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Reaching Across The Sea, Part II

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Reaching Across The Sea, Part II

Last week the Jackson County TIMES featured the story of Paul Howell and Heddy Lenting on its Profiles in Courage page.  This is the second part, one that is  not yet finished.

Heddy Lenting is ninety three years old, and she still lives in Holland, but she has not always stayed home. Here is the rest of her story, a story truly deserving of a place in the TIMES Profiles. This part is told by Sherry Howell McQuaig.

“Lifelong relationships are special, but the friendship between Heddy Lenting and the Preston A. Howell family is one in a lifetime.

In 1944, World War II involved Germany’s  control of most of Europe.  One day in Oirsbeek, Netherlands, after weeks of shooting and being restricted to their homes, American tanks stopped in an apple orchard to rest, and it was on this day that Heddy asked some of the men for their addresses. One of those men was Paul Howell of Sneads, Florida. Paul did not survive the Battle of the Bulge and was interred at Margraten Cemetery in Holland.

In March of 1945 Heddy wrote to Paul, and the Preston Howell family received the letter.  Heddy got permission to tend the grave of Paul, riding her bicycle every Sunday fifteen miles to take care of it.  Finally the Howells allowed the government to move Paul’s remains to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.

Eugenia and Heddy continued corresponding for a couple of years and finally Heddy was invited to come visit.  This was not an easy task; the Howells had to take full responsibility for her well-being. So on December 18, 1947 Heddy boarded a passenger ship, the MV Noordam, and headed to America.  A friend in New York put her on a train to Jacksonville that would connect with Sneads.  When she arrived, there was no one to meet her, but God sent a guardian angel, and Carolyn Lanier, Eugenia’s sister, was in the area and heard the train whistle. Carol walked her to the filling station at the top of the hill where the Howells lived.

The Howells put Heddy to bed because she was very sick with pneumonia and was malnourished and weak.  Doctor O’Hare, the local physician, nursed her back to health, and refused to be paid.  After six week of being bedridden, Heddy was feeling much better and finally able to meet Paul’s family:  his mom and dad, his three brothers and his two sisters.  They enjoyed getting to know one another.  C. J. was the instigator of getting Heddy to speak to churches, civic organizations, and schools regarding the devastation of the war. She visited central Florida and continued speaking.  As a result, tons of food and clothes, as well as money orders, were sent to her home town.

In January of 1949 CJ, Eugenia and Billy Lanier took Heddy to Miami to board a plane to Curacao, a Dutch island in the Caribbean, where she taught school and studied for five years,  learning to speak five languages. 

Heddy returned to Sneads many times.  She and the Howell women enjoyed visits to Silver Springs in Ocala, the beaches, and other spots.  And the Howells visited Heddy in Holland. This began with Eugenia and Mattie, and continued through the years.  John and Sherry McQuaig went, and Heddy showed them Paris and other sights.  She was a gracious hostess.

Heddy Lenting’s last visit to Sneads was in 1998. She had a heart attack and the doctor would not allow her to travel.  But this beautiful friendship of seventy plus years still continues.  Heddy is ninety one years old and lives alone, but she will tell you today she loves Sneads and always will, and if she had one wish it would be to visit one more time, because that is where her sweet American family lives.  

This beautiful friendship that reaches across the ocean began because of the death of Paul Howell, an American soldier who gave his life in the cause of freedom.”

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