McCORDSVILLE, Ind. — If you ever want to see history spread out on a kitchen counter, go to Tom Ecoff’s home in McCordsville.

“It was like anybody who had to leave home, and go somewhere strange,” said Ecoff about his military service.

The soft-spoken Hoosier veteran just celebrated his 100th birthday. The most pivotal of those years are represented in all his photographs, citations and medals awarded for his combat service in World War II.

“There are many books that have been written, but I have experienced,” said Ecoff.

Not much older than a teenager when the war started, Ecoff left Anderson and volunteered for the paratroopers and served in the vaunted 82nd Airborne Division. He parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and fought his way across Europe in the historic battles that decided the war. He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism after pulling two of his wounded comrades out of a hedgerow in France. 

They survived, but many of his close friends did not.

“I can’t feel pride because there’s so many of my friends still over there in ground,” said Ecoff. “I often wonder why me and there’s no answer.”

Ecoff returned to Indiana after the war, eventually starting a trucking business and a family that’s still growing today. He only recently started talking about his service. The pain of his memories faded, while the importance of sharing his experience has only grown.

“There’s not too many of us left and if through word of mouth, the person who has really gone through it. This is important,” said Ecoff.

His family threw him a surprise party recently to celebrate his 100th birthday. This Hoosier hero says if there’s a secret to longevity, it is his family.

“My family will do anything for me. I have to be careful to say what I want, because tomorrow it will be there,” said Ecoff.    

In some ways, Tom Ecoff hasn’t changed since he left Indiana for Normandy so long ago. His devotion to the country he served has certainly never wavered.

“I would go to war in a wheelchair and come back in a casket for this country… There’s no country in the world like this.”