Two World War II veterans were honored earlier in June by the Culpeper Independence Day Committee.
George E. Taylor Sr. was recognized as this year’s Grand Marshall. He’ll be leading the Fourth of July parade.
For his years of community service, Mills was delighted to be named the recipient of the 2013 Spirit Award.
Mills and his wife Nancy are familiar and popular faces at the Culpeper Senior Center.
Last Thursday, Mills was there promoting a talk by the county’s E-911 director William Martin.
Smiling and waving as he entered the room, Mills immediately gave a shout out to several he recognized. One good friend that he met at a prayer group, Mason Hutcheson, returned the wave and took a seat not far from him. Both were enjoying their coffee and donuts from Knakal’s Bakery.
Once she spotted him, Site-Coordinator Gladys Williams was quick to give him a hug.
âHe’s not going to want me to tell you this,â Williams half whispered to this writer, âbut when you need something and tell Howardâ¦consider it done.â
At 88 years young, Mills is an advocate for seniors. Several years ago he formed TRIAD, a three-way collaboration consisting of AARP, the Culpeper Town Police and the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office.
Together, they have sponsored several programs to inform and alert particularly seniors about the dangers of frauds and scams from door-to-door solicitors to phone and online offers. Much of TRIAD’s focus has been on health and safety issues for seniors utilizing local law enforcement as a trusted resource.
After Martin’s presentation on the county’s new Smart 911 service, Mills encouraged all those present to create a safety profile for their household providing additional information which would aid first responders in the event of an emergency for either themselves or a loved one. For those without computer access, Mills got the nod from Martin that their staff would return and assist with getting folks signed up.
âThis is a beautiful thing,â emphasized Mills, âit could save your life.â
Full Circle Thrift is another organization that Mills has thrown his support behind.
Mills laughed. âI started as a gopherâ¦going out to get stuff.â
His running around led to a position on Full Circle Thrift’s board.
âWhat I really like about it is that the money stays in Culpeper,â said Mills who again encouraged those present to check out the new location on Sperryville Pike if they hadn’t already done so.
Mills was 18 in June of 1943.
âI’d never been away from home,â said Mills of his time in the U.S. Navy which landed him on a battleship during World War II.
Abroad the USS Texas, Mills was part of a mission to escort war convoys across the Atlantic taking them to Ireland, Scotland and England.
Later the USS Texas shelled Axis-held beaches for the North African campaign and the Normandy landings.
In late 1944, the ship was transferred to the Pacific Theater where it provided naval gunfire support during the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Mills recalled seeing several men die when the ship was hit.
âI know that a lot of folks will talk about how bad it was at Iwo Jima and Okinawa…and it was…but le Shima, where Ernie Pyle was killed, that was a bloody battle as well,â recalled Mills.
Ernie Pyle was an American journalist and war correspondent, popular for his columns about the average soldier, who was killed in April 1945 on le Shima, an island not far from Okinawa.
Mills was in active duty from 1943 to 1945 and then remained in the Navy reserves for another 10 years.
Service to country and service to community are hallmarks in Mills’ life.
Born in Falls Church, Mills ran a successful insurance business for many years in Vienna.
In 1964, he bought a farm in Culpeper where he spent many a weekend and by 1990 made Culpeper his permanent home.
Putting down roots in Culpeper, Mills quickly embraced the community forming friendships and forging proactive relationships.
A member of AARP, one of the first projects he lobbied to make happen was the installation of automatic doors on buildings like the post office and the library. Mills didn’t want anyone navigating a wheelchair to be confronted with an unforgiving door to a public building. He garnered support from the board of supervisors and was given an award for his efforts.
Mills served for more than eight years on the Culpeper Human Services Board and also the Disabilities Service Board.
A woodworker fond of crafting birdhouses, Mills has had a long standing association with 4-H.
Mills laughs. One of his birdhouses was a gift to Deputy Attorney Dale Durrer, who next month will assume his new duties as General District Court Judge for Virginia’s 16th District. The General Assembly appointed him by a unanimous vote on April 4.
âHe had helped with the legal work when we were forming TRIAD,â recalled Mills, ânow he’s going to be a judgeâ¦I’ve watched him over the yearsâ¦he’s a good man.â
For Mills, energizing his friends and family brings a broad smile to his face especially his grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
âI love our home,â said Mills, âI enjoy our friends, dining outâ¦we have a lot of fun. Culpeper has everything you need. I have been blessed. We ought to be able to live forever.â