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Joyce Endee

Family and friends gather to celebrate local veteran's 100th birthday



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When the Town of Hebron celebrated the 100th birthday of resident Howard Oedel (third from right) on July 9, he was also joined by four generations of his family, including his brother Herb and wife Ginny, and his eight-month-old great-great-nephew Michael. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
July 14, 2021
HEBRON ¬– Family, friends, neighbors, state and local dignitaries gathered at Hebron Public Safety Building on July 9 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Howard Tredennick Oedel, a member of The Greatest Generation who served the country during World War II in the U.S. Navy.

Joining in the celebration were four generations of his family, ranging from his 96-year-old brother Herb and his wife Ginny, to his 8-month-old great-great nephew Michael. While some of the family came from as far away as Georgia to honor Howard, Michael's daddy, Howard's great-nephew, was busy attending Top Gun training for the U.S. Navy. He had no problem with that.

Howard Oedel was born in Boston 100 years ago, on July 9, 1921, to William Nagel Oedel and Netty Erdine Tredennick. He joined the Naval ROTC in 1939 upon entering Harvard University. It was the same year that another of history's Naval heroes, John F. Kennedy, graduated from the Ivy League college, too.

Graduating in 1934, Howard married Carolyn Howard Townsend the very next day and, just eight days later, he was on the West coast waiting to board the USS Massachusetts.

While aboard the battleship, Oedel served as both the Damage Control Officer and Berthing Officer, rising in time to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade.

During his two-and-a-half years of service with the U.S. Pacific Fleet in the Solomon Islands, he and his fellow shipmates took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. That battle has become known as possibly one of the largest naval battles in not only World War II, but perhaps in all of naval history thus far.

Hebron historian and host of the event, Ron Collins, pointed out during the birthday celebration that Howard continued serving others even when he returned home from duty.

"After the war, he completed his Ph.D. in American Colonial History (at Boston University) and became one of the leading Lincoln Scholars in the U.S.," Collins said.

As Howard and his wife finally were able to settle down and raise their family, he taught history at UConn and other educational institutions until his retirement more than 40 years ago when he then moved to Hebron. He founded the Hebron Historical Society 28 years ago and has served the community in many ways since then.

Also on hand for his birthday celebration were a few dignitaries, too, such as U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, Congresswoman Annie Kuster, Chuck Henderson (representing Sen. Jeanne Shaheen), State Rep. Suzanne Smith and Hebron Selectman Paul Hazelton.

Both Hassan and Kuster had fathers who both served during WWII and coincidently both were involved in the Battle of the Bulge. As daughters of WWII veterans, they each expressed their pleasure in being invited to help Howard celebrate not only his birthday, but his service to the nation and his community.

Smith shared some fun recollections of Howard showing up early on election days to exercise his Constitutional right and thanked him for all he has done for the country and the Town of Hebron. Hazelton also saluted him for being a role model for the community and presented him with a Citizenship Award from the Board of Selectmen.

Finally, a letter from acting U.S. Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker was read to the audience. In it, Harker paid tribute to Oedel for not only his service but for being the last surviving officer from the USS Massachusetts.

He wrote, "The nation remains great because of you and people like you."

When he stepped up to address the crowd gathered for his birthday, Howard joked that asking a history professor to say "few words" was asking a lot but, humbled by the crowd and words from so many, he chose to speak only of his time as a resident of Hebron.

Howard recalled his very first trip to the town, which occurred when he was just nine-years old. During that trip his family spent time skiing on a hill in town, and what he never knew then was that that bit of history later would later turn out to be his future.

"I now own that property we skied on back then," he said with a chuckle. "We love this place, we love the people and have enjoyed our years in this wonderful town."

Concluding the celebration was a gun salute by members of VFW Post 10640, followed by a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday," led by Bill York, Dave Hardy and Jim Van Schaick.

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