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‘It’s just so unbelievable:’ Community surprises World War II Veteran on his 99th birthday

‘It’s just so unbelievable:’ Community surprises World War II Veteran on his 99th birthday
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 10:21 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - In his 99 years of age, Mr. Joe Hayes says he’s never seen anything like it.

“It’s just so unbelievable,” Hayes said as a surprise parade drove by his house.

Hayes is a World War II veteran, and celebrated his 99th birthday on Friday. His family planned a surprise drive-by parade for him, but never expected the overwhelming turnout from the community.

“Was I surprised? Honey, the word surprised doesn’t give the answer to it,” Hayes said jokingly.

Neighbors in his Wilmington community know him as Mr. Joe. They say he sits out on his porch everyday waving and saying hello to everyone, even strangers.

“It makes me feel like we’re all the same,” said Mr. Joe’s neighbor Loretta Efstathiou. “Like we all come from the same place.”

Of course, the million dollar question for Mr. Joe was what the secret to living so long is.

“The man upstairs,” Hayes said. “The man upstairs.”

He credits his faith as the reason he’s still here today. There were times overseas during the war when he says he shouldn’t have made it back, but by grace, he did.

“You ain’t supposed to be looking at me today,” Hayes said through tears. “Because I ain’t supposed to be here. But the man upstairs said, not so.”

Dozens of Mr. Joe’s closest friends drove by, some even on motorcycles and golf carts, singing him birthday songs and delivering hand-made gifts. Members of a motorcycle group even presented him with a plaque for his service, one-by-one shaking Mr. Joe’s hand.

Friday night proved just how special Mr. Joe is to his community, even if it’s as simple as a daily wave from the porch.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Hayes said. “You might ask yourself, how am I gonna love somebody that hates me? But that’s God’s word.”

His family says they recently found out that he was born by a midwife, and she may have been 2 years off of his birthdate. They say, whether he’s 99 or 101, they’re happy to celebrate a man with a life well lived.

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