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100 years of wisdom: Two World War II Veteran centenarians

Two World War II Veteran centenarians celebrating their 100th and 101st birthdays have seen drastic changes in the world.

Veterans James W. Smith and Alexander E. Vroblesky have experienced many changes in their lifetime with help from the VA Maryland Health Care System.

“Without Maryland VA, my dad would probably be in a nursing home and he might not still be alive,” said Ginny Vroblesky, his daughter and caregiver. “His primary care doctor has advised and provided the necessary supplies to enable me to take care of him. We were able to get a wheelchair accessible van because of his combat related injuries.”

Audrey Smith, James W. Smith’s daughter, echoes the sentiment. “From the emergency room staff to various specialty personnel and the inpatient hospital staff, all have worked together to focus on the right care plan for his specific needs. Anything he needed, for example to hear better, has been provided. A stair lift is on the way.”

“The focus is to maintain a good quality of life.”

“These oldest patients can have medically complex issues,” said Dr. Saeeduddin Khan, of the GeriPACT team who serves the older patients. “Our goal is to do what is best for the Veterans’ wellbeing. The focus is to maintain a good quality of life as long as possible.”

Reverend Smith (center)

This means not relying on a plethora of medicines that could bring about unwelcomed side effects. “Every medicine has side effects. Sometimes by giving medicines to patients at this age to solve one problem, it creates a series of other problems due to the side effects,” Khan added.

Born in Oxford, North Carolina, the oldest of eight children, Rev. James W. Smith, who turned 100 Nov. 6, 2023, grew up on a farm before being drafted into the Army the first time in 1944, and the second time in 1947. He worked in food service as a dietitian and cook.

He married Mary Alice Royster in 1950, and they had two daughters, Belendia and Audrey. “As a result of my service, I was able to gain access to education, health care and other services that improved my life and that of my family. I’ve been coming to VA since my first discharge in 1946 in North Carolina and later Maryland,” Smith said.

Smith credits all his success to his relationship with God and heeding the call to enter the ministry. He organized the Little Antioch Baptist Church in Baltimore which later become Second Antioch Baptist Church where he served as pastor for 42 years.

“I want people to see the importance of having a good relationship with God first, then your family and friends and those you with work with. Then you will have a happy life because of all your positive relationships.” He preached the day before his 100th birthday.

“She was interested in a fire truck and I was interested in her.”

Alexander E. Vroblesky (pictured above with his family) celebrated his 101st birthday Oct. 19, 2023. Born in Highland, Pennsylvania, he worked as a riveter in Baltimore. He met the young woman who would become his wife, Virginia Walker, when he saw a fire truck followed by a beautiful woman. “She was chasing the fire truck because she came from a small town in West Virginia and had never seen a fire truck before. She was interested in the truck, and I was interested in her.”

Vroblesky enlisted in the Army in 1942 and was accepted into Air Cadet training to become a pilot. He became a member of the 15th Air Force, 485th Bomb Group, 829th Bomb Squadron, stationed in Italy. 

As a co-pilot of a B-24 bombing mission, his plane became disabled, causing the crew to bail out. “Most of us were captured and became POWs.” In Yugoslavia, while the prisoners were out of the train, the Chetniks came down from the hills and fought the Germans. The prisoners took off in all directions. The Bulgarians helped him rejoin the allies, but the prisoners were in tough shape and were taken for medical treatment.

Vroblesky returned to duty once he recovered. He spent 20 years in the Air Force as a training and personnel officer helping to shape the futures of young Airmen. His favorite assignment was as Commandant of the 313th Air Division Military Academy at Kadena, Okinawa.

After his discharge, he and Virginia stayed in Annapolis, where they raised their three children. They were married for 72 years, until her death at age 94 in 2017.

“The phrase ‘surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life’ is appropriate for me,” he said, reflecting on his long life.

Read their full story.

“Caring for our older Veterans, including those who have just turned 100, is a testament to our gratitude and respect for their service,” said Jona DeVera, coordinator for Outpatient Antimicrobial Therapy. “It’s an honor to serve them.”

Maryland VA offers specialized programs for eligible elderly Veterans. These services include home and community services, long-term care, fitness and rehabilitation, caregiver support, mental health, memory loss and brain health, medical foster homes and many more innovative programs that promote health and wellness.

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