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95-year old veteran returns to Calistoga, honored with proclamation
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95-year old veteran returns to Calistoga, honored with proclamation

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For as long as his children can remember, Henry Hilburn has been telling them that life in Calistoga was “like paradise.”

So, for his 95th birthday, they arranged a surprise trip to his childhood home, where, over Memorial Day weekend, the WWII veteran was honored with a proclamation from Mayor Chris Canning. May 28, his birthday, was also proclaimed Henry Hilburn Day in Calistoga. 

Hilburn and three of his five children made the trip from the East Coast, and he was very much taken by surprise and the attention. All smiles, he said he was happy to sit once again in the warm Calistoga sunshine.

“Calistoga weather is the best in the world,” he said.

Hilburn was a toddler when his family moved to Calistoga. His grandfather was Dr. Alders, of Dr. Alders Mud Hot Springs. When he was old enough, Hilburn ran operations at the property’s palatial swimming pool.

“Back then, the big deal in town on Memorial Day was the bathing beauty contest and then a big parade,” he recalled.

In the mid 1940’s, the population of Calistoga was about 1,100. Hilburn fondly remembered going to the Village Green every day for strawberry sherbet ice cream. He also recounted his tennis-playing days with good friend Roy Enderlin.

Enderlin’s son, Dean Enderlin, was also on hand at the proclamation ceremony in Pioneer Park, and surprised Hilburn with a Wildcat’s T-shirt, from the old tennis team.

“I was a little bit better than Roy,” he joked.

After graduating from Calistoga High School in 1943, at age 16, Hilburn left Calistoga to attend college in San Francisco. At age 18 he was drafted into the Army. Inducted into the 77th infantry, and training at Camp Roberts in Southern California, he was sent to Okinawa to fight in one of the last battles of WWII. The battle is depicted in the 2016 film "Hacksaw Ridge," he noted.

Hilburn was shot during battle, and received a Purple Heart. “I was very lucky. I didn’t lose any arms or legs,” he said. “I got out when I could, I wasn’t going to make a career of it.”

Upon returning to the U.S., he attended San Jose State University and then UCLA. It was there he met his wife, Anne.

“She was a very beautiful stewardess with American Airlines,” he said, adding, “Can I say that?”

Assured that he could, Hilburn continued by saying he went on to teach high school in Palo Alto for a few years, then he and Anne moved to New York, where he graduated from Columbia University. Anne passed away a few years ago, and Hilburn now resides in Maryland.

Although not saying outright that longevity runs in the family, Hilburn said he recently paid a visit to one of his cousins, who just turned 100 years old.

“I’m just a kid,” he said, making a promise to return to Calistoga for his 100th birthday.

You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at 942-4035 or csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.

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