Howard Delos Noland, a 95-year-old Navy veteran and Fallbrook resident, had a question when his son, Chuck Noland, introduced him to a newspaper writer.
“Is this for my obituary?” asked Howard with a twinkle in his eye as he strode straight and strong to a chair in the living room of his hilltop home in Morro Hills for an afternoon visit.
Chuck Noland couldn’t be prouder of his pop, who served in the Navy for 23 years and as a hospital corpsman aided injured Marines in World War II. The son also marvels at his father’s strength at age 95.
“The physical therapists say they’ve never seen an 85-year-old man as strong and in as good of shape as he is at 10 years older,” said Chuck, noting that his father wakes up each day at 6:30 a.m. and promptly makes his bed, making sure the corners are tight.
Up until a year ago, Howard would exercise by walking the hills in his neighborhood. At the request of Chuck, who feared his father might take a tumble, Howard now does daily laps in the house.
Howard Noland, born in 1922, said he wasn’t expecting to see 1978 let alone 2017.
“My dad died in 1950,” said Howard. “He was an old man – 55 years old. All of the men on my dad’s side never saw 56.”
Howard’s longevity may be attributed to his being engaged in physical activity for most of his life. As a youngster, he grew up working the family farm in Southern Indiana and running track in school. In retirement in Fallbrook – a town he and his wife Lena Hope stumbled upon in 1978 – he managed his own avocado grove as well the grove of two neighbors until his was 85.
Although he doesn’t like to preach, Howard believes the fact that he never smoked cigarettes is another reason he has outlived siblings and friends.
“The only time I came in contact with tobacco was in about 1932,” said Howard. “My dad was working in the steel mills and he smoked a lot. But they (cigarettes) cost 5-cents a pack, so what he did was go down and buy the tobacco and the paper, and my sister and I had to roll up at least 12 cigarettes a day for my dad. When my sister starting smoking, she told me to take a puff. I didn’t like it, and that was it.”
Howard said his father gave him some advice that he heeded.
“My dad said you’ll make more money up here (pointing to his brain), then you can here (pointing to his shoulders),” said Howard Noland. “Mainly because – I don’t know how it happened – he lost four fingers on his left hand.”
Although Howard went to work at a steel foundry upon graduation from high school, he also enrolled in night classes at Purdue University studying biology. However, rotating work shifts – day, swing and graveyard – at the mill caused him to miss class every third week, which resulted in his college career lasting a mere two months.
“My boss at the mill told me, ‘these mills will kill you – it’s no good,’” said Howard, who added that his boss wanted to join the Navy but was rejected for being color blind. “My boss says to me, ‘Why don’t you join the Navy?’”
Howard’s boss set up an appointment with a retired Navy veteran who gave Howard the following advice: “Three things: never volunteer, keep your nose clean, and for the first 13 months keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. He repeated it.”
Howard went to a recruiting station located in a post office in Gary, Indiana, and then reported to boot camp in Great Lakes. When he became a Navy hospital corpsman and was one of the top graduates, he was given a choice of where to go – South Bend, Indiana or San Diego.
The choice was a no-brainer for Howard, who in eighth grade had a project in which students had to pick a city in the U.S. and study its weather. Howard picked San Diego for the project and he picked it again when given the chance in the Navy.
Howard was leaving Balboa Naval Hospital to attend a football game Dec. 7, 1941 when he said the guards at the gate told him, ‘turn around doc, we’re at war with Japan.’ Soon, Howard was treating the burn victims from Pearl Harbor.
Shortly thereafter, Howard was assigned to train with the Marines at Camp Elliot. He would go on to serve on the USS Rochambeau, experience training and combat in various islands in the South Pacific, work in hospitals during the battles of Bougainville and Tarawa, and on hospital ships at Iwo Jima.
Howard spent more than two years in the South Pacific before he was transferred to sea duty back with the Navy, and was on a minesweeper during the battle of Okinawa.
Between the end of WWII and the Korean Conflict, Howard was on various ships, including his last sea duty on the USS Ranger. In between sea assignments, he was stationed in various places on the West Coast, Kansas City and Pearl Harbor in the 1950s.
During his time in Hawaii, Howard served as the medical officer on flights that carried embassy personnel and documents to the U.S. stations and embassies between Hawaii and Saudi Arabia. Stops included Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila, Saigon, Bangkok, New Delhi, Karachi and Dhahran. Howard found the different people and cultures fascinating and collected different art works during his travels.
Howard retired from the Navy in 1964 as Master Chief Hospital Corpsman. He took a job with the Alameda County Water Department and had a home in Pleasanton (Northern California), where his three children graduated from high school and his wife started a very successful business making and decorating wedding cakes.
Howard and Lena moved to Fallbrook in 1978. She passed in 2010.
“I think of her every day,” said Howard.
In summing up his time in the service, Howard said, “Educational. I met a million nice people. I’m very grateful.”