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Still working at 95, Braintree veteran honored for his WWII service

The Patriot Ledger - 1/3/2020

BRAINTREELouis San Miguel showed up as usual for his part-time cashier's job at a Stop & Shop supermarket on Friday knowing something was afoot. He just didn't know how big it would be.

San Miguel recently celebrated his 95th birthday and has been working at the Grove Street grocery store for 21 years. He thought perhaps a special cake and a small party were on the agenda. He got to work ringing up orders and bagging groceries as loyal customers lined up at his station.

Then at about 10 a.m., the store began to fill with an unusual clientele: the Braintree police and fire chiefs, firefighters, police officers, local town officials, more regular customers and then Sen. Walter Timilty and many of his staff. San Miguel's daughter Loretta LaCentra and her husband arrived from Revere, and his wife, Lucille, who turns 90 in April, was escorted in. Fire engines were stationed out front and a half-dozen television cameras, reporters and photographers clustered in a reception area.

San Miguel, a retired bank officer, is known for his friendly smile and warm, gracious manner. As he fully realized what was taking place, by 11 a.m. he was beaming and shaking one hand after another.

Then the ceremony began. After store manager Jim Sarro thanked him for his service at the store, Timilty took the microphone. Timilty and his staff organized the event after Timilty met San Miguel on the picket line during last April's union strike against the company. San Miguel told him at that time about his military service and Timilty decided to recognize the member of "the Greatest Generation" in some way.

"We are so proud of you for your service in WWII. ... You are our patriot and a great American," Timilty, chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, told San Miguel on Friday.

San Miguel was presented with two citations, one offered by Timilty in the state Senate and one by state Rep. Mark Cusack, D-Braintree, in the House of Representatives.

The citations recognized his dedicated and selfless service as a "lead scout" fighting for his nation's freedom behind enemy lines.

"Because of people like you, we are the land of the free and the home of the brave," Timilty said. Timilty wished him continued success in his "great" second career at Stop & Shop.

Braintree's newly elected mayor, Charles Kokoros, thanked him for his service in the U.S. Army 103rd Infantry Division in France, Germany and Italy during World War II.

"It's amazing to have someone like yourself in our community, and we are so fortunate," Kokoros said. "I couldn't be prouder."

"I'm not a good one for speeches. All I can say is I am honored and grateful for this moment and thank you all for being here -- and buy a lot of groceries," San Miguel said to laughter.

Reached later at home, he said, "That was exceptional. I expected maybe a dozen people and half of Braintree was there. People are so nice!"

The store presented him with a special birthday cake with reproductions of two of his personal WWII photographs. One showed him in his Army vehicle.

His wife, Lucille, seated behind him, stood up for photographs and was asked what she thought.

"This is wonderful for him," she said. She turned to her husband and said, "I love you." They kissed and later she said while she misses him when he is working, she knows how good the continued activity is for him.

After the ceremony ended, and he had time to speak with the media, officials and friends, San Miguel went back to work at his register. Only then did his expression turn serious as he concentrated on his work. As the photographers and TV camera crews pressed in close, filming his decades-old routine, he kept his focus on his job.

San Miguel's daughter has been seeking to have a Purple Heart awarded to him for an injury he suffered in World War II. She said he was stationed in Europe from Oct. 6, 1944, to March 18, 1946, and engaged in ground combat during the Battle of the Bulge. In the spring of 1945, in Schillersdorf, Germany, he was hit in the right shoulder by shrapnel from a mortar shell, was treated at a battalion aid station, but his discharge papers do not reflect the injury. He did receive the Bronze Star Medal, in June 1984.

San Miguel started at the Stop & Shop as a cashier when he was 74. He had retired from the Bank of Boston, where he was an assistant vice president. He then worked with his son-in-law, a painting contractor, in Revere. He has worked about 16 hours a week, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday.

He and Lucille have been married 67 years and have lived for 52 years in the same house in Braintree where they raised four daughters, born between 1953 and 1959, all with names starting with the letter L: Linda and Laura, both in Florida, Loretta in Revere and Lois in Dedham.

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