- Associated Press - Saturday, August 13, 2016

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) - World War II veteran Willard Sherman - who turned 101 on Aug. 9 - isn’t a guy to give up easily on anything.

About 100 members of the St. Jude’s Episcopal Church on Windy Hill Road in Marietta organized big party for him on Aug. 7.

In attendance Sunday were his three daughters - Gail Hakim of Chandler, Arizona, Diane York of Kent, Washington, and Karen Henson of Powder Springs - and other family members who flew or drove in for the party. Karen’s husband, 63-year-old Randy described his father-in-law as a survivor, and that’s an understatement.

So far, Randy Henson said, Sherman has survived bladder, prostate and colon cancer.

He lives alone but has friends who look in on him daily.

Sherman used to help church members and children in the community with gardening, showing them how to grow vegetables. He doesn’t do that anymore, but offers his advice for free.

Sixteen-year-old Nehemiah Bing of Paulding County, gripped a microphone at the celebration and said, “Thank you for teaching me how to garden.”

Several others expressed similar sentiments, including Lynn Belcher, 9, a third grader at Smyrna Elementary, who hugged Sherman in front of the crowd and said, “I love you, Willard.”

Many people address him by his first name.

“He just keeps on going, coming back, giving advice on gardening, things he loves,” Randy Henson said. “He’s a staunch, committed Democrat. His body doesn’t always cooperate, but his mind is very sharp.”

Sherman’s grit shows in his use of a walker. He recently decided to give up his wheelchair as unnecessary.

“He’s a neat gentleman,” said church member 72-year-old William M. Mordecai executive vice president of USA Cargo Services Co. in Marietta. “I don’t know how he does it. He used to put a belt around his wife’s belt to get her in a wheelchair and roll her to the door. It was just amazing.”

Sherman’s wife of 72 years, Mildred, died about three years ago. They have eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Last year on his 100th birthday, the spry, talkative Marietta man griped that as a former Army tank driver, he didn’t like using a wheelchair, so he stopped.

“I get around with a walker and don’t need that wheelchair,” said the Rhode Island native at a rousing pot-luck luncheon at church. “I didn’t like the wheelchair, so I went into rehab and got better.”

Sherman said he still loves to tell people how to garden and grow vegetables, an affinity he developed while stationed in Germany during the American occupation immediately after the war.

He was stationed in Stuttgart, which had been almost completely destroyed by Allied air raids, and local kids were in rags and starving. That, he said, was “very sad,” and left impressions and passions that guided his life.

“Gardening is an exercise in patience and humility,” he said. “It makes you humble. You learn a lot by gardening, and what you learn lasts a lifetime.”

Sherman’s war stories are more poignant than harrowing, since it was all over by the time he got to Germany. Because he’d learned an essential trade as a machinist, he’d been needed more back home than on the front lines, and didn’t get drafted until near the end of the war.

But what he saw there has stayed with him and influenced his life.

“Germany was a wreck,” he said. “The Germans just quit, they denied they knew Hitler or what he’d been doing, but the children were in a very sad state. They didn’t have enough food. Or clothes. There was nothing. It took four days to go 200 miles because everything was in ruins, leveled.”

He said the German children “were without shoes, clothes, food.” He’d “flip them five cigarettes, which could get their shoes fixed. I felt sorry for them. I really did.”

But less so for the German adults, who kept denying they knew anything about the war or the concentration camps especially.

And when word spread, “They all said they were innocent.”

But he came to “enjoy kids” and has ever since he returned from the war.

Sherman, a retired machinist who has lived in Marietta for 39 years, said his wife was the love of his life, and gardening was a passion for both.

“We loved it that people like to plant and harvest,” he said. “I really miss her.”

But he’s rarely alone, asserting that “somebody’s always at my house. I’m just a pampered old man.”

He added: “I’ve enjoyed life. That’s what life is for. I just love life, people and the Lord, who takes care of me.”

Father Charles Fulton, 78, of St. Jude’s, conducted the service Sunday before the congregation and other friends headed for the “celebration of life” for Willard.

“He is very well-liked, reminiscent of the best of America, and he spans so many decades,” Fulton said. “He’s just amazing. Willard is a joy. He’s celebrating life that he has now and teaches us all a lesson in life. He serves a marvelous purpose and sets an example of going to church. He’s a great human being.”

Rosemarie Ward, administrator of St. Jude’s, said even at 101 years old, “Willard has it together mentally better than some people I know that’s half his age.

“He and his wife always were involved in a garden for children. He’s very sharp and has a lot of good memories.”

Sherman, who is distantly related to Winston Churchill but not to the infamous Gen. William T. Sherman, said, “I’ve got more friends than you can shake a stick at. Everybody tells me their troubles, and that’s why I’m around, to encourage people. You can learn more by listening than by talking.”

He owns a 24-year-old Buick LaSabre “in new condition” but no longer drives, something he said he misses. He’s been to every state in the union as well as Canada, Mexico and Europe.

He sees his mission in life as “making other people happy, like I am.”

Daughter Gail said her dad “always had a very strong work ethic” and has been a farmer and roofer in addition to being a machinist.

“He’s quite a man,” she says.

Long-time friends H. Ray Belcher, 70, of Mableton, Nell Gibson, 86, of Smyrna, and Carol Herring, 81, of Marietta, said plans are already in the works for next year’s birthday party on Aug. 9, 2017.

“He’ll be here,” Randy Henson smiled.


Information from: Marietta Daily Journal, https://mdjonline.com/

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