LACOMB — If the United States had not dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II, Howard Gabel’s military experience would have been far different than it was for the North Dakota farm boy.
Gabel and thousands of other soldiers and sailors were trained and headed to invade Japan, in what surely would have been among the most hazardous theaters of the entire war.
Instead, with the war over, a single typing class in high school landed Gabel a nearly “perfect” job in the Army — typing up discharge papers for military men and women headed home.
Gabel is the 2017 Veteran of the Year.
Gabel’s WWII adventure began in 1944, when he graduated from high school. He was just 17, two months shy of his 18th birthday.
“I was going to get drafted, but dad asked that I be deferred to help with the fall harvest,” Gabel said. “I helped him and he was helping my grandfather who was in bad health. In February 1945, I headed to Camp Snelling in Minneapolis for induction.”
Basic training was in Missouri and Arkansas, and then Gabel was transferred to Camp Adair near Corvallis to prepare for what he thought would be a trip to Japan.
“We got brand new guns. We unwrapped them and cleaned the cosmoline off them,” Abel said.
Abel said that although he only spent about two weeks at Camp Adair, he was impressed.
“It was very nice and it was a big town,” Abel said. “It had such nice streets, churches, service clubs and a big PX.”
Instead of Japan, Abel was among thousands of soldiers who were kept on ships at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, while the government decided what to do with them now that the war was over.
Abel was first sent to Enewetak, which he called “very hot,” and then to Leyte, which he called, “miserable.”
“There were so many troops there waiting that the cooks couldn’t keep up,” Abel said. “The potatoes weren’t cooked and there were flies in the gravy. I often bought coconuts and bananas from the natives instead.”
Abel ended up on Cebu, and like thousands of other soldiers, was quarantined.
“I was bored and when they asked if anyone knew how to type, I volunteered, even though we were warned to never volunteer,” Abel said.
He soon became the commander’s personal driver in a Jeep called “Barney” and then started to type up orders for his fellow soldiers.
“It was very good duty,” Abel said. “There was a point system as to how guys would muster out. You got points for being married and for how long you had served.”
Cebu had been heavily damaged during the war, Abel said, and one of his jobs was to help disburse payments to contractors who were rebuilding the island.
“I would go with someone to the bank carrying a .45 and we would let in four contractors at a time,” Abel said.
Abel spent a little time in Manila before being discharged in July 1946.
“I was used to hot weather and when we got into San Francisco, it was foggy and very cold,” Abel said. “I didn’t have any warm clothes.”
He was discharged at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Abel returned to the family farm in North Dakota, but it only took one extremely cold winter to convince him he wanted to return to Oregon.
In 1947, the family came to Oregon to find a new farm.
“I told dad how nice it was and we spent about a week in the Albany area looking for ground,” Abel said. “He bought a small place about five miles down the road and then traded it for 160 acres.”
In 1948, Abel returned to North Dakota to marry Lois, whom he had known for many years — their mothers had gone to school together.
“My mother said we couldn’t get married in Oregon,” Lois said. “She said if he wanted to marry me, he had to come back to North Dakota.”
The couple made their home in the Lacomb-Lebanon area and reared four children — two girls and two boys.
Howard worked at the former Cascade Plywood plant for 40 years and then spent 11 years as an electrician. He retired as an electrician at Norpac in Stayton in 1998.
Howard and Lois were active in numerous civic groups.
Howard has been a member of American Legion Post Post 51 in Lebanon for 62 years and has served in numerous capacities, including 20 years as a member of the Honor Guard and as chaplain. He also served as chaplain for the 40 & 8.
He served on the Lacomb School Board and the Lacomb Irrigation District.
He and Lois volunteered at the Lebanon Soup Kitchen, and the American Legion breakfasts and prime rib dinner events.
They put out flags on Memorial Day and were active members of the Lacomb Grange.
The couple also participated in the SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) program, reading books to elementary students.
The couple enjoyed the Old Time Fiddlers group and spent several years volunteering as timers at the annual state contest.
Abel was previously honored as Veteran of the Year by the 40 & 8 and said he is looking forward to the banquet and riding in the annual parade.