Minoru Hamada gets up early six days a week, drives himself to the Newgate Mall and joins the dozens of mall walkers getting their steps in before the shops open.

Some of the friends he's made in his 40 years of morning mall walks broke up his usual routine on Thursday by throwing him a party for his 100th birthday.

The World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient turns 100 on Friday, but his mall-walker friends decided to celebrate on Thursday so he could be with family on his birthday.

Those friends, along with several family members, gathered around Hamada at the mall on Thursday morning to eat cookies and celebrate a life well-lived.

Hamada said he was born and raised in Ogden. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 through 1945, in the 442nd Infantry Regiment — comprised almost entirely of Japanese Americans — until he was wounded in Italy's Po Valley.

Following his service, he returned to Ogden, where he married, had two sons and worked, first as a truck driver and later, at a dental clinic at Hill Air Force Base. His wife passed away from cancer in 2007, he added, and "it was another life" after that.

Minoru Hamada is thanked for his service during his birthday party at the Newgate Mall in Ogden on Thursday. The mall walkers gathered for Hamada who turns 100 years old on Friday. Hamada volunteered for the military and joined other Japanese Americans to
serve as members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II.
Minoru Hamada is thanked for his service during his birthday party at the Newgate Mall in Ogden on Thursday. The mall walkers gathered for Hamada who turns 100 years old on Friday. Hamada volunteered for the military and joined other Japanese Americans to serve as members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

In his 100 years, Hamada said he's learned the importance of living a healthy life, from eating well to exercising regularly.

"You get older, in your 80s and 90s, and you start walking," he said. "I think that's what's kept me going — is walking every day."

Kathleen Hurst, Hamada's friend and fellow mall walker, said she didn't know Hamada was a World War II hero when she first met him several years ago.

"He's just got this smile on his face all the time," Hurst said. "He's just (someone) to really look up to."