More than 100 gave tribute to a local World War II veteran by organizing a birthday parade on his behalf Sunday afternoon.

Lucian Cato, who is a World War II Navy veteran, turned 95 years old Sunday. The Conway Police Department along with the Conway Fire department and other fire departments from across the county joined forces with other area residents and the Arkansas Patriot Guard Riders Inc. to honor Cato on Sunday outside the Brookdale Senior Living center in Conway.

Conway Police Department spokesman LaTresha Woodruff said officers were more than thrilled to be a part of Cato’s birthday celebration.

“We had the great honor of helping wish war hero Lucian Cato a happy 95th birthday,” she said. “Mr. Cato is a WWII Naval veteran. Your Conway Police Department was just a small part of a large birthday parade for Mr. Cato that included your Conway Fire Department, many other fire departments from all over Faulkner County, the Arkansas Patriot Guard, family, friends and many other individuals.”

While the WWII veteran sat outside with Brookdale staff, local officers, firefighters and other supporters drove past him and later cheered “Happy Birthday” to him.

Others who took part in the celebration also said they felt honored in honoring Cato.

“Yesterday was a wonderful day celebrating Lucian Cato’s 95th birthday,” Joe Maglie, an Arkansas Patriot Guard member, wrote in a social media post. “I think everyone was moved by the thrill on this wonderful hero’s face.”

The Arkansas Patriot Guard decided to organize the drive-by birthday celebration because Cato’s family was unable to host a party for him at the senior center due to COVID-19 regulations and social-distancing guidelines.

Participants were encouraged to decorate their vehicles as they spread love and cheer to the WWII veteran.

The birthday parade lasted about 45 minutes. Before it began, Brookdale Programs Director Elisha Babb said organizers "gave him a proper salute and sang him happy birthday."

Seeing the community come together was an exciting, emotional moment, Babb said.

"Oh my gosh, it was beautiful," she told the Log Cabin Democrat. "Everyone was in tears ... I didn't think I was going to have to pass out three boxes of tissues."

Though he typically does not let his emotions overcome him, Babb said that Cato was grateful and overcome with joy following the event.

"It takes a lot to make him cry, and he cried all day," she said.

Cato was born on May 3, 1925, in Heber Springs.

At 17 years old, Cato enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942.

Cato was a first-class motor mechanic during WWII and was assigned to the LCI(G)-441 (Landing Craft Infantry Gunboat), which included the Battle of Okinawa.

“It would be the last major battle of WWII and by all accounts, the bloodiest,” Arkansas Patriot Guard State Captain Jerry Ashby said. “The U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet lost 36 ships, 368 were damaged, 4,900 men were killed, 4,800 wounded and 763 aircraft were lost.”

In that timeframe, Cato served for three years, four months and 10 days “without taking any leave time” before he was honorably discharged at 21 years old, Ashby said.

Upon being discharged on his 21st birthday, Cato “married the love of his life” in Heber Springs.

Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at mhicks@thecabin.net.

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