The Nazi Army invaded his home country just shy of two weeks after Jan Mirtner turned 30 years old.

"My country was not prepared for war. The Germans were prepared," he said in his G Avenue home in Hesperia, on his 100th birthday on Wednesday. "We were kindergarteners. They were soldiers."

A member of the Polish Secret Service, he joined a tank unit, fighting the vastly more prepared Nazi war machine.

"They would say 'kill whatever moves, because what you don't kill will kill you,'" he recalled his commanders instructing him. "And then I was a good soldier."

But it was to no avail: Mirtner was captured and spent the rest of World War II in Stalag XI-A, a German prisoner of war camp in eastern Germany.

"They would treat you like you were dogs," he said, his Polish accent still apparent, 60 years after coming to the United States. He speaks four languages, including German and French.

Mirtner bears no hatred toward the German people as a whole: "German people was 50/50. They that believed in Adolph Hitler, they was no good. I have a name for them, but I won't say it."

Following his liberation, he turned his eyes westward, toward England and the United States. He had an uncle who had worked in New York City's Diamond District before retiring to Florida. In the Sunshine State, Mirtner worked as a driver for his arthritic uncle.

"The United States: The sweetest country on Earth."

But one of his uncle's sons and his family moved in with Mirtner's uncle after declaring bankruptcy, and it was time for Mirtner to move on. His uncle had been incredibly generous over the years and the former prisoner of war had a large cash nest egg that he used to travel, and living a lavish lifestyle after years of deprivation.

"Eat in the big restaurants, because I was loaded with money," he said. "And finally, I find a girl in Chicago. ... In a short time, we were in love."

His wife owned a grocery store and Mirtner worked as a janitor in Chicago public schools for several decades. After he retired, they sold the grocery store and Mirtner began traveling again, this time with his wife Gertrude by his side.

"I thank God, because I was enjoying life and seeing the United States from A to Z, the prettiest country on Earth."

But it wasn't to last.

"I wanted to show my wife Europe," he said. But a visit to a doctor before setting out for international travel turned up bad news. "This poor girl was sick. They keeped her in the hospital."

Gertrude died of a heart failure in the hospital, Mirtner at his side.

"She was as sweet as sugar."

Decades after he was a driver for his arthritic uncle, Mirtner developed it himself, and his doctor advised him to find a dry climate.

"I came to California and the sun was shining and I said 'oh, my goodness,'" he said. "I just fall in love."

He lived for a time with his stepson's family before moving out on his own, moving to his own house on G Avenue in Hesperia.

Even at 100 years old, Mirtner still remembers the values instilled in him by his parents.

"I grow up," he said. "I never smoke in my life. I never drink a drop of alcohol in my life. A good boy ... that's how my parents brought me up."

And as for his longevity, at least in part, it runs in the family: Mirtner's grandfather lived to 101 years old.

"I hope to get close," he said.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.