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Amid coronavirus pandemic, a World War II vet turns 100; his family plans a parade

By DON CAZENTRE | Syracuse Media Group | Published: July 15, 2020

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(Tribune News Service) — He lived through the Great Depression and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He spent a career working for, and later volunteering at, the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Syracuse, N.Y.

Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Charles “Chuck” Reiner is turning 100. Plans for a big birthday party, of course, had to be shelved.

Instead, his family plans a different kind of celebration. On Saturday, they’ll have a parade in front of the residence where he lives with his wife, Dorothy, at Brookdale Summerfield senior living complex off Velasko Road in the town of Onondaga, N.Y. It will feature friends, family and representatives from the VA, the American Red Cross, Disabled American Veterans and more.

Following that, Reiner will be honored at the VA hospital, where he worked as chief of medical media productions for 25 years and then volunteered for an additional 31 years.

“We are saddened that we cannot have the party that we originally planned, but are hoping to make his birthday as special as he is,” Reiner’s daughter, Randi Rhinehart, said.

Reiner’s actual birthday is July 22, but the parade and celebration will be Saturday so more people can attend, Rhinehart said. The events will follow social distancing and other safety protocols. 

It’s a big summer for Reiner: On Aug. 22, he and Dorothy (who is now 98) will celebrate their 78th wedding anniversary. August also marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Reiner, who grew up in Rochester, had a role in ending the war.

He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in January 1942 just weeks after Pearl Harbor and was stationed for much of the war at Mitchel Field in Hempstead, Long Island. In 1945, he was deployed to Tinian Island in the Pacific.

There, as a staff sergeant, he worked in flight operations at the time Tinian served as the launching base for U.S. bombers and other aircraft, including the planes that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Dorothy Reiner once wrote a memoir of their wartime experiences for the family.

“On Tinian, as part of the 313th Bomb Squadron, Chuck ... was on Flight Operations which kept track of the planes’ progress to and from Japan on their bombing raids,” she wrote. “Tinian Island is approximately 4 mi. X 8 mi. and had the largest airfield in the world at that time. Many bombing missions using B-29s emanated from there. ... Shortly after Chuck’s arrival on Tinian, a Top Secret mission originated on this tiny Marianas island. President Harry Truman gave his approval of the use of the atomic bomb. The B-29 Enola Gay took off from Tinian August 6, 1945 and dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Nagasaki became the next target on August 9, 1945 and in the face of such mass destruction the Japanese opened peace negotiations on August 10th.”

After returning home, Chuck Reiner, who had worked before the war at Kodak, went back to school and trained as a biomedical photographer. He worked at several hospitals before getting a job at the VA Hospital in Syracuse just three weeks after it opened in 1953. He retired as the chief of Medical Media Productions in 1978.

After leaving the VA, he drove a school bus for Westhill Central School District for more than 10 years. Then he began what Rhinehart calls his “long volunteer career.” He was a volunteer driver for the Red Cross and the Disabled American Veterans, and also served as a volunteer greeter for his former employer, the VA hospital.

He and Dorothy, who is also originally from Rochester, lived for 62 years in Westvale before moving to the senior living center last fall. They had three children, Randi, Debbie and Rick (who died of leukemia in 1997). They have five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Though the birthday party isn’t going to happen exactly as once planned, Randi Rhinehart is excited by the chance to have a public celebration for her father.

“It (will) be great to see my father recognized for all the contributions he has made to his community and his country,” she said.

Other families have also had to adjust plans to honor loved one during the pandemic. In June, the family of decorated World War II veteran Daniel Galuppo honored his 100th birthday with a socially distant backyard party.

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