His smile was obscured by an Ohio State Buckeyes mask – one made necessary because of a pandemic on a scale not witnessed during his lifetime of nearly a century.
But the light in the eyes of Richard "Dick" Rarey, who celebrated his 99th birthday Sept. 6, belied the unexpected pleasure of seeing family and friends – as well as Hilliard police officers and Norwich Township firefighters – pass through the parking lot of his residence at Hilliard Assisted Living and Memory Care.
"I thought I was going to see motorcycles," said Rarey, describing the ruse his family members used to get him to sit outside the front doors of his residence facing Trueman Boulevard.
But then cars, adorned with balloons and posters, started arriving, and they soon were followed by about a dozen Hilliard Division of Police cruisers, with lights flashing, and a bright yellow Norwich Township ladder truck.
It was all arranged by his family, including his son, Steve Rarey, who flew from Tucson, Arizona, to celebrate with his father.
Dick Rarey and his wife of 72 years, Marion, who died last year, have three children, six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Steve Rarey is a 1965 graduate of Hilliard High School, as are his siblings, Lois Kaufman, a 1969 graduate, and Richard Rarey, a member of the class of 1976.
Three of the grandchildren also are Hilliard graduates: Amanda graduated in 1995, Andrea in 1999 and Amy in 2000. Kaufman, who lives in Grove City, is their mother.
Dick Rarey was born Sept. 6, 1921, on a farmhouse in Kenton, but by the age of 5, his family – including one brother and one sister -- had moved to a farmhouse that today is Coba Select Sires,1224 Alton Darby Creek Road near Galloway.
Rarey graduated from Hilliard High School in 1939. Three years later, in 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
After an attempt at pilot training, he was classified as a radio operator and gunner in the Army Air Forces, serving in the Seventh Air Force, 91st Bomb Group, 820th Bombardment Squadron, while achieving the rank of technical sergeant.
He served in the central and western Pacific theaters.
While trained on a B-17 Flying Fortress, Rarey instead found himself assigned to a B-25 Mitchell.
By 1944, as the Allied forces were advancing against the Japanese in the Pacific Ocean, Rarey was on a B-25 mounted with .50-caliber guns, strafing Japanese islands at low altitude.
Among his 17 missions in a B-25, Rarey recalled shooting a locomotive on the island of Kyushu.
"I saw it explode," Rarey said.
The incident occurred on his second-to-last mission, and the nose of his B-25, on a low-level bombing run with the goal of knocking out a bridge, clipped treetops on its approach to the target.
"If it had been the wings, I wouldn't be here," he said.
Rarey sustained his only injury during the train-shooting incident, when shrapnel struck his hand.
He didn't report it so as to avoid "being grounded," but also because he did not think such a minor injury deserved a medal, he said.
Rarey said he bandaged it up on his own.
"It bled like the dickens, though," he said.
But Rarey said what gave him the most apprehension was the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
"I was more frightened of it than the enemy," Rarey said about the experience of flying for hours and hours and seeing "nothing but the water."
Rarey concluded his service in January 1945, seven months before the Japanese surrendered after Allied forces dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, respectively.
Rarey returned home and graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in landscape architecture, eventually working for Marion V. Packard, an Upper Arlington architect, until his retirement.
Today, Rarey spends his time playing cards – solitaire is his favorite – while occasionally attending Columbia Heights United Methodist Church in Galloway, where he is the oldest active member.