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Despite the odds, South Boston Buffalo Soldier celebrates 99th birthday

South Boston resident Raymond Shelton has beat the odds and on Tuesday he celebrated his 99th birthday.

“It’s a sheer blessing I have been able to make it this far,” the Buffalo Soldier and World War II veteran said Wednesday.

Shelton celebrated his birthday Wednesday morning at Hardees with his friends who brought him cupcakes.

Living almost a century, he credits his longevity to the “Almighty God” and always taking care of himself while living a quiet life.

Shelton was born Aug. 20, 1914 in New Rochelle, N.Y. to the Rev. Raymond and Florence Shelton.

He was one of two children and had a sister, Florence Shelton Slade, who is now deceased.

His father worked as a minister, while his mother served as a doting housewife.

As a child, he attended New Rochelle Grammar School and continued on to New Rochelle High School.

 He graduated in 1934.

 After graduating high school Shelton said he attended the Grosoff Music School where he studied how to play the piano.

Upon finishing his studies at the Grosoff Music School, Shelton said he began to play piano with Douglas Moye and his band in New York.

He also played the piano for St. Catherine’s Methodist Church.

Shelton worked for two years as a truck driver and married his wife of 65 years, Halifax County native, Mable Ragland Shelton, in April of 1941 before joining the Army a year later in 1942.

While in the military, Shelton served in the 92nd Infantry Buffalo Division in the medical battalion.

 The 92nd infantry was the last segregated Army division and the only African-American division to fight in Europe during WWII. Shelton served as a medic in the Buffalo Soldiers Division, which suffered 3,200 casualties between August 1944 and May 1945.

Back in April, the Town of South Boston honored him for a lifetime service to his nation.

In 1946, he was discharged from the military and began working at Bi-Lo Grocery in Hampton starting off as a bag boy and working his way up to store manager before retiring in the late ‘70s.

 In 1979, he and his wife moved to South Boston to retire, and he has lived here ever since.

Together they had one son who passed away from cancer in 1996. He was only in his 40s, Shelton said.

Shelton himself is a 20-year cancer survivor having had bouts with both prostate and colon cancer.

He continues to play the piano and is currently playing for Mount Olive Baptist Church as well as Ebenezer Methodist Church.

He also plays the piano at nursing homes in the area.

Shelton said he is lucky to be able to still live on his own and take care of himself.

He spends his mornings going to breakfast with friends at Hardees, which he described as one of his biggest enjoyments in life these days.

Over the years, he said he has had the opportunity to watch a whole generation of people go from youngsters to having children and even grandchildren of their own.

When asked ask about how things have changed over the years, he replied, “Life once was simple. Now everything is rush, rush, rush. Back then, everyone knew each other. Now you have to feel like a prisoner in your own home with all the locks you have to put on the doors. You used to be able to leave the door unlocked.” 

Shelton looks forward to next year when he will officially become a centenarian.