A veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War was just given an unforgettable surprise from his community for his 97th birthday that he will certainly never forget.

George Vanvekoven, who goes by “Van” in his North Carolina town, is known for telling exciting stories about his time in the Air Force to anyone who will listen. He’s become so beloved locally that members of the community decided to come together and give back to him in honor of his 97th birthday.

WWAY reported that local restaurant Mission BBQ, members of local motorcycle groups, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and the Fire Department, and American Honor Guards teamed up to set up a surprise birthday parade for Vanvekoven. They were happy to do it in order to show the veteran just how much they appreciate him and the sacrifices that he has made for his country.

“Van is a celebrity. Every afternoon you can find him at Mission BBQ having lunch, and he is remarkable. At 97 years old he’s driving that beautiful red car, a Lincoln continental. Can you imagine? 97years old and he’s still driving himself around,” said Ruth Smith, president and founder of Honor Flight of the Cape Fear Area.

“Van is a VIP with us at Mission BBQ, and he’s part of our family,” added Faith Sipe, who is a community ambassador with Mission BBQ. “When I heard that he was turning 97 years on April 2nd, I thought it would be nice to have one of those drive-by parades.”

During the parade, Vanvekoven revealed that his secret to staying around so long has been having a good wife.

“I think having a good wife. That’s the main thing. I stole my wife from my buddy when I was 18. He said how about you take me to see my girlfriend. I took one look at her and said that’s the girl I want,” the veteran said.

The parade was a huge success, and while Vanvekoven enjoyed the festivities, he said he’s really just grateful to get to live another year.

“I’m lucky I got to see grandchildren,” he said. “It’s a wonderful life.”

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