Reaching across the sea…from Holland to Jackson CountyWritten by Homer Hirt
A few weeks ago the TIMES, in its popular Profiles in Courage, published a well-received story about the many American cemeteries and memorials spread around the globe, sacred places that recognize the sacrifices of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen... sacrifices that became the ultimate...their deaths in combat.
The greatest number of these are on the continent of Europe, the site of much of the action of two great conflicts: World War I (known at the time as the Great War) and World War II. At or near many battle locations…Normandy, Ardennes, Belleau Wood, Brittany, Chateau-Thierry…they have been tended not only our people but often by volunteers from the local population; men and women who, even to this day revere the sacrifice that we as a nation and our deceased made for their countries.
This is the story of one such person, a then-young girl who took it on herself to care for the grave of a Jackson County soldier and to forge a mighty bond of friendship and caring with his family, here in Florida. Some of the story is in her own words. The second page of Profiles will be taken from the thoughts and the reminisces of the family members whose lives she has touched, and continues to touch, even at the age of ninety three.
Heddy Lenting’s Story: The Beginning
(Note: The Writer has taken the liberty of underlining some pertinent statements by Heddy. It is hoped that the reader will read these, and take them to heart, and remember them.)
“A day I won’t ever forget, even if I grow to be a hundred!
After years of suffering and starvation the Americans came.
We had been in the basement for hours, not knowing what was going to happen to us, as the Germans and the Americans were shooting at each other. Yet we felt that this was going to be The Day! After hours we went up to the attic in the hope of seeing something. And there we saw the American tanks rolling down the hill, covered with orange canvas. Our Queen belongs to the House of Orange and we were forbidden to wear orange all through the war. If you haven’t gone through a war you can hardly understand what that sight meant to us. But we had to hurry back to our shelter because the shooting went on.
After a while we heard people in the streets so we left our home, too. The American tanks had stopped under the apple trees in an orchard not too far away from our home. We rushed to shake hands with our liberators and to thank them for saving our lives. I asked some of the men on top of the tanks to give me their names and addresses. One of them was Paul Howell of Sneads, Florida. As soon as he had written it down, he said: “You folks had better rush home. The Germans are after us.” They left the orchard, the shooting had begun again and we ran home; we really ran for our lives.
In March of 1945 I wrote a little note to Paul Howell, asking him how he had come through the war. He didn’t answer me, but Eugenia Howell, C. J. Howell’s wife, did. Paul’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Preston Howell had asked her to do so. She wrote that Paul had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and that they (the tank crew) had been buried in Margraten Cemetery in Holland. We were all very sad about this young man who had given his life for our freedom. I immediately went to see his grave and put flowers on it. I wrote Eugenia Howell, asking the permission of Paul’s parents to adopt his grave. I rode my bike to Margraten Cemetery. It was about fifteen miles, over very bad roads.
(Writer’s note: Heddy continued to ride her bike to Margraten until Paul was moved stateside. Her story continues in a future feature.)