BELOIT — Although there will be less in-person Veterans Day festivities this year due to COVID-19, people are invited to wish two VetsRoll alumni, best of friends and WWII Navy heroes a ‘happy birthday.’

George Olson celebrated his 94th birthday with a cake on Thursday, Nov. 5 and Stan Van Hoose will celebrate his 100th birthday on Thursday, Nov. 12.

People can send cards to Olson or Van Hoose at Beloit Senior Living, 2250 W. Hart Road, Beloit WI 53511.

To participate in the drive-by birthday salute for Van Hoose, participants are asked to stage at the former Shopko parking lot, 2759 Prairie Ave., at 10:30 a.m. before departure.

Greetings and decorations need to be on the passenger side of vehicles. Due to COVID-19, all participants are asked to wear masks and there will be no stopping or an opportunity to speak with Van Hoose.

Both men have a long and proud history serving their country.

Van Hoose, the youngest of five children, was born the son of an Eastern Kentucky coal miner. Always a staunch defender of others on the playground, he went on to be a boxer and football player. His first job was selling newspapers to fellow mountain folk as he relished salesmanship.

Van Hoose said he always wanted to be a sailor and his tough upbringing served him well during WWII as he became the Pacific Fleet light heavyweight boxing champion and attained the rank of Chief Quartermaster in 46 months.

Van Hoose was aboard the USS Maryland, one of the eight battleships which were attacked, on Dec. 7, 1941.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese fighter planes on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii resulted in 2,403 Americans being killed and 1,178 being wounded, launching America into World War II. As the USS Maryland was moored to the USS Oklahoma, Van Hoose saw the USS Oklahoma roll over. Van Hoose also witnessed the USS Arizona blow up, according to Beloit Daily News archives.

Olson was a Diesel Motor Mac from 1944-1946 and was aboard the USS Twiggs (a Fletcher Class Destroyer) from January 29, 1945 until June 16, 1945. Olson was aboard the destroyer when it was torpedoed and then hit by a kamikaze pilot in Okinawa, Japan, in World War II. George and much of the remaining crew were trapped below deck as the ship began to go underwater.

“It went pitch black and there was a powder smell as we tried to find a way out of the sinking ship,” he said.

The air pressure of the sinking vessel was so strong Olson was shot out of the escape hatch.

“I blew out of the hatch like a cork and landed in oil-covered water,” he said.

He recalled he floated until he found a piece of garbage to grab onto and was rescued 30 minutes later by another ship. About half of the ship’s men perished in the incident.

Despite the men’s harrowing experiences, they both cherished their time in the U.S. Navy.

“I loved it. I was on four different ships and saw the whole world,” Van Hoose said.

Olson said he loved the brotherhood with shipmates.

Van Hoose moved to Beloit in the 1950s and opened an appliance store where he sold vacuums.

“I like people, and people like me,” Van Hoose said.

Olson met Van Hoose when he bought a vacuum. Olson worked at Fairbanks Morse from 1952 to retirement in 1991 in the contract administration department.

The two became friends and ate breakfast together for years before moving to Beloit Senior Living where they live across from each other in what they call the “Navy wing.”

Olson said he hopes to live long enough to see the U.S.S. Beloit, the first commissioned ship in naval service named after Beloit, set sail.

Van Hoose joked he never thought he’d live to be this old, but said he and Olson are happy. Both have lots of friends at Beloit Senior Living and each has a girlfriend.

“We are Navy guys,” Olson said.