JC's regular reflects proudly on last century

HORNELL — Some of the best stories ever told can be heard in small diners and cafes during morning coffee. William "Bill" Eck's story could rival most of them.

Every morning for the past 2-3 years, Eck joins his son for breakfast at JC's Cafe, where he has become a beloved figure. His regular order is a country breakfast, black coffee and a single slice of white toast.

In appreciation of his milestone, staff and other regulars at JC's threw a surprise party for Eck, complete with balloons, a heartfelt card, complimentary breakfast and birthday cake. He was very flattered by the surprise.

"I certainly wasn't expecting it," he said. "Not very many people live to be 100."

Eck defies medical wisdom, crediting his youthful appearance, good general health and long life to "running around with a lot of wild women when I was younger and drinking a lot of beer."

He is originally from Hancock, N.Y., in Delaware County, where he was born in 1919. In his 100 years, Eck has seen a lot, having held several jobs, some of which he looks back on fondly.

For part of his life, he worked on the Delaware Aqueduct, a series of tunnels that transfer water from Roundout Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains to New York City, roughly 75 miles away.

"It was the dirtiest job I ever had, but we made good money. That's the only reason I stayed," he said, recalling being covered from head to toe in mud and muck for nearly the entire five years of his employment. 

He then served as a US Army Ranger during World War II. His Battalion, known as "Darby's Rangers," scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, a prominent position along the coast of Normandy, laying the groundwork for the amphibious assault to follow in the early morning hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944.

According to the National Museum of the United States Army, the force faced German fire as they scaled cliffs 100-200 feet high, and had their ropes cut by the enemy. But, enough prevailed, and completed the objective of taking observation posts and gun positions at Pointe du Hoc.

Eck injured both legs in the process, and following three years of service, he won his discharge.

"It was one of my proudest moments when they handed me that," he said. While it wasn't his choice to serve, having been drafted, Eck said, "I don't regret a minute of it."

Later in life, Eck would move to Steuben County, taking a job at the Bath VA where he spent 21 years. He would eventually settle in Hartsville. Roughly 30 years ago, he served on the Hartsville Town Board for a short time.

In his free time and retirement years, Eck enjoyed hunting and fishing. Though he's slowed down a bit, no longer driving or walking without the assistance of a walker, the centenarian counts his blessings and hopes for several more healthy and happy years.

"I'll take as many years as the good Lord will give me," he said. "I hope to see everyone here again next year."