Paul Koop doesn’t ask for much for his birthday — just a little attention.
“What does a guy who is 100 years old need for his birthday? Nothing, but hugs from all the girls!”
On Dec. 21, the resident of Heaton Place will become Armstrong’s newest centenarian.
It’s an impressive milestone for anyone to reach and all the more impressive for a man who fought in the Second World War.
Koop spent the first six years of his life in the small village of Minsterberg, located on the edge of the Black Sea in Ukraine.
After this village was burned down during the Russian Revolution, he and his family fled to Saskatchewan by the skin of their teeth.
“That was a very bad time,” said Koop, recalling the revolution.
“I know Canada would never have anything like that. We’re just not built that way, and thank God for that.”
Koop was endowed at an early age with the belief that “if you’re going to live in your country, you’re going to help your country.”
That value was passed down to him by his father, also named Paul, who served in the First World War as a medic, transporting wounded and fallen soldiers.
When the Second World War came around a generation later, Koop followed in his father’s footsteps.
Koop first attempted to enlist in the army when he was just 16.
He was turned away on the basis of his age, but unwilling to take no for an answer he travelled from Victoria to try his luck in the prairies.
He was built tall and strong and had no trouble getting enlisted in his second attempt and began his six years of service in artillery.
Koop tells the story of a relationship he made with a young boy while he was in Holland as a sergeant in the war.
He remembers the boy coming up to him with sad, hunger-sunken eyes.
He asked the boy if he would like to eat with him in the barracks, and from there on the boy would regularly come to dine with the soldiers.
When the war was over, the boy marched with the troops in the Victory Parade in Holland.
To this day, Koop still wonders what became of him.
When asked what he’s most proud of in his life, Koop said with tears in his eyes, “I was able to help my country.”
“I believe World War II is what saved Canada,” said Koop, unable to understand why young people aren’t taught to be patriotic.
“It’s the biggest thing I struggle with today. Where are all the Canadian flags?”
While his time in the military is perhaps his greatest source of pride, Koop also lived a happy civilian life.
He met his wife Alice in Grade 1, and the two of them had five children.
They were married for 31 years, after which Koop remarried for 42 years to a woman named Sylvia.
When asked what family means to him, he answers with one emphatic word: “Everything.”
Koop has one message for Canada’s younger generations, which he delivers with passion: “Wake up! You’re living in the best damn country in the world!”
As luck would have it, he’s not the only person at Heaton Place who has learned to appreciate one’s country through the experience of war.
Two other Second World War veterans reside at the Armstrong retirement home.
One of them is George Hoffman, who celebrated his 73rd anniversary with his wife Esther on Oct. 5, a day in which he put on his uniform and met with Koop for a round of storytelling, trading names of people they’d met while in service 70 years ago.
Koop may be nearing 100 years of age, but when sitting across from a friend and fellow veteran like Hoffman, it appears as though he could reminisce for another century.