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Wishes for a happier birthday

Clifford Vanderhoof is 80 years old today.

However, the Ironton resident celebrated his birthday last Saturday with no idea that his family and friends were planning anything.

"He's so special and has tons and tons of friends," said his wife Mary L. Ferguson Vanderhoof. "We did this with lots of prayer and help. We slipped things into my neighbor's garage when he wasn't looking."

News of the party then spread, attracting a large gathering under a tent at his neighbor's house. The retired electrician said he was told the tent was for the neighbor's family reunion, and he even helped with the setup.

Last year, Vanderhoof's birthday was not a happy one.

"I was in the house, and my wife and I were going to Flatwoods to deliver some curtains she made for my sister," he said. "Then, we turned on the TV.'

"It was unbelievable and unrealistic. I flashed back to Pearl Harbor."

During World War II, Vanderhoof was in the U.S. Army, stationed in the Philippines. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan while he was fighting in the Pacific. Two-hundred-and-twenty-six men fought with him. Thirteen came home.

Vanderhoof's son Terry, a Wheelersburg resident, said last year, the family had planned a birthday celebration for his father. Because of the attacks, the party was cancelled.

"This is somewhat bittersweet," he said. "This is one of the reasons why we decided to have the party today. No one could fully celebrate on 9/11."

Vanderhoof's 19-year-old grandson Eric was a new college student at Dennison University during last year's attacks.

"I went to the campus's only flagpole for a 15-minute moment of silence, he said. "But, it's probably not what Papaw went through," he added.

Nevertheless, most of the partygoers were happy to celebrate the guest of honor's birthday.

David Lambert, director of the Mended Reeds Christian mission said Vanderhoof volunteered his electrical skills for five months.

"His daughter, Vonda Vanderhoof, who lives in Columbus, once bought him a tape of the Celine Dion song, 'Because You Love Me,'" said Mrs. Vanderhoof. "He used to have tea parties with her when she was a little girl."

Vanderhoof received a special delivery at the party. His stepson, John Ferguson, a Berkeley, Calif., resident and his wife jumped out of the back of a flower delivery truck.

"If anyone could bring happiness in this extreme tragedy, it would be Clifford," Ferguson said. "He's been an steadying influence in the lives of the people around him."

"Just like Pearl Harbor, it's important that we never forget," Vanderhoof said. "The next generation needs to know what the others saw." Amelia Pridemore/The Ironton Tribune