Florida WWII veteran Paul Cloud and his wife, Dorothy, have been married for 71 years.

By resolution of the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners, Paul Cloud’s 100th birthday is proclaimed Paul Vincent Cloud Day. The family had been planning a celebration, and the commission’s resolution came as a happy surprise.

“I feel pretty good, really,” Cloud said of the milestone birthday, “but I never really thought I’d reach 100.”

Longevity has been problematic for Cloud’s family. His mother died in her 50s after a stroke, his father died in his 70s from lung cancer, and his sister died in childbirth at the age of 38.

Still, Cloud said, “it feels great” to be honored on his 100th birthday.

The county’s resolution also recognizes Cloud’s service with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in World War II. Cloud participated in the liberation of North Africa, and went on to battles across Italy, serving as a rifleman and working in supply, a job that kept him close to the action.

“I wasn’t somebody way behind the lines,” Cloud said. “We kept the front-line troops supplied with ammunition, food, everything we could get up there with.”

Supply work was done mostly under cover of darkness, but that didn’t mean Cloud and his fellow supply troops didn’t attract the attention of German adversaries.

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“We had casualties in my unit,” Cloud said. “We got strafed, and we were always within artillery range.”

Among the awards that Cloud brought home from the war were the European, African and Middle Eastern service ribbons. He’s also entitled to a French medal for his role in the North Africa campaign.

Cloud initially entered service through the peacetime draft initiated in 1940, expecting to serve just a year. But the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed those plans, and Cloud eventually would serve more than four years in the Army.

After repeated bouts of malaria, Cloud wound up his military service at Fort Lee, Virginia, where he trained nurses in a variety of skills, including the use of gas masks.

A native of Falling Waters, West Virginia, Cloud says that tough memories of the war stick with him even now, more than 70 years after his 1945 discharge.

“It’s something I never will forget entirely,” he said, “but it’s not on my mind like it was for maybe the first 10 or 20 years after the war.”

Cloud candidly admits that memories of the war haunted his sleep for some years afterward, before the realities of post-traumatic stress truly were recognized.

“But I dealt with it myself,” he said. “It’s something that I didn’t feel like I wanted to rehash. I was trying to forget.”

Happily enough, World War II also helped create a positive legacy in Cloud’s life.

“I had the GI Bill,” he said, “and that was my first thought.”

With his GI Bill education benefits, Cloud attended George Washington and Benjamin Franklin universities. Through an acquaintance, he also managed to get a job with the Veterans Administration at the same time. Cloud would later go to work for the Internal Revenue Service, also in Washington, D.C.

Within a couple of years of returning to the United States, Cloud would meet and marry Dorothy Anderson, who had come to Washington, D.C., from St. Louis, after successfully applying for a secretarial job with the federal government.

Sitting with her husband of 71 years in their comfortable living room, Dorothy remembered their courtship with a bit of dry humor.

“We lived together before it was fashionable,” she deadpanned, before explaining that they met at a Washington, D.C. boarding house where women occupied one floor and men were restricted to another floor.

Residents did share meals, though, and the couple met over the dining room table.

“She was easy to get along with,” Paul remembered. “She liked just about everything I did. She liked to travel, liked to have a good time, liked sports. So we got along pretty good.”

The couple married on Thanksgiving in 1947, because the federal government holiday gave them time to make the trip to St. Louis. In the ensuing years, the Clouds would raise two daughters.

They retired from their accounting jobs — both worked for the same tax firm in the latter years of their working lives — in 1975, and then spent time traveling. They have been at Bluewater Bay since 2013, moving to Florida to be closer to family members.

Their travels included visits to some of the places where Paul Cloud had served in World War II, although he admits he “didn’t recognize too much.”

But for Cloud, the places where American troops did their work aren’t necessarily the most important legacy of World War II.

That legacy, he said, is contained in “the way the people (American soldiers and civilians) got behind the war effort. It was amazing.”

Amazing, maybe — but for Cloud, like other World War II veterans, it was also a simple question of doing what was expected of them.

“I just always felt I had done my duty,” he said.

This story originally published to nwfdailynews.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network.