WESTCHESTER, Ill. -- On his 96th birthday, John Ullinskey grand marshaled a parade all about him. Neighbors decorated the World War II veteran's front yard in Westchester, Illinois Wednesday while applauding him from a distance, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Then more surprises rolled his way.
"When I saw all of this, it was unbelievable," Ullinskey said after watching a procession of dozens of vehicles drive by his house.
First came the police department, then the fire department, before a line of cars followed continuously for several minutes.
Dozens participated in this patriotic, heart-felt procession with horns and sirens blaring. It was a birthday gift Ullinskey would have never expected.
"I'm just a regular just a G.I. Joe. That's all I am," the 96-year-old quipped.
He was a sailor who survived D-Day and the invasion of Okinawa, both at the age of 19.
"He doesn't think he did anything special for anyone," said Elizabeth Cook, who knows better than to believe that.
The Honor Flight Chicago volunteer escorted Ullinskey on his 2014 trip with the group to Washington. Now Ullinksey's one of the program's greatest ambassadors and the two of them are dear friends.
"He embraces everyone in life," said Cook, who along with Ullinskey's neighbors, wanted to return the favor with a birthday party that would play by the rules of social distancing.
So they had him sit on his lawn, at a distance from neighbors and first responders, who cheered and whistled his way.
"It makes your heart pump like nobody's business and it just shows you how much the people think of their neighbor. And I appreciate them immensely... Without these people I could not have the happy life that I'm having here today," said Ullinskey.
This 96-year-old veteran reminds us all that during an uncertain time, even when we're physically apart, we're still together.
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