At least once a week, Paul Shoaf stops by the Grove City Welcome Center and Museum on Park Street.

"I like coming in to visit and see the displays they have," Shoaf said. "I'll spend some time at the museum, then have lunch at Lilly's or Plank's."

When Shoaf stopped by the museum Sept. 20, what was on display was the affection of his friends and museum staff members.

They threw a surprise birthday party for the World War II veteran, who would turn 93 on Sept. 26.

His friends traded stories about Shoaf before he blew out a candle on a birthday cake and accepted the special gift of a scrapbook containing facts, pictures and mementos of his World War II service.

Bob Traphagan, curator and president of the Central Ohio Military Museum, compiled the book.

"They told me about this two days ago," Shoaf said. "It was a nice surprise.

"Most of these guys (at the party), we're all members of the 'QB's. It sure is nice whenever I can see them," he said.

The QB designation stands for Quiet Birdmen, a club in the United States for male aviators, founded in 1921 by World War I pilots. The club's membership is organized into regional "hangars" and is composed mostly of retired airline, military and freight pilots.

One of the jobs Shoaf had after the war was working as an investigator for Aerosafe, a company that assisted airplane manufacturers after one of their aircraft had been involved in a crash.

"I'd fly a plane that was as close as possible to the model of the aircraft involved in a crash to the site of the accident," Shoaf said.

His task was to fly the plane over the site of the crash to give representatives of the airline company a chance to analyze the site and the plane as they attempted to piece together the details of the crash.

"It was interesting work," Shoaf said.

He wasn't a flyer in World War II; he was a tank driver and mechanic with the 107th Cavalry Regiment of the Ohio Army National Guard. He served in the European Theater of Operation, seeing action in France and Germany.

"Our tanks were the modern equivalent of horses in the cavalry, I guess," he said. "We would drive the tanks in and pick up a wounded soldier. We'd lay him on top of the outside of the tank -- we couldn't pull them inside because there just wasn't room. We'd take them in to get treatment."

Among the mementos Shoaf reviewed at his birthday party was a letter he wrote Jo Ann ("my sweetheart and soon-to-be wife") in April 1945, just before the surrender of Germany.

"We called it G-mail," Shoaf said. "Your mail would be reviewed and censored before they'd allow it to go forward. They didn't want you to give away your location.

"See here," he said, pointing to the letter, which had small portions of the page cut out. "They wouldn't cross out things, they'd actually cut out and remove that section of your letter."

A photograph of Shoaf with some of his Army comrades taken in Ruckholz, Germany, stirs memories as well. At the far right of the picture stands a little boy the troops had met.

"You came across a lot of people like that, children and civilians," Shoaf said. "If you could, you'd give the kids some candy. You had to be careful, though. You had to make sure they weren't intending to kill you."

He said he doesn't know what happened to the boy in the photograph, whom the Americans knew only as Walter.

"Paul's said to us more than once that he often wonders what was the fate of the little boy," said Don Ivers, visitor host and guide at the Welcome Center and Museum. "He said he wishes he knew whether the boy was able to survive the war and if he did, did he go to college, get married and have kids of his own? What did he become?"

"It's an honor and privilege to have Paul stop in and share his stories of his time spent abroad during World War II and share his 93 years of life experiences and adventures," said Quin Wells of the Grove City Town Center. "He's a valued member of the Town Center and the Grove City community."

Like many World War II and Korean War veterans, Shoaf doesn't like to talk about his own accomplishments, Wells said.

"Paul's humble. He won't tell you that he earned two Bronze Star awards," she said. "He's part of a generation that isn't as boastful and attention-seeking as people are today."

Shoaf has shared many of his mementos and relics, including uniforms and weapons, through displays at the museum, Ivers said.

"He's a really special guy," he said. "We were so glad we could celebrate his birthday with him."

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