Nearly 75 years later, the pain remains evident of Denzil Boyd Howard’s face.
As he talked about World War II, and the day his fellow Marine was shot and killed in a foxhole they shared, tears streamed down his weathered cheek.
“Sometimes,” Howard said, “I get emotional when I talk about it.”
On Friday, three days before Veterans Day, Howard was honored at a luncheon at Crosspointe Church of Christ. Howard, his wife of 72 years, Dolores, and their two adopted sons, Greg, 66, and Geoff, 63, sat at a table near the front of the room. Every few minutes, someone patted Howard, who was wearing his World War II hat, on his back and thanked him for his military service.
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All of the attention made him uncomfortable.
“I’m more of a back person,” said Howard, 95. “I don’t like being the front boy.”
He looked around the room that was packed with veterans and volunteers, dabbed at a tear and added, “It was just a job. Nothing special.”
Like many WWII veterans, Howard leaves the war stories for the history books.
Greg Howard said his father wouldn’t talk about the war when they were growing up, but he shared stories later in life.
“It was pretty tough on him,” his son said.
Nothing tougher than the day on Bougainville Island when his fellow Marine was shot and killed. A few seconds later, a bullet ricocheted off Howard’s helmet. The Howard family history could have been rewritten that day.
“Things I saw you can’t print I don’t think,” Howard said. “The things they did to our men. I saw a lot of my brothers killed.”
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When Howard entered the Marines, he was given a Bible from his brother the Rev. Henry Howard, a former pastor at Towne Boulevard Church of God. Howard was told by his brother that if he carried the Bible, he’d survive the war.
“I had some mighty close calls I don’t like to talk about,” he said.
Then he tried.
“That day I found my buddy….that was it,” he said.
Howard was one of the 11 members of the “Middletown Platoon” of Marines who enlisted in 1942 and were sworn in at the Middletown YMCA the day before they left for Parris Island. They were told by recruiters they would stay together throughout their military careers. They didn’t even remain together through boot camp.
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Howard was one of 11 kids, nine boys and two girls.
“Back then,” he said with a smile, “parents didn’t know when to stop.”
Amazingly, seven of the Howard boys were in the military and saw combat.
“I don’t see how my mom stood it,” he said.
Howard and other combat Marines served as a security team for President Franklin Roosevelt whenever he spent time at what was called the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Ga. Roosevelt suffered a stroke there on April 12, 1945 and died.
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Then Harry S. Truman was named the 33rd president of the United States. Truman called the Marines “a bunch of Boy Scouts” and said he wanted U.S. Army soldiers protecting him. Howard was out of a job, but he was offered a position with the Secret Service. He turned it down and returned to Middletown. He joined Armco in 1946 and worked there for 40 years.
His wife worked as a nurse for 50 years, including stops at Middletown Hospital, with Drs. Gordon Smith and James Anderson in Monroe and as the Director of Nurses at Garden Manor Nursing Home, Otterbein and Mount Pleasant.
Howard was asked about being a World War II veteran. This time there were no tears in his eyes.
He sat up in his chair, looked forward and said, “I’d do it again for my country.”
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