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Doughboy for a day

| Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006

The United States lost one of its few living memories of the Great War when Pennsylvania's last known World War I veteran was buried Friday.

Harold Ford Gardner, of Choconut, Susquehanna County, died Monday of complications from pneumonia at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Bradford County.

He would have been 108 on Dec. 3.

"I can't give you a sound bite, I can't give you a snippet of his entire life to do him justice," said his grandson, Rick Shumaker, of Binghamton, N.Y. "We've all been telling Grampy's stories these last few days -- and there are many."

Gardner's service in World War I amounted to a few hours.

Drafted into the Army when he was 19 -- six months after he had been rejected because of a childhood ankle injury -- Gardner was waiting with his fellow recruits at a train station, on their way to boot camp, when an officer sent them on their way.

That was Nov. 11, 1918 -- the war had just ended. The Doughboys -- as infantrymen were informally called at the time -- were coming home.

The Army sent Gardner a discharge letter verifying he had served his country for a day and a $1 check for his service -- both of which he saved.

A natural tinkerer, Gardner enjoyed repairing things since he was a child -- fixing a broken canoe he bought for a dime when he was 8; refurbishing a 1910 Maxwell car when he was in his 20s; and becoming an aviation mechanic after World War I.

"When he started his flight service in Binghamton, they said: 'Harold, you're a good pilot, but you're a better mechanic, so stay down here and fix the planes,' " Shumaker said.

Up until a few weeks before his death, Gardner lived alone and continued to work in a machine shop behind his house. He finished restoring a 1923 Dodge about five years ago, said his friend and neighbor, Bill Nash.

"He still had a current driver's license," Nash said. "They said they were going to take it away from him, but he said, 'I have to have it because I live alone.' ... He still drove his pickup truck on occasion."

Gardner's architect father, Henry Sumner Gardner, helped design and build some of the first buildings at the hospital where Gardner died -- something that gave him comfort, Shumaker said.

One of the last activities that Gardner wanted to do during his final weekend at home, before he was hospitalized earlier this month, was oil an old clock. He asked Shumaker to help him.

"He said: 'Now don't be in a hurry, and understand how this system works. First, we clean the parts and see how they're working, and then we oil them and see how they work again, and then we'll make all the adjustments that are necessary,' " Shumaker said.

"He gave this example of patience in life, in dealing with people and any kind of system," Shumaker said. "That was one of the last mechanical lessons he gave me."

Gardner outlived his wife, Margaret, two sons, one granddaughter and several other relatives. He is survived by his daughters, Sarah Shumaker, of Binghamton, and Gertrude Hughes, of South Carolina, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

His family asks that people wishing to remember Gardner make a donation to the charity of their choice, or "go say hello to your grandparents and spend some time with them," Rick Shumaker said.

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