'It was spectacular': Second World War veteran gets sky-high surprise for 97th birthday

A Second World War veteran in Nova Scotia received a sky-high birthday celebration he says he'll never forget.

Greg MacNeil is the last surviving Second World War veteran at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 78 in Dominion, N.S.

For the past two years, he's been forced to downsize his birthday celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, his family made up for it with a special celebration for his 97th birthday on Saturday.

Greg's day began with a police escort and a celebration with friends. But his biggest surprise came later in the day when a CP-140 Aurora aircraft based out of Canadian Forces Base Greenwood marked the veteran's birthday with a special fly-over.

"It was spectacular," said Greg, after watching the plane fly over.

Pilot Maj. Mike MacSween says, in his nearly 25 years of being in the Canadian Armed Forces, this is the first time he's received a fly-pass request for a birthday.

"I said, 'Absolutely, yes,' without hesitation," said MacSween. "We put together a crew of volunteers and we're pretty proud to be here... It's a pretty special occasion."

The special air-based visit was all made possible thanks to Greg's son-in-law, Mickey McNeil, who is known in the community for his food drives and helping hand.

"I think it means a lot, not only to my father-in-law Greg, but to other veterans," said Mickey.

Mickey says it was Greg that instilled his acts of giving.

"Greg used to gather up all of the extra sandwiches from the house parties we’d have and he’d deliver them to people. He just has a heart of gold," he said. 

Over the past two years, Greg's contacts have been limited due to the pandemic, making celebrations difficult at times.

"During different lockdowns and restrictions, he’s basically only been allowed to see my sister with any kind of close contact," said Allan MacNeil, Greg's son.

On Saturday, however, Greg was able to gather with family and friends -- some he met for the very first time face-to-face.

"He hasn’t seen all of his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and just today, he gets to meet one of the last fifth generation, so it’s huge for us and for him," said Allan.

Despite the crowd and commotion, Greg says he was surprised this was all planned for him.

"It makes me feel great," he said.