Oldham County Day to celebrate
'50 Years of Greatness'
Project Guild to honor
Senior Master Sgt. Howard Griffin
LA GRANGE, Ky. (July 2021) – It is estimated that 1,076,245 Purple Hearts were awarded to soldiers for their service in World War II. Oldham County, Ky., resident Howard Griffin was a recipient, not once, but three times during his faithful service to this country.
Griffin has also been chosen to be the Grand Marshal of this year’s Oldham County Day parade. He’s a bit mystified as to how he was selected. “I don’t know how it happened,” said Griffin, 94. “It’s a very big honor. I don’t deserve it.”
But many in the county believe differently. Griffin, an antique car collector, will be heading up the parade in an Army Jeep with U.S. Army personnel by his side, a fitting way to pay homage to his many years of service.
July 2021 Cover
Griffin volunteered for service in 1943 at age 16, leaving high school to do so. He went to enlist by himself, saying that “If my parents had gone with me, I wouldn’t have made it.”
At the time, America was on edge as a result of the unexpected bombing of Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941. Like many others, he felt that it was his duty to enlist in the U.S. Army to defend the country from further attack.
“When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and tore it all to pieces, thousands and thousands joined the Army,” he said. Patriotism was a driving force in his decision to enlist.
At that time, “kids like me were volunteering like mad. At the time the United States got involved in war, everybody worked for the war effort. People at home worked. They were just as important,” Griffin said.
He will be front and center in the parade, the theme of which is “50 Years of Greatness,” said Victoria Motyka, Project Guild Entertainment Chairperson for Oldham County Day. The Project Guild is the organization responsible for making the event happen each year. It includes a parade as part of the festivities.
“This is our 50th Oldham County Day celebration. Last year would have been 50 years, but with COVID we had to cancel,” said Motyka.
Photo by Helen E. McKinney
Senior Master Sgt. Howard Griffin stands by a Gold Star monument at the Veterans Memorial Park of Kentucky in Crestwood, Ky.
In 50 years, the event has never changed and always takes place the third Saturday in July. Motyka said that it was created by former member Nancy Crass. “It was her idea to give back to the community, and it has evolved over the years.”
In the wake of COVID, a few things are different this year. Griffin will lead the parade, which begins at 10 a.m. as usual, but the route is still being worked out. Booths will be in different locations, but one thing will remain the same: the Rotary-sponsored Pancake Breakfast, which begins at 7 a.m. at the La Grange Community Center.
“It is our understanding that downtown will be under construction with the Courthouse restoration and the installation of the new Splash Park,” Motyka said. “Project Guild Chairpersons for certain Oldham County Day events have had to be very creative with the changes, and we are finding ourselves being spread out through the downtown LaGrange area.”
A Centerfield, Ky., resident, Griffin is originally from Vernon, Ala. His plans to join the U.S. Air Force were crushed when the Air Force wouldn’t take him due to his being half colorblind. Determined to defend the United States, he applied to the Army the very same day.
Having a farm boy’s good physical shape, he tackled boot camp and then survival training in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Charleston, S.C. Once his superior found out he could shoot, Griffin’s main role for a time became that of a scout. He was sent by boat to North Africa in 1943 during World War II and was assigned to Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Armored Division.
He later came face to face with Patton while stationed in Belgium. Even though it was a brief meeting, Patton shook his hand and paid him a compliment, saying, “You did a great job for us in North Africa.”
Griffin said the worst part of Belgium was the extremely cold weather. “It snowed every day, and you couldn’t have a fire.” He ate mostly C-rations in the field and, like many soldiers, lived on chocolate bars, an Army staple during the war.
Hersey made a chocolate bar that was about a half-inch thick and about six inches long, Griffin said. “If you had one of them to eat every two days, you could survive a long time.” Drinking water came from the snow that surrounded him and his comrades in abundance.
During his war service, Griffin was sent to Germany, Luxemburg and Marseille, France. He was injured while stationed in Naples, Italy, when an artillery shell exploded in the vehicle in which he was riding. So intense was the experience, Griffin didn’t even realize he had been hurt until he felt his head.
Photo by Helen E. McKinney
Senior Master Sgt. Howard Griffin sits in the cockpit of a Navy Avenger Torpedo Bomber. In April 2021, he took a round trip flight from Bowman Field to Radcliff, Ky.
“I put my hand up there, and three fingers could touch the top of my skull,” he said. Taken immediately to the field hospital, he was only allowed to stay for three days before sent back to the field “because they didn’t have enough room for me.”
Griffin estimates the U.S. Army lost more than 30,000 soldiers in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. “It was terrible,” he said of the battle, which took place from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945.
This battle was a major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during the war. It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region near the end of the war in Europe.
At the time, Griffin was close to Bastogne, which he described as “a pretty rough area.”
It was Christmas in the middle of the battle, Griffin said. He had volunteered for what he described as a “big assignment. I spent two Christmases away from home, and I was still not 19 years old.” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described it as “the greatest American battle of the war.”
Shortly after this, Griffin was sent to Leghorn (Livorno), Italy. German and RSI (Italian Social Republic) forces surrendered in Italy on May 2, 1945. Germany finally surrendered to end the war in Europe on May 8. Receiving his orders to leave, he and many of his fellow soldiers breathed a sigh of relief, thinking they would finally be heading for American shores.
