Emily Howard, 92, has been busy with a special project lately.
She's part of a team of Master Gardeners of Hamilton County who have been sewing face masks for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the Easter tornadoes that tore through eastern Hamilton County.
You would rightly think Master Gardeners are all about pretty flowers, verdant lawns and hearty vegetables, but there's more to the group than green thumbs. Service is also a hallmark of this not-for-profit organization, whose 250 members work on projects at places ranging from the Chattanooga Area Food Bank to Chattanooga Zoo to Brainerd Mission Cemetery.
For this project, the sewers in the group have so far contributed some 500 masks to various agencies and individuals. When the call came, Howard sat down at her vintage sewing machine and went to work.
"I am extremely proud of my mom for her efforts to help out at her age," says Lynn Howard. "It's an inspiration that she got out her sewing machine and made three or 10 or however many she's made."
Her mother might have produced more masks, Howard adds, but her "garden keeps calling."
Both mother and daughter are Master Gardeners. They joined together in 2014. Howard says her father, Eugene, also was a Master Gardener here from 2005 until his death in 2009.
This Memorial Day weekend, her late father's accomplishments are also worth noting.
Here are some highlights of the Howards' story, as shared by their daughter:
Emily Caroline VanSant was born in Kentucky in 1927. She was 15 years old when she supported her future husband, Eugene Howard, as he entered the U.S. Army in June 1943. Eugene missed his senior year at his high school in Harlan, Kentucky, to fulfill his patriotic duty.
Lynn Howard remembers her father as "a charismatic man who was an expert gardener." He was an agriculture agent for 10 years for the University of Kentucky. After moving to Chattanooga and joining Master Gardeners of Hamilton County, he did the vegetable presentation of the class for new gardeners.
For one class, he came in wearing his Army helmet in memory of D-Day, June 6, 1944, the day of his military landing on Utah Beach at Normandy, France.
Not long after D-Day, Howard says, her father asked to be transferred to the 17th Airborne, where he served for the rest of the war. It was in this assignment that he participated in the Battle of the Bulge, the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II.
Howard says her father's squad battled their way through Belgium, France and Germany before the victory in Europe. His battalion was training in Austria for the invasion of Japan, where they would parachute in, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, ending World War II.
Poem: The Chattanooga National Military Cemetery
Lynn Howard says her father, Eugene Howard, wrote this poem in 2008, the year before he died. The World War II veteran is buried at Chattanooga National Cemetery.
The Chattanooga National Military Cemetery
On a hill in Chattanooga town
Lies a hallowed piece of ground.
It’s a soldier’s final resting place
A place of mournful bugle sound
Serene this final resting place
The battle sounds are far away
Secure in arms of Mother Earth
Safe at last from the deadly fray.
Its boundaries are marked by limestone walls.
Its gates are wrought iron spikes.
The walls are symbols for the living
And mark the place where heroes lie.
The roster shows our allotted time.
The trumpet sounds its urgent knell
To friends and loved ones left behind.
The soldier bids a fond farewell
What awesome deeds will never be told
Of bravery, courage, sacrifice and honor.
What horrors and anguish of the immortal soul
Lie here entombed forevermore.
The gates of paradise open wide.
Old soldiers are the honor guard.
The gentle voice of the master intones,
“Well done, old soldier, welcome home.”
— By Eugene W. Howard, Jan. 17, 2008
Howard says her father rarely talked about his role in the Army and would share only a few comical stories from his time in the service.
"He mourned the fact that he took enemy lives to save his nation," she says.
Eventually, after sharing only guarded versions of his time in the war with family, and for his grandchildren's oral history projects at school, he wrote a more pragmatic account, a memoir he titled "A Name in the Sand."
Howard says she marvels at how these WWII veterans, often called "the Greatest Generation," got on with their lives after harrowing wartime experiences.
"Most of them went on to just build a life," she says. "Whatever it was they needed to do to put [the war] behind them, they put it behind them."
Her parents were married on April 12, 1946, two months after Eugene Howard's honorable discharge.
They had three children. Russell, the eldest, lives in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Lynn lives in Brainerd, just around the block from her mother (her parents moved here in 2003). Steve, the youngest, lives in the Atlanta area.
In addition to his memoir, Eugene Howard also wrote poetry, including a poem about Chattanooga National Cemetery (see box). It is there, Lynn Howard says, that her dad "is now resting in peace."
Email Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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