By Nick Emmons, WBZ-TV

WOBURN (CBS) – The past year might have been the toughest Dominic Freni has had to endure— and he survived WWII.

He turned 97 Thursday, and to celebrate the milestone a group of friends, family, and strangers gathered for a parade past his Woburn nursing home.

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It was organized by Andrew Biggio, who’s hobby is to track down WWII veterans to say thank you, and to share their stories. “It’s hard to find a World War II veteran these days,” said Biggio. “So we really try to make the most of having these men and women still with us.”

Biggio is the author of The Rifle, which profiles veterans he has tracked down over the years. This past year, coronavirus took the lives of many veterans from the greatest generation. “Our World War II veterans are getting robbed of their last years of their life,” said Biggio. “So we’re gonna do anything we can to make them feel special.”

Outside the nursing home, Dom Freni waved to every driver who rolled past. Everyone a safe distance from Dom, and wearing masks. You could hear Dom saying, “Hey baby!” Each time someone honked their horn.

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Freni’s daughter says this birthday is extra special. For the last year, she hasn’t been able to do much with her father, except maybe worry. Last December he broke his hip and required surgery. Doctors then discovered he suffered a brain bleed that also required two surgeries. Not long after that, doctors discovered an aortic aneurysm that also needed surgery. To cap it all off, in May he was diagnosed with COVID-19. But being the survivor that he is, he pulled through it all. His daughter jokes, “If the war didn’t get them he wasn’t going anywhere.”

Freni was part of the 82nd Airborne during WWII, flying in gliders during major battles. “He actually glided into Normandy, Holland and fought in Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge,” said Biggio.

Freni joked to Biggio, “I never want to see that glider again.”

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Seeing friends and family again on his birthday, though, was a nice surprise to wrap up a tough year. Some more good news — Dom is set to receive his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and he should be back at his home in Revere by the end of the month.