Today (Friday) is a very special day for Paul Otto. Paul is celebrating his 102nd birthday. He is also the oldest living veteran in Johnston County.
A lot of things have changed since Paul was born on September 7, 1916. His parents, Edgar ‘Bodo’ Otto and Susan Bryant Otto were raising their family near Wilkes Barre, PA when in 1918, when Paul was about 2 years old, there was a gas leak in the family home. His mother decided she wanted to return to her home in Johnston County to live. She packed up her belongings, caught a train and headed south. His father stayed in Pennsylvania just long enough to sell their furnishings and shipped other items to Johnston County.
Settling in Johnston County around 1918, the Otto’s were tenants. Bodo also worked in a lumber business his father owned, along with a bank and in large timber tracts in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Paul grew up learning how to work and to work hard. At this time, Paul was living near Wilsons Mills close to the Neuse River, what is know the Ives Plantation Subdivision on Southerland Road. Being a farm boy he learned from his cousins, neighbors and from books about trapping and started his own trapping and fur business after school.
Later he worked in Mitchiner’s Store in Wilson’s Mills and after graduating from Wilson’s Mills School in 1933 he started working for Macklon Mayer who owned a bagging factory in Wilson’s Mills.
As time went on, Bodo could see his son Paul needed to learn a trade and something that would help the war effort when the war came, and come he knew it certainly would. Paul saw an ad for a school in Nashville, TN that taught sheet metal and airplane construction and thought he would like to do this type of work. Bodo agreed and off to Nashville Paul went.
Paul had just a few dollars in his pocket when he stepped off the bus in Nashville. He found the school and a boarding house where he could rent a room with a meal each day. Next, he found a job to pay for his room and school.
The day he graduated he was offered a job with the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Factory in Baltimore, Maryland. When he stepped off the bus in Baltimore he met several of his friends from back home in Johnston County who had come to Baltimore to work in the war factories. He went to work the very same day he arrived in Baltimore. He found a place to stay and a tool box for his tools.
Eventually Paul returned to Johnston County and married Mavis Elizabeth Jones, the daughter of Julian and Gertrude Davis Jones. He and Mavis moved to Baltimore and settled down to their lives together. Soon they were expecting their first child. When the time came for the baby to be born, Paul carried Mavis back to Johnston County so she could have the baby at her parent’s home.
After the baby, Betty Sue, was born and could travel, Paul came back to Johnston County and carried them back to Baltimore to their home. They came back to visit the family here, and in 1944 Paul’s father Edgar Bodo suffered a stroke and Paul had to come home to care for him and his mother Susan. He quit his job at Martin’s, went home and packed up his car and trailer taking Mavis and Betty Sue home to Johnston County. He knew that leaving Martin’s he would soon be drafted in the Army to go fight in the war but he had to go home and do what he could for his parents.
Back in Johnston County, he found a house that all of his family could live but before he could get settled he was drafted and ordered to report for duty with the US Army on June 29, 1945. Paul was sent to Camp Croft, SC for training. When he returned home he greeted by his second daughter who had been born, Patricia.
After WWII ended, Paul returned to Johnston County and started farming. He worked long hard days looking after everyone until 1949 when his father Bodo died. He then started looking for a farm he could purchase and he found one on Rocky Branch in the Powhatan Community. He purchased the 52 acre farm from Loomis Vinson. The farm has been home to the Otto family since then.
Paul farmed the land until a severe drought forced him to go to work at Aeroglide. He worked at Aeroglide for many years and rented his farm out to his son-in-law Gene Woodall, husband of his first daughter, Betty Sue.
Paul loved his work at Aeroglide and when his wife died in 1980 he continued to work for another couple of years before retiring. His youngest daughter Rita and her husband Mike along with their young son moved down to the Powhatan community to live near Paul. He gave them a couple acres on his farm to build on and he enjoyed his grandson and helped raise him and his younger sister. Paul planted his garden, set out pecan trees, and visited with friends and neighbors who stopped by to see him working.
Family is important to Paul Otto. Today he stays with his daughter, Connie Barton, but is visited every Sunday at his Johnston County farm by all the family and friends who want to stop by to see him.
Paul has four daughters, 8 grandchildren along with their spouses and 9 great grandchildren.
“I would consider Mr. Otto, one of the greatest of the greatest generation. Our Nation is a free and better place because of men like Paul Otto,” stated Robert Boyette, Johnston County Director of Veteran Services.
“Every years at Veterans Day he shows up. It is a great honor to introduce him to the community as the oldest veteran,” said Rudy Baker, Chairman of the Johnston County Veterans Service Advisory Board. “Sam Roberts who is right behind him at 101 is always there with him. I am honored to intro these World War II guys. If it wasn’t for that generation of veterans our country might be speaking Japanese or German. They were that great.
Happy 102nd Birthday Paul Otto! Thank you for your service to our country!