Dorr: Roy Howard had 90 years of a life well lived

The final volley from the American Legion color guard, many of them friends of the man being laid to rest, reverberated around the cemetery.

And the gentle summer breeze blew softly through the leaves of the stately elms as the haunting, but meaningful, final notes of “Taps” sounded.

Two members of the Minnesota National Guard carefully and precisely folded a United States flag and presented it to the man’s wife of 65 years, with thanks from the government for his service.

Another old soldier had gone home, honored with a time-honored tradition that never fails to impress.

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But there was more to it than that.

The man had lived nearly 90 years in and around the same town and had been captain of the football team as a 1940 graduate.

Like millions of other young men, he went off to war when his National Guard unit was activated, serving both in North Africa and in Italy as a communications specialist. He would crawl under enemy fire, laying wires so that outfits could stay in touch with each other.

He once told me, he could never figure out why one of those bullets whizzing overhead didn’t hit him.

One finally did in February 1944, on the beach at Anzio, and he earned a Purple Heart, of which he was very proud.

He came home from the war, got married in 1947, and like many others his age, started making his way as a civilian. And,  like many others who had served in World War II, he was called to active duty from the National Guard during the Korean War. He served until the summer of 1953, but stayed in the National Guard until 1965. He was a patriotic guy and not ashamed of it, his service in the Guard attesting to that patriotism.

He retired in 1978, after 30 years as a rural mail carrier and turned his attention to the serious business of being a grandpa and later a great-grandpa.

And along the way, he took on, and beat, the disease of alcoholism, doing it on his own and then helping others through AA as they tried to recover.

He was a storyteller who liked nicknames, and one of the most knowledgeable historians of his town.

One of those who spoke up at his funeral called him a  genuinely nice man and one of the town’s great treasures.

Both of his sons also spoke and said they were proud of their father for beating alcoholism. And one of the sons, who might have had a cross word or two with his father as a teenager, told those in the packed church that his father was twice the man he was, and not the other way around, as the teenager had told his father a few decades ago.

The man’s oldest daughter got up and read a handwritten letter, from about 45 years ago, that the man had written on the day of her wedding, leaving it where she would find it before the ceremony. He wrote that everything would be OK and that he would be there to help if needed.

Roy Howard, of Princeton, didn’t think he was anything special, even though he had served in two wars.

“There are millions more like me,” he once said as we talked about World War II. “We just did what we had to do. And lots of them didn’t come home.”

And you can make the argument that he was right. So many, including you readers, have similar stories. But he was special, as were many others of his time who conducted their lives in a way that made their extended families proud.

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The service ended at the cemetery and we went back to the church where story after story was told about the man whose funeral it had been.

The inescapable conclusion we reached was that it had been a life well lived.