GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Capt. Ralph Cullen Hubbard Jr. of Grand Rapids never thought he’d see the birthday he’s celebrating this New Year’s Day.
He was born Jan. 1, 1919, at the end of World War I, and would grow up to become a World War II hero.
Hubbard doesn’t like drawing attention to his military past or his centennial birthday, but his daughters are happy to share stories about the man who has had such an impact on their lives.
Maggie Groggel says her dad was a captain of an artillery troop whose transport ship was bombed somewhere near France. She said her dad told them a book saved his life.
“He had been reading a book and he wanted to finish it. So he stayed in his quarters while the other men went up to eat, and finished the book. Just as he left his quarters, the ship was struck. And he’s often said that if the book was a little bit longer, he probably wouldn’t be alive,” Groggel recounted.
Hubbard survived, went on to accept the Purple Heart, and started a family with his wife, which grew to include nine children.
Until recently, Hubbard rarely talked about his war experiences. His daughters didn’t know he was a war hero growing up. They remember him as a hard-working father dedicated to his job and family, while their mother kept a well-run home, cooking meals every night.
“We’re all hard workers and very dedicated to our jobs, too, and our kids are as well. That comes from him,” said Hubbard’s daughter, Julie Orsini.
Hubbard’s wife died several years ago, and losing people close to him is becoming a difficult reality.
“One of the things that’s been hard for him is he’s made very dear friends (at his retirement home). They had a little group to eat and sit together, and most of them have passed away. He’s the oldest. That’s been difficult for him,” explained Hubbard’s daughter, Pam Minick.
Hubbard’s daughters say he’s still an avid reader.
“He reads one mystery book after another. He can’t get enough. He downloads them on his Kindle. I think that’s one of the things that has helped him to stay sharp,” said Minick.
As they celebrate Hubbard’s 100th year on earth, his family treasures his lasting impact, showing them what it means to be selfless, giving and dedicated.
“He doesn’t like to talk about himself, but he’s still very interested in life, his family. He loves to see everyone. I think he’s glad to still be around,” said Minick.