Hudson -- Friends from St. Mary Catholic Church recently surprised a World War II veteran on his 92nd birthday.

Clarence "Ed" Danford, who was born March 27, 1921, was surprised when more than 25 people shared coffee with him at Panera Bread on West Streetsboro Street.

His friends, Mardelle and Harry Rupert, thought only a few people would join them for the celebration but when the Rev. Father Kevin Elbert gave him a blessing and wished him a happy birthday after morning Mass, a crowd joined in the celebration.

Danford often told stories about his service days in Iceland during World War II, and his friend, John Lennon, gathered some mementos to present him on his birthday. He found a National Geographic with stories on Iceland and an Icelandic flag. He contacted the Iceland Embassy in Washington D.C. for a letter of commendation. The ambassador sent a package with information about Iceland along with a hand-written letter thanking Danford for his years of service on the island north of Great Britain.

"He's one of those survivors of World War II," Lennon said. "He's very sharp, but there are fewer and fewer of them."

The Ruperts agreed.

"World War II veterans are dwindling," Mardelle Rupert said. "It's good to hear his stories."

Danford joined the U.S. Army, serving as a technician 4th grade from 1942 to 1945. He boarded a boat in Boston in 1942 and spent 15 days crossing the Atlantic, changing course several times before landing at Reykjavik, Iceland.

"Nobody knew where we were going," Danford said.

Within days of arriving they were ordered into the fox holes, which were covered to keep snow out. Soldiers never knew if there would be ice water in the bottom of them.

Temperatures in Iceland were between 40 and 50 below freezing with winds and snow that made visibility nearly impossible, Danford said. Ropes were stretched from barracks to the mess hall and to the hangars where soldiers worked to refuel airplanes.

"If you didn't follow the ropes, they'd say they weren't responsible for [what happened] to you," Danford said.

No one knew what the wind would do to the snow, he said.

"At night they would tell you over the public address system to put your snow shovel inside," Danford said. "In the morning you'd have to dig out of the barracks because the snow was above the door."

The hangar was kept warm, Danford said. The planes, mostly American, would land, go into the hangar and the soldiers would de-ice the plane, refuel it and then put ammunition in the three machine guns and add four bombs.

"One time, a captain wanted five bombs on his plane," Danford said.

He argued with the base's colonel and got what he wanted, he said, but his plane with the extra weight crashed through the ice, taking the lives of the pilot, co-pilot and three gunners.

Finally Danford and the other soldiers were told to, "Pack up. We're leaving."

After returning home, Danford married Julia Dacko from Hudson, where they moved in the 1950s, and raised a son, David, and daughter, Cindy.

David is a chemical engineer, who lives in Wyoming. Cindy has a doctorate in nursing and lives in Pennsylvania.

Danford worked for Reynolds & Reyn

olds as a graphic artist and retired in the 1980s. He attends St. Mary church nearly every morning for Mass and belongs to the Life Long Adult Ministries and is a greeter for the Feed My Sheep Ministry. He stays active and can often be seen downtown at the post office, restaurants or ice cream shops.

Ice cream describes his philosophy for life -- he wants to try every flavor.

Email: lfreeman@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9434