JACKSON, Miss. — As a young man trudging on foot across central Europe in the Rhineland Campaign in World War II – some of the fiercest fighting known to mankind – Howard Miskelly said he was not afraid.
“When you are 20 years old, you are not afraid of anything,” 88-year-old Miskelly said Friday at the Mississippi Capitol where nearly 70 years later he was awarded a Bronze Star for his sacrifice and bravery. “When I got home and thought about it, I was scared to death.”
Miskelly’s 102nd Army Division, where he rose to the rank of sergeant in the infantry, suffered 932 fatalities and more than 2,660 wounded in the fighting in Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Miskelly said he was fortunate – fortunate to survive the conflict, fortunate to succeed in business in his longtime hometown of Okolona and fortunate to have a family that carries on his accomplishments.
On the day he was inducted into the Army in September 1943, Miskelly said his aunt gave him a pocket-sized, steel-reinforced New Testament Bible. He said he carried the Bible through the conflict. The ragged Bible reads in faded letters on the front, “May this keep you safe from harm.”
He said the Bible ensured he would not be killed by a gunshot to the heart.
Miskelly, still active, had the Bible on Friday at the Mississippi Capitol where about 75 people, including Gov. Phil Bryant and U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper of Rankin County, attended a ceremony where Miskelly was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in the bloody Rhineland Campaign.
Randy Reeves, executive director of the state Veterans Affairs Board, who officiated the ceremony, said Congress passed a law in the late 1940s to award the soldiers who fought in the bloody central European campaign a Bronze Star – the nation’s fourth highest military honor. He said the fact that Miskelly never received his award was brought to his attention by the governor.
Reeves said working with Harper’s congressional office, he ascertained that Miskelly was eligible for the award and put in motion the procedure to ensure he received it. Miskelly said he actually would received a second Bronze Star for his work in the occupation after the war.
“This is an award that is not given, but earned,” Bryant said Friday. The governor said Miskelly “never thought of himself as a hero,” but answered a call like so many others labeled as America’s greatest generation “to make sure the world would remain free.”
Bryant said what Miskelly is most proud of is not his heroics in World War II, but his five children and 13 grandchildren.
After Friday’s ceremony, Miskelly was willing to talk about the ordeal of first overpowering the Germans at the Roer River, then being blocked from crossing when the Germans opened a dam to flood the waterway. He said they huddled for weeks in minus 14-degree weather in a foxhole with nothing to eat but military rations before being able to proceed on their march toward Berlin.
Miskelly also was willing to talk about being grazed in the head – inches from what would surely have been a kill shot by friendly fire – and about the revolver he took from a German general or about countless other ordeals.
But what the Faulkner native would rather talk about is family and life after the war.
He said he was fortunate to return to Tippah County where “I married my high school sweetheart,” the former Ann Street of Ripley. He started his career as a teacher in Pontotoc and a part-time employee of a clothing store.
He later opened a successful clothing store in Okolona where he and his wife raised three boys and two girls.
The boys – Tommy, Chip and Oscar – wanted to open a clothing store in the Jackson area, but his parents objected, saying they should open a furniture store instead to take advantage of the numerous furniture manufacturers in Northeast Mississippi.
That store, Miskelly Furniture, is now one of the biggest in the Southeast.
Howard and Ann Miskelly moved from Okolona to a home on the Old Waverly Golf Course in West Point about three and a half years ago, where he admits he likes to play a little golf.
One of his daughters, Marty Ishee, also lives in West Point while another, Pam Carson, lives in Houston and works at Tupelo High School.
About eight years ago, Miskelly recounted the story of the Bible his aunt gave him in 1943 when he was inducted, saying, “This plus God Almighty brought me back to Faulkner, Mississippi, in April 1946. God did not stop there. He gave me a wonderful wife, and five fine children and we have lived happily since.”
On Friday, in the midst of the attention centered on him, he said his life has been more than he could have hoped.
“It is remarkable,” he said.