PARAMUS, N.J. – A World War II veteran who took to social media earlier this month asking to be mailed 102 cards for his 102nd birthday got just that and much more than anyone could ask for on their special day.
Since announcing his humble request, Michael Diederich received well over 1,000 cards from the local community and from caring individuals as far out as Europe who mailed them to his residence at CareOne in Paramus.
But the birthday wishes didn’t end with the unwrapping of envelopes (200 of which he has yet to open.)
During a dual celebration of his birthday on Friday, Nov. 15 and Veterans Day last Monday, Diederich – who was seated at a special birthday table at the Cupola at the Ridgewood Avenue facility in front of red, white and blue balloons reading 1-0-2, and his wife Dotty at his side – was paid a surprise visit from former New York Giants and Super Bowl Champions Bart Oates, Bill Neill and Odessa Turner, along with Dereck Faulkner, who was signed as an undrafted free agent for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007. On behalf of his fellow teammates, who played for Big Blue in the late 1980s into the 1990s, Oates gifted Diederich with a miniature signed Giants helmet and a T-shirt reading “The Grudge Match, New York Giants Vs. The Jets,” the latter of which is Diederich’s favorite football team.
“The Jets won, so you can wear this proudly,” said Oates before going on to thank all the veterans whom he called “warriors” for their service in the armed forces.
“As a group of men, we played a very physical sport. One thing we do is we respect our veterans, and we have so much respect for them,” said Oates. “As the Mayor [Richard LaBarbiera] so eloquently said, ‘We are the land of the free because of the home of the brave. And often we used a lot of the terms about being a warrior in football and what it takes… We know in our hearts and we know amongst ourselves, the real warriors are you gentlemen and you ladies who served in the military and sacrificed body and limb and others, and time and family. So we appreciate that, and just want to note that, and recognize that today.”
During World War II, Diederich was a nose gunner and bombardier in a B-24 bomber for the Army Air Corps, and, within the course of a year, finished 35 missions over Germany.
AJ Luna, Director of Veteran Services for Bergen County, read aloud a letter from Bergen County Executive James Tedesco, who thanked Diederich for his role in “forging the path forward for this great country.”
“President Kennedy said once, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ There are few ways less noble to serve our country than through the military,” read Luna. “The courage and strength that you exude are qualities which deserve only our highest gratitude. I cannot thank you enough for what you have done, and we are all privileged and humbled to be able to honor you on your 102nd birthday.”
Charlie Lind, President of the New Jersey Deputy and Battalion Fire Chief’s Association, presented Diederich and Dotty with a dozen red roses, a Jersey City Fire Department T-shirt, and two sweatshirts from the association with their names on it.
“Sgt. Diederich, this country owes you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid in any lifetime, and your service to our country gave us the freedom today that we enjoy,” said Lind, before motioning to the other veterans at his birthday party. “You sir, are the greatest generation for sure. May God bless you and keep you for many more years to come.”