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One of the last surviving N.L. WW II veterans honoured on 100th birthday

Second World War veteran and longtime Legionnaire
Second World War veteran and longtime Legionnaire

The Second World War veteran Johnny Pauls was celebrated on Saturday as he turned 100 and marked nearly eight decades of service to the Royal Canadian Legion.

More than 130 people gathered at Branch 9 to pay tribute to the former merchant mariner, known affectionately in Spaniard's Bay as 'Uncle.' Pauls witnessed the conclusion of the war in 1945, and has outlived all but a handful of those who survived the horrors of the deadliest conflict in history.

While he didn't say much, Pauls was in fine spirits as he soaked up the spotlight amid a series of heartfelt tributes. During an energetic rendition of Happy Birthday, Pauls sliced a knife into an oversized cake and effortlessly blew out the candles.

"I'm surprised, I didn't expect all this," he said later. Pauls was flanked at the head table by his daughter Elaine and his son Jack.

This picture of Johnny Pauls is on display at Royal Canadian Legion in Spaniard's Bay. He has volunteered with the Legion and its predecessor, the Great War Veterans Association, for 79 years. He was president of the Spaniard's Bay branch for several years in the 1960s, and even at 100 years-of-age, remains an active member of the executive.
This picture of Johnny Pauls is on display at Royal Canadian Legion in Spaniard's Bay. He has volunteered with the Legion and its predecessor, the Great War Veterans Association, for 79 years. He was president of the Spaniard's Bay branch for several years in the 1960s, and even at 100 years-of-age, remains an active member of the executive.

This picture of Johnny Pauls is on display at Royal Canadian Legion in Spaniard's Bay. He has volunteered with the Legion and its predecessor, the Great War Veterans Association, for 79 years. He was president of the Spaniard's Bay branch for several years in the 1960s, and even at 100 years-of-age, remains an active member of the executive. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Pauls gets around with the aid of a walker, and looked sharp in his Legion jacket with his chest full of medals. He lives across the street from the Legion and for decades has visited the hall nearly every day for a few beers and a chat.

But this visit was different. Pauls was the guest of honour for a celebration that was widely anticipated in the community. He repeatedly flashed a grateful smile as words of praise and a few jokes were directed his way.

Fellow Legionnaire William Titford called Pauls a comrade and a friend, and said it would be difficult to find anyone in Canada with more continuous years of service to the Legion than Uncle Johnny.

"He's a blessing to his family and all that know him," said Titford, who first met Pauls 70 years ago.

Tiftford described Pauls as a quiet man who enjoys the solitude of the outdoors. He went on to recall how Pauls travelled the world during a long career as a sailor and has "given so much to others."

This image of a youthful Johnny Pauls was handed out on a brochure celebrating his 100th birthday. Pauls served a long career as a sailor, including a tense few years in the merchant navy during the final years of the Second World War.
This image of a youthful Johnny Pauls was handed out on a brochure celebrating his 100th birthday. Pauls served a long career as a sailor, including a tense few years in the merchant navy during the final years of the Second World War.

This image of a youthful Johnny Pauls was handed out on a brochure celebrating his 100th birthday. Pauls served a long career as a sailor, including a tense few years in the merchant navy during the final years of the Second World War. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Branch 9 president Paul Sheppard announced that the veterans' lounge located inside the Legion would be named in Uncle Johnny's honour. The special announcement garnered heavy applause from those in attendance.

Despite his age, Pauls is still an active member of the Legion, and serves on the local executive. Sheppard described him as a mentor.

"Anytime I need anything with the presidency, I'll ask Uncle Johnny," said Sheppard. "It's a great blessing for me to be here and be a part of it."

Pauls was born on March 16, 1924 in the isolated south coast fishing community of Rencontre East. While Pauls was not drawn to the fishery, he did become a sailor.

He left home as a teenager, and joined the merchant navy during the war. He served aboard ships that ferried desperately needed supplies to Europe and remembers being anchored near the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour when word spread that the Japanese had surrendered and the conflict was over.

Pauls always downplays his role in the war, and once said it was "just an adventure, I suppose."

But no one was downplaying his contributions to the Legion Saturday night.

"He's the rock of this Legion," said Legion member Don Hutchings. "He always has been."

Family friend Elaine Neil Smith said Pauls is an inspiration to many.

"He is as astute and as cunning and as funny as any young man could be at any age," she said.

Pauls said "I really don't know" when asked about his longevity and vitality. But one thing he's certain of: he's as committed to the Legion as ever.

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