Louis “Boots” Lockhart did a lot of smiling on Monday while celebrating his 85th birthday alongside friends at the .
About a dozen people gathered at the Sewickley post to mark the special day, delivering hugs along with cards and gifts to the thankful World War II veteran.
“And I thought nobody liked me,” he joked.
Lockhart joined the historic legion in 1946 and is its longest active member. He was last month during a fundraiser to help . Lockhart, of Sewickley, joined the legion during segregation when blacks weren't permitted to join the whites-only post in town.
The youngest of three boys, the Ambridge native was the only one of the three brothers to serve in the military. He said he left high school in 11th grade and enlisted in the U.S. Navy because he didn’t want to get drafted. He served in World War II before his service ended. Back home, he said, he bunked around and bounced from job to job before deciding to re-enlist in the military.
“I had nowhere to stay and ended up in Korea,” he said.
It was during that tour of duty that someone shot and killed his oldest brother, Frederick. Lockhart said he was transferred to the military base on Neville Island to be closer to family while serving out the remainder of his two-year tour of duty.
Lockhart said he got the nickname Boots from his late brother because he used to kick off the booties his mother had knitted for him.
“He’s been gone from me a long time, but I carry that with me,” he said.
Lockhart completed his 11th and 12th grade education and became the first in his family to earn a high school diploma.
He also became active on the legion’s drill team, with memories of marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. He was also quite the dancer, according to friends.
As a teen at the community center, Butch Faulkner of Coraopolis, now 65, remembered the children who would cross the street and peek through the screen door at the legion’s big dances.
“Boots was always dancing,” Faulkner said.
But he walks with a limp now and said he almost didn’t reach his birthday after a health scare on New Year’s Eve. He woke up to find his hand aching and completely red.
“I kept going down and down, feeling worse and worse,” he said.
He called his son, Louis Jr., of Moon, who took him to the hospital. He later learned he had a blood clot in his leg and spent the next 10 days of the new year in a hospital bed. He’s taking medicine and the clot is now gone, he said, adding that he was fortunatel that he paid attention to his symptoms.
“If I hadn’t have noticed, I would have died,” he said.
Lockhart said he quit drinking alcohol years ago and stopped a three-pack-a-day smoking habit cold turkey. He tries to visit the legion everyday to enjoy Pepsi, his drink of choice.
“Happy birthday, Boots,” said bartender M’shele Harlee, as she served Lockhart an ice cold glass of Pepsi.
Faulkner, an Air Force veteran, remembered as a kid that Lockhart was always someone he looked up to.
“He was kind of my idol when I was young,” Faulkner said.
John Spencer, an Army veteran, said he was about 3 years old when Lockhart used to hang with his older brothers, one of whom also enlisted in the Navy and served in World War II.
“He was always a good man, a real good man," said Spencer of Coraopolis. “He hasn’t changed a bit.”
Lockhart said he has plenty of fond memories thanks to the legion, from the friendships made to past performances from musical legends as Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Count Basie.
He thanked everyone for coming out Monday to create yet another fond memory on his birthday, adding that he's shooting for 100 and another celebration.
“I’ll see you when my 100th birthday comes, because I want you to be with me when I get there,” he said.