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Living legend becomes part of Kinston's permanent history

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KINSTON, Lenoir County - A man who lived through some of the most dramatic parts of history over the past century will himself now become part of history.

The City of Kinston honored longtime resident Isaac Pope in a ceremony Thursday evening by declaring July 20 Isaac Pope Day.

He's the grandson of slaves, fought in some of the most brutal battles of World War II and took an active role in Civil Rights protests. But even all of that doesn't begin to describe the 99-year-old Pope, who was overwhelmed when he learned of the honor the city planned to bestow upon him.

Isaac Pope Meets 101st Airborne During the Middle of WWII from RockFilmz on Vimeo.

"Never in the world (would) I think anything like this would come out of it," Pope told NewsChannel 12 on Thursday.

Pope is a living legend in Lenoir County, having grown up in the area and lived there essentially his entire life, save for the time he spent in Europe during World War II fighting with the 969th Field Artillery Battalion - one of the American units that helped defend the Belgian town of Bastogne during the infamous Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944.

Most units during World War II were segregated, though during the attack on Bastogne, Pope's unit was essentially attached to the mostly white 101st Airborne while they held off the German forces that encircled them.

But the segregation and racism Pope endured upon returning home caused him to toss away medals he had earned, even after his battalion was the first all-black unit to receive the Distinguished Unit Citation for its actions in defending Bastogne.

He struggled to find work upon his return to Kinston, despite his heroism and rise to rank of first sergeant in the war, and had to settle for a janitor's position at DuPont. He ended up working there for the rest of his career.

Later in his life, despite being in his mid 80s, Pope was integral to relief efforts in the Kinston area following flooding that occurred as a result of Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

"Mr. Pope has given his life to not only our community but to our nation as well," Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said.

Part of Thursday's celebration was a look ahead to Pope's 100th birthday in December. The goal for Paula Caplan, the director of the independent film "Isaac Pope: The Spirit of an American Century," is to raise the funds needed to complete the film and present it to Pope on his 100th birthday. Local Kinston businesses, such as Chef and the Farmer, are providing giveaways as "thank yous" to those that donate toward the completion of the film.

"His story is so compelling - he was the grandson of slaves, the son of sharecroppers, the youngest of a dozen kids," Caplan said.

Caplan, a Harvard University professor, has a very personal connection to the project, in that her father was Pope's commanding officer during much of World War II. Both men were featured in Caplan's 2015 award-winning documentary, "Is Anybody Listening?"

Now Caplan wants to make a film that honors Pope by telling the story of his life from the start to now - which as Pope points out, is not yet the finish.

"(I'm) almost 100 years old (and) I'm still learning new new new things," he said.

WATCH THE TRAILER BELOW:

Isaac Pope: The Spirit of an American Century - Teaser from RockFilmz on Vimeo.

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