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Family celebrates World War II veteran’s birthday from a distance

Utica resident and World War II veteran John Guba celebrated his 95th birthday last week alongside his wife Gladys. Guba turned 95 on April 4, 2020. (SUBMITTED PHOTO/Observer-Dispatch/TNS)

Utica resident John Guba, a World War II Marine Corps veteran, celebrated his 95th birthday last week.

To celebrate during a time when social distancing taking place to stem the spread of the coronavirus, more than 80 of Guba’s family members gathered for a videoconference — a “very uplifting” achievement, said Gail McDonald, his daughter.

Guba, who received two Purple Hearts through his service, attended his party with his wife Gladys, 94, at his side. The couple has been married 75 years.

They were joined by family spread across 35 different screens on a Zoom meeting.

“It was a wonderfully happy chaos,” McDonald said. “Everybody was very excited to come. Some of us hadn’t seen each other in 30 years.”

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McDonald, who now lives in Massachusetts, came up with the idea to reach out to family members to celebrate her father’s life through telecommunications, which she uses as part of her job.

Among the 82 family members in the call, there were nieces, nephews, grandchildren and great-grandchildren from both sides of the family who joined from all across the country. For some of them, It was the first time meeting McDonald’s parents.

“He was elated,” McDonald said. “He hasn’t been feeling well lately, but he was smiling from ear to ear.”

McDonald said her parents have felt isolated since nobody visits them due to the coronavirus pandemic. McDonald’s niece was the one who facilitated the call since the Gubas do not have an internet connection at home.

During the conference call, McDonald said everyone sang Guba a happy birthday and expressed their gratitude. She said her father is the last link to their ancestors and a driving-force in the family.

“He really went through a lot,” Mcdonald said about her father. “He had two Purple Hearts, he was in the First Marine Division. He has always been a proud marine.”

In a way, social distancing allowed McDonald’s big family — her parents have eight siblings from each side — to make the family reunion happen since “no one really had anywhere to go,” she said.

“Since then, all of my relatives are connecting more than before now that they have seen each other,” McDonald said. “I think we’re all realizing how important those relationships are. It’s a horrible situation, a gut-wrenching situation, but if there’s anything good, (it) is that this is a really good time to reconnect with each other.”

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© 2020 Observer-Dispatch