Most of the people who marched down Pearhill Drive or rode in their police or fire department vehicles, probably never had met the man of the hour, M/Sgt. 1st Class Richard “Dick” O. Gard.
But that didn’t stop the West Carrollton High School marching band was playing “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” followed by “Happy Birthday” as Gard and his wife of nearly 79 years, Gladys, sat in their folding chairs just outside their West Carrollton garage and waved at the parade participants.
Gard, a highly decorated World War II veteran, celebrated his 100th birthday Thursday as his family, friends, neighbors and complete strangers — a DHL delivery person stopped to shake Gard’s hand and thank him for his service — paid tribute to the man most called “Uncle Dick.”
After the parade that included representatives from local VFW posts, an original 1943 PT-19A Cornell warplane, piloted by Tim Epperhart, founder of the Butler County Warbirds, made numerous thunderous passes over Gard’s house, much to the delight of the crowd, some of them waving American flags.
Much of the celebration was organized by Gard’s nephew Garry Delph, of Franklin. As Delph stood on the driveway waiting for the flyover, he was asked what all the patriotism represented.
“A lot of that is missing in America right now,” Delph said, fighting back tears.
Delph sent correspondences around the world asking people to mail birthday cards. He said Gard received more than 500 cards, many of them with lengthy hand-written letters of thanks.
“It’s been so much better than I ever expected,” he said, again becoming emotional. “It’s been heartfelt as you can see.”
Earlier in the day, Epperhart talked about the importance of honoring World War II veterans while they’re living.
“This is my way of doing that,” he said before taking off from Middletown Regional Airport, where the Butler Warbirds are based.
Epperhart, 57, said he’s always been fascinated by WWII veterans and was intrigued by how many of them volunteered to serve their country. Flying in honor of those veterans, Epperhart said, is his “way of giving a little bit back.”
He called his 80-year-old plane “a piece of history that was flown by those who made history.”
When asked about WWII veterans, Epperhart said he had to “steal” a line often repeated: “The greatest generation,” he said.
Someone mentioned to Gard that he was part of that “greatest generation.”
Before he could respond, Fred “Rico” Rojas, commander of VFW Post 9550 in Centerville, where Gard is a member, said: “That’s an understatement.”
Gard said his birthday celebration, much of it a surprise, was “wonderful” and WWII veterans were just “doing our job.”
If doing their job was changing the course of world history.
Gard served three years in Company “C” 44th Armored Infantry Battalion, U.S. Army, during the height of WWII.
On Jan. 4, 1945, in the vicinity of Bastogne, Belgium, he led his platoon through heavy artillery and mortar fire to take a woods and, despite depleted numbers and heavy counterattacks, he set up and held a defensive line for 36 hours.
During an enemy counterattack, Gard made his way forward 100 yards under heavy enemy fire to treat and evacuate a man wounded on outpost duty.
Landing in Normandy three days after D-Day, Gard participated in the breakout from the beachhead through Saint-Lô, France to Brest. During the Battle of the Bulge, he was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action. He was wounded in Belgium on Jan. 16, 1945.
His medals include the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart.
He also served three years during the Korean War when he rose to the rank of master sergeant.
After WWII, Gard earned a degree in engineering from the University of Dayton, attending night classes while employed at NCR, where he worked for 38 years.
Richard and Gladys were married on June 12, 1944 in Louisiana prior to one of his deployments overseas. In a photo album, she saved many of their correspondences, either post cards or telegraphs notifying her that her husband suffered serious injuries.
After the parade and the flyover, Gladys, who recently celebrated her 97th birthday, addressed the “greatest generation” label.
“I understand why they’re called that,” she said.
She remembered one birthday card her husband received. It was from a stranger who said he was a “Baby Boomer.”
He thanked Gard for his military service and said without the sacrifices of WWII veterans, he and other “boomers” may never have been born.