West Health Services. The Kenyon-Wanamingo High School band played patriotic songs. A six-member honor guard from both Kenyon and Wanamingo Veterans of Foreign Affairs presented national colors. A Rochester West Health Services resident performed a comedic song in Ken’s honor. Brian Danielson, Ken’s friend and a Kenyon veteran, served as the master of ceremonies.

Ken, a Wanamingo native, was overwhelmed by the love and support of his community to commemorate such a momentous occasion.

“He was happy, he was surprised, and he really had no idea how big of an event it was going to be,” said Scott Kallstrom, Executive Director at Rochester West Health Services. “He really enjoyed it and [him receiving] the boots were long overdue.”

Rochester West Health Services plans to create a book with photos and stories detailing Ken’s journey, as well as hang pictures on the walls. Check out more pictures from Ken’s birthday celebration on Rochester West Health Services’ Facebook page.

Thank you to the following media outlets for covering this special event!




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