This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
Richard Miralles, born in 1924, is one of the dwindling living members of “The Greatest Generation” — the demographic cohort that experienced World I, the Great Depression, and World War II.
The 99-year-old told Insider that he felt “lucky and blessed to be as old as I am” when so many of his peers have died. His wife, Joy, is 91 and eight years his junior.
The couple is defying statistics since, in general, women live much longer than men. The life expectancy for women in the US is 79 years old, while it is 73 for men, according to the CDC.
The Population Reference Bureau reported in 2001 that scientists attribute the life-expectancy age gap to biological differences. Estrogen appears to combat harmful conditions such as high cholesterol, and scientists believe women have stronger immune systems than men.
Mirelles celebrated his 99th birthday earlier this year – Courtesy of Kathy Olsen via Business Insider
Miralles, who was born in 1924, lived through the Great Depression, served as a gunner aboard planes during World War II, and battled forest fires during his 30-year career as a forester.
He told Insider that these experiences gave him the determination to live as long as possible.
The great-grandfather of four shared some insights into his longevity.
His childhood was happy
Miralles credits much of his positivity to being raised in a loving family.
He was fostered as a baby along with his two siblings — one of whom turned 100 last year. “It was during the Great Depression, and we didn’t have much money,” he said, adding that it didn’t really matter because his childhood was mostly about fun.
His daughter, Kathy Olsen, said she reveled in his stories about panning for gold in the stream behind his house.
“The kids used to take the flakes of gold to a store where they exchanged them for things like movie tickets and popcorn for 25 cents,” Olsen said.
“We knew it was a rip-off, but we didn’t care,” Miralles, who prides himself on being a “laid-back” character, said.
He found purpose when he joined the navy
Miralles was still in high school when American ships were bombed in Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The surprise attack spurred him to enlist in the Navy. He lied about his age, telling recruiters that he was 18, not 17.
He said he wanted to serve the country, but he was also in search of “excitement.” It took him away from his one-room schoolhouse in rural California.
Nevertheless, he said that the armed forces made him more disciplined — a quality he maintained his whole life. Olsen said it helped her father recognize that the decisions he made would have lasting consequences for his family and his future.
“He always had a plan,” Olsen said.
World War II made him a realist
The horrors of war made him realize there were many things in life he couldn’t control, Miralles said.
He recalled returning from one mission when he was the gunner in a dive bomber.
“Another plane landed,” he said. “The gunner was sloped forward. We checked on him, and he was dead. One bullet had gone right up through his seat and killed him. “
“I counted at least 80 bullet holes on our aircraft, and his only had one,” he said. “It taught me a lot.”
Mirelles worked as a forester after World War II. – Courtesy of Kathy Olsen via Business Insider
The former forester — who tackled forest fires during his 30-year career — said he became a realist that day.
“I thought, ‘Well, if I’m going to get it, I’m going to get it,'” he told Insider. “That was all there was to it. I thought there was no point in worrying.”
Miralles, who wrote the self-published book “War and Fire,” said he lived in the moment and dealt with things as they came.
He seized the day and retired early
Miralles, who went to college after the end of the war, joined his friend on an epic motorbike trip across Europe after he graduated.
“We were going to buy two, but we couldn’t afford it,” he said, referring to the vehicle. “I told him that I’d been riding a motorbike my whole life, which wasn’t true. So I rode on the front, and he rode on the back.”
He said they spent 5 ½ months on the road.
“He has always been a ‘live-for-the-day’ person,” Olsen added.
Miralles was “lucky enough” to be able to retire at the age of 56.
That left him free to travel across the US and to Mexico in an RV for months at a time with his wife.
The 71-year-old said her parents are active residents of their retirement home, The Village at Heritage Park in Sacramento, California.
He followed his doctor’s advice
Miralles was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his late 50s. It was a shock, his daughter said, especially since he played golf and watched what he ate.
Mirelles and wife, Joy, who is aged 91. – Courtesy of Kathy Olsen via Business Insider
Fast food had never been on the menu, she said, and meals were sit-down affairs.
“It would be a protein, a starch, and a vegetable or salad,” Olsen said.
Miralles took his doctor’s advice seriously after his health scare and avoided snacking and high-sugar foods. “He showed a lot of willpower — and still does,” Olsen said.