As World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient Jay Paris sat in front of his Valencia home on Sunday, cars streamed by, with drivers honking, waving and even singing as they wished him a happy 93rd birthday.
“I’m just flabbergasted, this is unbelievable,” Paris said, as he waved back to the passing cars.
Friend Robyne Roberson organized the drive-by celebration, hoping to do something special for Paris, as he’d been stuck inside since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Last year, we gave him a big luau in our backyard, and we had hula dancers and everything,” Roberson said. “We couldn’t do that this year.”
Though not a luau, the surprise celebration left Paris stunned, and when asked the most exciting thing that’s happened in his 93 years, he replied: “This is pretty close right here.”
“It’s so nice to see all these good friends,” he later added.
Along the front lawn, Girl Scouts from junior troop No. 1912 had placed 93 American flags, one for each year Paris has lived, as a tribute to the veteran’s service.
The celebration was done early, as Wednesday not only marks Paris’ actual 93rd birthday but also the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, a coincidence the veteran joked was obviously done on purpose.
“They must have known I was born (that day), so they said ‘that’s it,’” Paris said, chuckling.
The road to 93
“Ninety-three years, three high schools, eight universities, Navy, Army — it’s just been a full 93,” said Paris, who was born in Oklahoma.
“He’s lived quite a life,” Paris’ oldest son Bret added.
Paris’ mother was a teacher and his father was a carpenter.
“Back in those days, you went to where the work was, so he’s lived all over the country,” Bret said.
Paris was extremely athletic, playing for the Cubs and getting drafted by the New York Giants in his early years.
At 16, Paris enlisted in the Navy during WWII, then re-enlisting in the Army years later to fight in the Korean War.
After going through officer candidate school, Paris was off to Korea, and just two weeks later, fought in the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, where he was awarded the Purple Heart.
“Dad led the charge up Pork Chop Hill in Korea, and that’s where he was wounded,” Bret said. “Only six people out of his entire company made it out alive.”
Paris took a mortar to the leg and spent 13 months in Army hospitals from Korea to Japan, Hawaii to California.
“They put me back together,” Paris said. “It was an interesting period of time.”
Still today, Paris talks about the war with his family. “It’s probably the most etched memory in his mind,” Bret said.
Paris had two sons, both of whom took after him in their athletic abilities, becoming professional baseball players, with one even winning a World Series ring.
Though Paris’ athletic career came to an end after the injury, as a teacher at Simi Valley High School, he coached various sports, including baseball, football and tennis, among others.
“He started the golf program and soccer program from scratch,” Bret added.
Jim Lewis, an old friend who taught and coached with Paris for years, described him as “honest as Abe.”
“He’s a patriot, a hero and just a gentleman,” Lewis added.