WHITTLE: 88-Year-Old Veteran Serves As One-Woman Support Blitz

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When Harriett Howard declares war, she goes to win.

That means the other side loses. Just ask the Germans and Japanese after she joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service back in the 1940s.

Harriett, as a Navy clerk in Washington, D.C., was privy to the most secretive wartime plans and attacks leading up to D-Day and the Normandy Invasion of France.

I know about these things because for the past 20 years as a newspaper columnist I’ve served as her “personal press secretary.” It wasn’t a planned career move; it happened when she declared it so!

Let me tell you about the time Howard declared war after some unwise VA officials continued to deny medical coverage for female military veterans at the York VA and Nashville VA hospitals.

Part of the prescription the one-woman advocacy force used was public opinion with her skills at generating news media coverage throughout Tennessee.

Irony has it, the one-woman force was a volunteer at the York VA, which double-downed her impact on the bureaucracy.

Ultimately, after Howard launched a blitz assault of faxes, phone calls and letters (before e-mail) to senators, representatives and the White House, the VA hoisted a white flag and implemented health care for women veterans at both the York VA and Nashville VA care centers.

Long Hunter Park Ranger of Danger Thurman Mullins, son of Murfreesboro legendary jeweler Hershel “Pap” Mullins, also praises Howard.

“Highlight of my tenure at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park was working with the WWII Trust, headed by Harriett Howard in creating a beautiful, soul-stirring World War II Memorial, as designed by architect Kem Hinton in Nashville,” Mullins described. “Ms. Harriett spoke everywhere, and was the glue that held the Trust group together.”

“Harriett Howard is a force when it comes to fighting for the benefits and medical treatment of veterans,” added John Fergus, who also is a statewide-known force on behalf of military veterans.

You would think the VA would learn.

But, no.

In the last decade, some career eggheads in Nashville and Washington, D.C., attempted to close the highly used York VA Medical Center, in spite of the fact, more than 100,000 veterans from throughout Tennessee and the Southeast came annually for the treatment at the Murfreesboro facility, located here since the early 1940s on U.S. 231 North.

Again, it was as if the VA had declared war on Howard and her fellow veterans, for whom she remains devoted.

As a one-woman-communique-blitz, she helped launch a petition drive that netted more than 200,000 supportive signatures of veterans and their families, mainly from Middle and East Tennessee.

Ultimately, former Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Murfreesboro) and current Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) called for a public hearing at York’s theater building, which ended up packed out by concerned citizens, veterans and their families.

Today, York hospital remains open for ailing and aging veterans, after the VA again flew the proverbial white flag in wake of retired Howard’s barrage of communications and widespread petition drives.

This came from a lady veteran who retired at age 60, in 1984, from the U.S. Naval Reserve, having served 39 years, 7 months and 28 days.

At age 88, don’t think she’s slowing down.

“With her statewide famous shoebox, Harriett Howard has personally gathered in $100,000 for construction of a Fisher House (like a Ronald McDonald House) to be built starting later this year on York VA Medical Center grounds to also serve veterans and families at the Nashville VA,” said Tennessee Fisher House President Andrea Lawrence of Nashville.

“Harriett is a force of all things good for veterans of the military,” described retired Tennessee Air National Guard Lt. Col. Hooper Penuel, a Rutherford County spokesman and fundraising agent for the Tennessee Fisher House Foundation.

To date, $1.96 million has been raised toward a goal of $2.25 million to begin construction this summer of the York-based Fisher House, the only one slated to be constructed in Tennessee.

We owe a salute to Howard, as a member of the nation’s Greatest Generation.
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