But their happiness was short lived. When their boat sailed toward the Panama Canal, Griffin knew immediately that they weren’t heading for home. Instead, they were sent to Kyushu, Japan. Six weeks later, the war ended in Japan on Sept. 2, 1945. Griffin was stationed in Europe and Japan when peace was declared in both locations.
After the war, Griffin met his future wife, Lillian Buickerood, at a service club in New York in 1946. They married on Sept. 11, 1948, in New York and settled in Alabama, where he opened his own business, a body shop to rebuild wrecked cars. They raised a family of one daughter and two sons.
Griffin was called back into the Army in 1950 during the Korean War. “I decided to stay,” he said, after realizing this would put an end to his body shop business and all the time and money he had invested in it.
Oldham County Day
• Hours: 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Saturday, July 17, at CityPlace Pavilion 1 and nearby locations in downtown La Grange, Ky.
• Parade: 10 a.m.
• Grand Marshal Luncheon: Noon Tuesday, July 13, at the John W. Black Community Center in Buckner, Ky. Tickets $15 adults; $10 children under 12. To purchase, call Mark Broecker at (502) 222-1731. Tickets can also be purcahsed online at www.OldhamCountyDay.org
His service continued after Korea when he was sent to Japan as an adviser to the Japanese army. He spent 13 months in Iran as an army adviser and was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division in Dong Tam, Mekong Delta, during the Vietnam War. Returning to Fort Knox, he retired in 1970 as a Senior Master Sergeant after 25 years of dutiful service to his country.
Griffin’s military career spans from 1943-1970. Of this experience he said, “The military offered you everything in the world.” To a young boy, “it offered you a future. There was a lot of sacrifice, especially in time of war. I’ve seen too much to talk about. It was a sacrifice to families as well.”
Out of 82 medals for all of the wars that can be earned, Griffin has 22 of them. One is the Legion of Merit Medal, the sixth highest medal a soldier can earn.
Among his honors are three Purple Hearts, an award instituted in 1782 by George Washington. Originally, it was awarded for bravery in action; currently it is awarded to those wounded or killed in action, in the latter case posthumously. Having a Purple Heart for every war he fought in (World War II, Korea, Vietnam), Griffin no doubt earned his for the bravery and wounds he suffered.
Griffin’s World War II memories are preserved at the Oldham County History Center in La Grange as part of the Veterans Oral History Project. He met friend Jan Jasper, a volunteer at the History Center, when she interviewed him about his World War II experiences. She interviewed him two more times to record his involvement during Korea and Vietnam.
“We just hit it off,” said Jasper, who is also responsible for the upkeep of the Colonial Garden on the History Center campus. The two helped to re-assemble a model replica of the USS Pennsylvania, the last major U.S. warship damaged during the war. It is currently on display in the Peyton Samuel Head Family Museum’s World War II exhibit.
The replica had been stored in a barn and “it took quite a while putting it back together,” said Jasper. They relied on pictures of the actual warship to re-assemble the model.
The pair enjoys spending time together taking care of a quarter acre-size garden, giving away “more than half,” Jasper said.
They also attend “as many military functions as we can,” she said. Many times, Griffin goes into the Oldham County schools to speak to the youth. “They love it. They give a fabulous welcome when a veteran walks in.”
Griffin delivers a message they need to hear, she said. “He speaks to the youth to never forget and to hold dear what it cost” the men and women who made such great sacrifices abroad and at home.
As a result of speaking to students, Griffin took a World War II collage a student from Oldham County Middle School had made and turned the idea into a monument he donated to the Kentucky Veterans Memorial Park in Crestwood, Ky. One side depicts the Pacific Theater, and the other side the European Theater. The 8x4-foot monument is meant to be a reminder so that “people would not forget,” said Jasper.
Griffin participated in Honor Flight Kentucky two years ago. “It was great,” he said of the two-day, all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials dedicated to the service and sacrifice of veterans of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War.
Griffin vividly remembers “the long line of people in Louisville” gathered to greet the veterans on their return. “I couldn’t have felt more appreciated.”
His trip was comprised of “nothing but World War II veterans.” Three bus loads of about 63 men took the flight and “every time we hit an airport, everything stopped. People lined up to greet us.”
He also participated in a round-trip flight from Bowman Field in Louisville to Radcliff, Ky., in April 2021. Accompanying him for the hour-long journey was U.S. Navy veteran John “Jack” Mooney. “It was a very, very good trip,” Griffin said of the flight in a Navy Avenger Torpedo Bomber.
Howard is “the epitome of the Greatest Generation,” said Jasper. “He really understands what commitment is. He speaks the truth, respects the flag and observes every military holiday.”
Griffin even puts flags on veteran’s graves in Valley of Rest Cemetery in La Grange as a final “Thank You” for their service. Like so many others, he has literally given everything for his country.
“I’ve seen that freedom is not free,” he said. “If it wasn’t for military personnel, we would not be here today.”
A Grand Marshal Luncheon is planned for Griffin at noon Tuesday, July 13, at the John Black Community Center in Buckner, Ky.
Back to July 2021 Articles.