Grand Forks native and a World War II veteran who helped liberate France from Nazi Germany’s grip, Lt. Col. Sam A. Sachs (U.S. Army Reserve, Retired) will celebrate his 105th birthday Sunday, April 26 -- and the local American Legion post is honoring him for exemplary service to the nation.

The coronavirus pandemic has quashed the birthday plans of this Lakewood, Calif., veteran, so instead of having a party, “Sam would at least love to hear from friends, neighbors and relatives” with a best wishes card, said Dennis Almer, webmaster for the Grand Forks American Legion Post 6.

Almer and other Legionnaires are encouraging people in the area to flood Sachs’ mailbox with birthday wishes. Cards should be addressed to: Lt. Col. Sam Sachs, c/o Mom and Dad’s Manor House, 4340 Conquista Ave., Lakewood, CA 90713.

On Sunday, Sachs will be celebrating “105 years of one fantastic life adventure,” said Almer.

Last June, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of France, Sachs was awarded the French Legion of Honor by Christophe Lemoine, consul general of France in Los Angeles. By decree of France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Sachs was appointed a Chevalier, or Knight, Almer said. The Legion of Honor is the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits.

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Sachs was a member of a glider infantry regiment that fought during the invasion of Normandy, France, in June 1944, commonly known as D-Day, which marked a critical turning point in the war.

Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown has also issued a City of Grand Forks Proclamation, citing April 26, 2020 as “Sam Sachs Day” in his honor and called on citizens here “to join in its recognition and celebration.”

Grand Forks native

Born in Grand Forks on April 26, 1915, Sachs was the oldest of three children. He joined the ROTC program in 1931 while a student at Grand Forks Central High School, where he graduated in 1932. He enrolled at UND, earning a business administration degree in 1936.

After graduating from college, he traveled to California where he joined the ROTC program in October 1940 and registered for the draft in Los Angeles. As a first lieutenant, he went first to Fort Benning, Georgia.

Sachs was almost 30 when he was called to serve in World War II in the 82nd Airborne, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, which made one of the first troop glider landings beyond the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day, Almer wrote in an article for the Legion website.

Gliders, which were attached to military planes, were “full of troops and equipment,” Almer said. The unarmed gliders were strategically cut loose from the planes, amid anti-aircraft fire, for their D-Day landing at Normandy.

“Those guys were pretty much on their own,” Almer said.

Theirs was a “very dangerous” mission. The glider infantry regiment “was known, either affectionately or grimly, as ‘Flying Coffins,’ ” he said.

After Sachs’ glider landed on a farm 2 or 3 miles from Utah Beach, the furthest west of five Allied forces’ landing sites, Sachs found only one bullet hole in the glider’s fuselage.

It is extraordinary that he survived, Almer said.

Later, Sachs was part of a group that liberated prisoners of war from a German concentration camp, he said.

Until the war’s end, Sachs served as company commander in Casablanca, Morocco, Africa; Naples, Italy; and other locations.

In 1947, Sachs married Ida Hoffman and “began his 58-year honeymoon,” Almer wrote in the website post.

Under the GI Bill, he earned a teaching degree at the University of Southern California and taught at several junior and high schools and in adult education centers in southern California before retiring in the 1980s.

Honors, recognition

Sachs served in the U.S. Army Reserve for 32 years and retired as a lieutenant colonel. In 2017, he was honored by the 63rd California Assembly District as the Lakewood Veteran of the Year.

Though COVID-19 disrupted his birthday plans, Sachs was “especially delighted and surprised recently when the Sultans’ Car Club of Long Beach (Calif.) had a surprise parade of their vintage vehicles to honor him and his birthday,” Almer said.

Bob Greene, American Legion Post 6 commander, has ordered flowers and birthday balloons to be delivered to Sachs before his birthday, as well as a special pair of socks from American Legion headquarters, as gifts from Grand Forks American Legion Post 6, Almer said.

For more information, go to the website, www.grandforksamericanlegionpost6.org, and select the “Community News” section.