‘It’s just so unbelievable:’ World War II veteran surprised with parade on his 99th birthday

‘It’s just so unbelievable:’ Community surprises World War II Veteran on his 99th birthday
Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 7:26 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT/Gray News) – In his 99 years of age, Joe Hayes says he’s never seen anything like the surprise parade that drove by his house.

“It’s just so unbelievable,” he said.

Hayes is a World War II veteran. He 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 told WECT.

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

“It just makes me feel like we’re all the same,” neighbor Loretta Efstatiou said. “Like we all come from the same place.”

The million dollar question for Hayes: What’s the secret to living so long?

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

He credits his faith as the reason he’s still here today. He said there were times during the Second World War when he was overseas that he says he shouldn’t have made it back.

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

Dozens of Hayes’ closest friends drove by in the parade, some 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, shaking his hand one-by-one.

Friday night proved just how special Hayes is to his community, even if it’s as simple as a daily wave from his 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.”

Hayes’ family said they recently found out he was born by a midwife, and she may have been two years off his birthdate. But they say, whether he’s 99 or 101, they’re happy to celebrate a man with a life well-lived.

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