Veteran surprised with a parade for his 97th birthday


NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) —Many groups and organizations came together to give one 97-year-old man a surprise drive-by birthday parade he’ll never forget.

A veteran of World War II, Vietnam, and Korea, George Vanvekoven is known  as “Van” in his community, and is well-known for telling interesting stories about his time spent serving in the Air Force.

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The surprise birthday parade was organized by Mission BBQ and members of local motorcycle groups, American Honor Guards, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department came together to celebrate Van’s 97th birthday.

“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,” said Faith Sipe, 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.”

Van shared what he believes to be the secret to his longevity.

“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,” said George Vanvekoven.

Saying he is thankful to celebrate another year.

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

​Four generations of George’s family were present at the surprise celebration.