Eric Kwasniewski is known to hold many titles in the East Lyme community.
He is a Vietnam veteran, a retired police officer of more than 30 years, a cancer survivor, an East Lyme native, a husband, a dad and a brother. Tuesday, though, he also wore the title of "birthday boy" - his 75th.
"I just hope he feels supported and loved," said Stacy Kwasniewski, Eric's daughter. "That is the message that we are trying to send to him."
Kwasniewski's 75th year does not come without adversity. For the past two years, the East Lyme "staple" has been living at Bride Brook Health & Rehabilitation Center. He was diagnosed with dementia and moved into the facility in 2018, according to his daughter.
Current COVID-19 visitor restrictions have put an added strain on his family, friends and former fellow police officers who love to visit him. Because of the pandemic, no one has been allowed inside to see Kwasniewski.
"The most difficult thing in the world," said Nancy Kwasniewski, Eric's wife of 41 years. "We have lunch and dinner here every day and I have not been able to see him."
Nancy also used to go to the facility every Friday for cocktail hour. They still maintain their dates over the phone, according to their daughter, but she said that it is not the same.
Amidst the visitor restrictions, Kwasniewski's family received the news that Kwasniewski tested positive for COVID-19. He has not shown any symptoms.
"It broke my heart," explained his sister, Madeline Donnelly.
"I was a mess," added Nancy. "He has fought a war, agent orange cancer, he is strong, he is going to beat this.”
And, so, for his 75th birthday, the community came out in force to show Eric just that.
"We wanted to do something for him and then as soon as word got out, it took off," said Sgt. Mark Hallbauer with the East Lyme Police Department.
Hallbauer and Sgt. Michael Macek organized a birthday parade for their former training officer. They said that Kwasniewski was the kind of officer who all of the young cops looked up to.
"Still do," said Hallbauer. "Still very much do."
Seven fire trucks, several East Lyme police cruisers, a Connecticut State Trooper and countless friends, family and fellow veterans drove up to the Bride Brook Rehab Center to wish Kwasniewski a happy 75th.
People dressed up, honked their horns, decorated their cars and stopped to yell "happy birthday" to Kwasniewski as he watched from the patio.
His sister said they had one message to pass on: "That people love him."
"He is a soldier. He is going to go through it," said Kwasniewski's brother, Paul. "I know my brother."
His family said that out of all of the titles Kwasniewski wears, the most appropriate one is "fighter."
"We are going to survive. We are survivors," said Nancy.