David Howie loved living in his 70s.
His 80s weren’t too bad either.
But her years as a 90-something have “felt very much like (a) grandmother.” So the 99-year-old is hoping to become a centenarian on Tuesday.
Howie has no particular pain or any pain. He only gave up his nightly Manhattan (two ounces of bourbon, a dash of bitters, one ounce of red sweet vermouth and a maraschino cherry served over ice) three or four years ago, when he noticed he wobbled a little more. Was gone than he used to be.
His mind is sharp; He can recite poetry (and filthy limerick). He recently began using supplemental oxygen, but he said it was okay. He’s a man with a glass half full, and there’s plenty of room for more wine in the glass.
Howie was born on November 9, 1921, in Orange, New Jersey. Since that day, he has mostly avoided hospitals.
“If I knew I’d live this old, I’d take better care of myself,” he joked from his room at Rocky Mountain Assisted Living in Wheat Ridge one October afternoon.
Howie wanted to be a printer as a child and wanted to follow in Benjamin Franklin’s footsteps when he grew up. When he was in seventh grade his mother gave him a copy of the autobiography of the Founding Fathers and after reading he wanted to be like “Ben” as she called him.
Howie was fond of paper, printing and proofreading. He used to operate a mimeograph copy machine in the grammar school. And in high school he took printing classes. He and a friend eventually bought their own hand press with ink and paper and started their own print shop in 1938.
By the time he graduated high school in 1940, he had earned $200 from the printing business—more than enough to buy a blue Pontiac roadster with a rumble seat and red wire wheels. Howie said the car cost only $60.
“The way to get the girls was to have a car,” he said.
So after buying the Roadster, Howie moved to the Finger Lakes area in New York. He had met a girl named Betty Jane while on vacation in the area and “dealed” her after school that summer.
Howie and Betty Jane began to consider getting married in the summer of 1941.
The naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, and the United States officially fell into World War II.
“He changed my life,” Howie said.
Becoming a WWII veteran
Here’s the story of what happened after he was drafted in 1942: He received a letter asking him to report to the Springfield Avenue Armory in Newark, New Jersey. The night before Howie left, he said goodbye to his grandparents, mother and sister.
He and about 500 others took the oath, but an officer told him that Fort Dix was not ready for him. Everyone was asked to go home for two weeks.
“I said, ‘Captain, I said goodbye to my family,'” Howie recalled. “I don’t want to go home for two more weeks. I am in the army. you take care of me.”
According to Howie, the officer replied, “There’s always one guy who causes all the trouble.”
He told her to go to Fort Dix, but Howie had no money. The officer gave him $5 to buy a train ticket.
When Howie finally arrived at the train depot near Fort Dix, there was no one to greet him. He found a phone and called for transportation. The car belonged to the commanding general.
The driver was supposed to cover the flag in front of the car, but he forgot. So, as Howie moved through the post, the men at the base started saluting him.
Naturally, he saluted them back.
“I wore my right hand so I’m saluting with my left,” Howie recalled.
Howie joined the 346th Field Artillery Battalion in the autumn of 1943 and went abroad as a second lieutenant in 1944.
Howie was promoted to first lieutenant while serving in the war in Italy. He spent four birthdays while in the military, but it was his 23rd birthday that was “the most painful”. His battalion fought its way from Rome to Florence and was near San Clemente when it heard a “loud groan”.
Howie jumped into his foxhole, shells falling all around him. His hole rose up and fell down. It split into cracks and water gushed out from below.
A 365-pound shell of steel and TNT had hit the ground outside its hole and buried itself about 12 feet before exploding underground beneath Howie.
A fellow soldier later told him, “I guess you didn’t have your name on it, sir.”
“Life is too short to be serious”
Howie eventually married Betty Jane after the war on July 5, 1946. They had six children – Dave, Diane, Barbara, Brian, Beth and Deborah. They were together until the death of Betty Jane with Alzheimer’s disease in 2010.
Howie opened his own print shop in New Jersey, which he ran until 1966, when his family moved to Florida, where he taught. During the move, the family moved down the east coast, staying in a tent every night.
What advice Howie gave to young people is unknown. When asked, the 99-year-old offered some jokes that may have gone unpublished in a family newspaper.
His daughter Diane urged him to take this question seriously. But he only replied, “Life is too short to be serious.”
“There’s a stand-up comic inside me trying to get out,” Howie added with a grin.
Oh – Howie finally said that there is one thing everyone should do: read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.