“There are two kinds of veterans: the ones who talk about what they did and those who don’t want to talk about anything,” said Arthur Breyer, a Normandy Farms Estates resident who was captured by the Nazis during World War II. “I want to talk about everything.”
In 1943, Art was drafted into the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and eventually became a rifleman in the 28th Pennsylvania Division.
At 19 years old, he was captured by German troops during the Battle of the Bulge and taken as a prisoner of war. Art did hard labor in Czechoslovakia and Dresden, losing 70 pounds before he was freed and returned home.
Watch Normandy Farms Estates resident Art Breyer's interview on Fox 29 Philadelphia here.
“He had rickets and scurvy from being malnourished back then,” said Adrienne Mallett, Art’s youngest daughter. “He ate potato peels out of a trash can because he was so hungry.”
The World War II veteran witnessed horrific atrocities of war and narrowly escaped death on too many occasions to count. Now 97 years old, Art is living independently, going to the gym, and socially active at his retirement community.
“He body surfed until he was 88. I asked the lifeguards, ‘should I be letting him do this?’ And they said, ‘absolutely.’ That’s why he’s alive – truly living,” Adrienne said.
What is Art’s secret? He credits his strong faith and ability to live worry-free.
“I was never a worrier, even during the war,” Art said. “As a prisoner, they kept us locked up when we weren’t working, but some of the guys held church services when we could. If I didn’t worry back then, I’m not going to worry now.”
Art carried a small Bible and book of common prayer in his pocket during his entire time at war and during his captivity.
“My father said he was never afraid. He knew God was with him,” said Adrienne.
“There were multiple times in my life where I could have died, and I didn’t. I just figured God has more for me to do,” Art added.
For his heroic service, Art received the French Legion of Honor (the highest award given to a non-Frenchman), Bronze Star, Purple Heart, POW medal, European Theater medal with three bronze battle stars, Victory Medal, and other badges of honor.
“I never wore any of those medals,” Art said. “I’m not the kind of person who likes to go around bragging about it. I gave my daughter, Carol Breyer, the box of my medals and she had it framed as a gift from my three children for my 90th birthday.”
Art moved to Normandy Farms Estates about 20 years ago with his wife, Louise. When she passed away in 2016, Arthur moved from their cottage house to a two-bedroom apartment across campus. His three grown children – Rich, Carol, Adrienne – live out of state.
“When I bring him down to visit us in Virginia for a week, it seems like he gets bored at my house,” Adrienne said. “He is very involved in his community at Normandy Farms Estates.”
Art is a sharp, quick thinker, and his longevity inspires his family and friends. He plays card games, walks three times a week, attends fitness classes, and participates in Bible studies at his retirement community. He also organizes educational and entertainment video programing in the auditorium two days a week.
“I couldn’t be living at my old house at this age,” said Art. “I’d be so lonely.”
Adrienne takes comfort in knowing her father is in a safe place where he will be well cared for if he should need more help, with friends and employees who treat him like family.
“My dad will walk around and introduce me to the cleaning people, culinary workers, and everybody we encounter there. It’s not just the residents,” Adrienne said. “He’s thankful and grateful to be at Normandy Farms Estates.”
She said that during their visits, her dad still gets attention when he wears his WWII hat and T-shirt to the beach.
“People would swarm to come and ask him about his service,” Adrienne said. “I felt like I was walking with a rock star."
“Dad doesn’t view himself as a hero,” she added. “He just thinks he was an enlisted guy who did the best he could, even if it was shoving food in his pants because he was starving. I really believe his faith won over his fear.”
"My grandpa is truly a man of faith and courage," said Cyndi Slaven, Art's grandaughter. "He shares his faith with residents at Normandy all of the time, through conversation, the videos he shows, or his beautiful, heartfelt cards that he writes."
Art would tell you that his true calling came after the war during his career as a professor at several universities teaching future generations.
“I was able to change the lives of more than two million students over my 43 years of teaching college chemistry,” said Art.
Along with his family and career, nothing makes Art Breyer prouder than saluting the nation he once fought so dearly to defend.
“I’m inspired by the history of our country – proud to be an American. I love my country very much,” Art said. “When I sing America the Beautiful, The Star-Spangled Banner and all the patriotic songs, I well up in my heart and mind and sometimes tear up about it. I’m sensitive to loving my country.”