Javier Gonzalez Rivera  /  AP
Emiliano Mercado del Toro sits Monday as his great niece, Dolores Martinez, helps put on his old U.S. Army veteran cap, and her son Arturo looks on, at Del Toro's home in Isabela, P.R.
updated 8/21/2006 9:58:14 PM ET 2006-08-22T01:58:14

The world’s oldest person celebrated his 115th birthday Monday, offering advice on healthy living at a party where he was serenaded by a well-known Puerto Rican singer.

Emiliano Mercado del Toro, who was a boy when the United States seized Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898, attributed his long life to a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol.

“I never damaged my body with liquor,” said Mercado, who quit a 76-year smoking habit when he was 90.

Mercado was declared the world’s oldest person by the Guinness Book of Records last year.

“I never thought I would last so long,” he said.

An ambulance carried him to an outdoor plaza where family, friends and the mayor gathered for the party. His favorite performer, Iris Chacon, crooned a birthday tune set to mariachi music.

“I feel happy,” said the wheelchair-bound Mercado, who has difficulty hearing and has been blind for four years. He lives with a niece in the northwestern coastal town of Isabela.

Mercado was recruited into the U.S. army in 1918, during the last months of World War I. He was still in training when the war ended in November of that year.

As a young man, Mercado said he worked for 50 cents a day driving animals loaded with sugar cane to processing centers.

The mayor of Isabela, Charlie Delgado, said a residence for the elderly would be named for Mercado in honor of a man who “ate healthy, had no major vices and who has put this island on the world stage.”

Guinness had recognized another Puerto Rican as being the world’s oldest person. Ramona Trinidad Iglesias Jordan died May 29, 2004, after a bout with pneumonia. She was 114.

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