Harriet Howard, a longtime veteran advocate who served in the U.S. Navy, salutes during the 2010 Memorial Day celebrations in Smyrna, Tenn. Howard died Aug. 26, 2013, in Rutherford County. (TMP File Photo)
Rutherford County resident Harriett Howard was known throughout Tennessee as a tireless advocate for military veterans who kept on giving until her death Monday.
She was 89.
A memorial service for Howard is set for 1 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, at Woodlawn Funeral Home on Thompson Lane in Nashville. Visitation will be from 11 a.m. to the time of the service.
“Harriett Howard is a ‘force’ when it comes to fighting for the benefits and medical treatment of veterans,” added military veteran John Furgess, also a volunteer force on behalf of military veterans.
Harriett, as a Navy clerk in Washington, was privy to the most secretive wartime plans and attacks leading up to D-Day and the Normandy Invasion of France.
After retirement from the military in 1984, she became a dedicated advocate for veterans throughout Tennessee.
Howard, known as the consummate volunteer at the Alvin C. York Veterans Administration Medical Center in Murfreesboro and Nashville VA Hospital, continued to give even after her death.
“Harriett donated her body for medical research at Vanderbilt,” said surviving family member Dottie Carter, of Smyrna. “After drawing her last breath, it was her last act of giving.”
In the 1980s, Howard declared “a public communications’ war” after VA officials continued to deny adequate medical coverage for female veterans at the York and Nashville VA hospitals.
In 1986, after Harriett launched a blitz of faxes, news releases, phone calls and letters (this was before e-mail) to senators, representatives and even the White House, the VA hoisted a white flag and surrendered to increased health care for women veterans.
In the 1990s, VA executives in Nashville and Washington attempted to close the highly used York VA while more than 100,000 veterans from throughout Tennessee and the Southeast came annually for the treatment at the Murfreesboro facility that’s been in service to veterans since the early 1940s on U.S. 231 North (Lebanon Highway).
Howard helped launch a petition drive that netted more than 250,000 supportive signatures of veterans and veterans’ families to keep York VA open for health care.
Ultimately, retired Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Murfreesboro) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) held a public hearing at York’s auditorium, which was filled with concerned citizens, veterans and their families from Tennessee and several surrounding states.
Today, York hospital remains open for ailing and aging veterans in the wake of retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Harriett Howard’s barrage of publicity.
This Tennessee Volunteer activism came after Navy WAVE Harriett Howard had served her nation on active military duty for 39 years, 7 months and 28 days.
Her last service to veterans came as a fundraising board member for construction of a Tennessee Fisher House that is nearing completion on the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center campus in Murfreesboro.
“Although in her 80s, this past decade Harriett has taken her famous ‘shoe box’ for donations across the Volunteer State, to personally raise more than $125,000 for the Tennessee Fisher House about to be dedicated in November to serve veterans and their families on the York VA Medical Center campus,” Tennessee Fisher House President Andrea “Andy” Lawrence credited.
“As hundreds of future military families and ailing veterans are served at Tennessee Fisher House that Harriett Howard helped build, it’s a building and cause that will continue to give, give and give,” said retired Tennessee National Guard Lt. Col. Hooper Penuel, a fellow Fisher House board member with Howard.
He said the state owes a salute to retired Navy WAVE Harriett Howard, a one-woman volunteer force for veterans health care and a most-distinguished member of the nation’s Greatest Generation.