Local living legend: WWII veteran celebrates 104th birthday

By Brittany Anderson

KYLE — It’s not every day a family can celebrate the 104th birthday of their loved one, and a World War II veteran on top of that — but Milton Behrens is the exception. 

Behrens currently lives at Orchard Park, an assisted living facility in Kyle. On May 10, his family  and the Orchard Park community gathered to celebrate the centenarian. Behrens’ daughter Sherral Coe also provided pictures and other mementos from his life, including his time serving in WWII. 

Milton Behrens surrounded by his family during his 104th birthday party on May 10. Photo by Brittany Anderson.

Behrens’ service in WWII began in July 1942 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served an incredibly important role: as a telephone and telegraph line foreman’s assistant, his unit bravely worked to repair telephone communications that were disrupted by artillery shelling in Normandy, France (arriving the day after D-Day), Rhineland, Germany and in London, England due to the Blitzkrieg. 

A newspaper clipping from Giddings, Behrens’ hometown, showing Behrens (middle) and two other members of his unit working on telephone lines in Germany during WWII. Photo by Brittany Anderson.

Behrens was honorably discharged on June 8, 1945, and was awarded three Bronze Stars for meritorious service, a Good Conduct Medal and an American Defense Service Medal by Lt. Gen. J. Lawton Collins.

Photo by Brittany Anderson.

Upon returning home, Behrens said he looked forward to being back in Texas, having been gone for years while in service — which was “too doggone long.” Weeks later, he got a job as a lineman at Southwestern Bell Telephone Company where he worked for 37 years before retiring. Behrens’ son-in-law Leroy Opiela praised Behrens’ for going into the Army to not only serve his country but learn a worthwhile trade that helped him find his passion. 

Behrens lived a full life with his wife Laray, whom he was married to for nearly 68 years, and daughters Sherral and Elva (Opiela), in their house off Brodie Lane in Sunset Valley — which was then a “short dirt road surrounded by homesteads and farms.” 

Behrens has also cultivated a close community throughout the four years he has lived at Orchard Park, universally adored by his caregiver, other employees and just about everyone he comes across. During his party, one resident called Behrens the “sweetest, most intelligent person” she had ever met. Students at Barton Middle School even made Behrens a birthday banner with celebratory messages for the party with the help of teacher Heather Opiela, Behrens’ granddaughter. 

Milton’s granddaughter Heather and great-granddaughter Kendal with the banner made by students at Barton Middle School. Photo by Brittany Anderson.

After a couple years of not being able to properly visit with family due to COVID-19 restrictions, Behrens and his family were happy to gather together in-person and celebrate his birthday. His WWII service and commitment to his country that has impacted the generations following him is no doubt inspiring to everyone who meets him — but to his family, they feel lucky they also get to call him, dad, grandpa or Uncle Milton. 

“All you need to know is that he is a wonderful, wonderful person,” his niece Karen said. 

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About Author

Brittany Anderson graduated from Texas State University in August 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She previously worked at KTSW 89.9, Texas State University's radio station, for nearly two years in the web content department as a writer and assistant manager. She has reported for the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch since July 2021.

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