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S.C. man a blood donor for 75 years

Joe Johnson, 96, first gave blood after joining the Army.

COLUMBIA, S.C. - At age 96, Joe Johnson is still first in line when the bloodmobile arrives at his South Carolina retirement home. He’s always eager to save lives and keep up the habit he started during his Army career.

“I’m sure I’ve given gallons,’’ said the retired master sergeant. “I don’t see any reason to stop.’’

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Johnson, who has lived at the Morningside retirement center in Greenwood for about 10 years, is a regular donor, said Katherine Amerson, executive director at the home.

“He’s just great. He’s always out there, trying to get everyone to donate. ‘It’s your duty,’ he tells everybody,’’ Amerson said in a telephone interview.

Johnson said in the same phone call that he began donating after he joined the Army in Tennessee at age 21.

“They’d say to us, ‘Line up and give blood’ and maybe out of 200 or so in the company, maybe 40 or 50 guys would do it. Some people would just walk away, but I never did,’’ Johnson said.

Johnson celebrated his 96th birthday on Tuesday with a cake. His most recent blood donation was a week earlier. Jason Agee, who works for the not-for-profit The Blood Connection, said he was wondering what Johnson wanted when he first came out to his mobile unit parked outside the retirement home.

“He came straight out to the bus and said, ‘I’m here to donate, young man!’ ’’ Agee said.

“He’s always telling stories. He’s awesome,’’ Agee said. “For him, it’s all about giving to help other people. Every pint of blood can save up to three lives, you know.’’

Although one typically must be at least 16 years old to donate blood, there is no upper age limit, said Stephanie Millian, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in the Washington, D.C., area.

The average age for donors is 40, with the oldest donors age 102, Millian said.

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