They met almost as brothers. Any onlookers might have thought they were long lost friends, and in a way they were.
On Sept. 6, 1922, two boys were born in the Shoals, almost four years removed from World War I, which was called the war to end all wars.
They were born in the midst of the Roaring ’20s. Still reeling from Reconstruction, times in the South were hardly roaring, and any prosperity from that time must have felt as if it was happening in another country.
Neither boy made it to high school, both had to leave school to work on the farm, miles away from the troubles that were boiling in Europe.
Then on Dec. 7, 1941, their lives would be sent down a different path, a different destiny like so many young men all over the world.
Both men were drafted into the Army.
Oscar Fielder Moomaw, who goes by O.F., was drafted into the Army and less than a year later, having shipped to war on Nov. 27, 1942.
Herman Howard was drafted into the Army as well and left Dec. 9, 1942.
Technician 5th Grade Moomaw fought in the China Burma India Theater of World War II, most of his tour spent in Burma. PFC Howard was sent to New Guinea. Both men won two Bronze Stars for their actions in the war.
On Moomaw’s mother’s birthday, Jan. 8, 1946, he returned home. He lost his brother who died fighting in Germany. A few weeks later, on Jan. 30, 1946, Howard returned.
But the two men from the Shoals with the same birthday had never crossed paths.
The two first found each other in September when Moomaw’s wife, Shelby, saw Howard’s 90th birthday celebration advertisement in the TimesDaily. She thought it was interesting that two WWII veterans from the Shoals were the same age and had never met. Shelby found Howard’s number through the church where he had his birthday party, which was listed in the ad.
So the two of them called each other and talked, that’s when they learned they shared a birthday. When Shelby contacted the TimesDaily, we helped arrange a time and place for them to meet for the first time in person.
“It was so strange that they were so close over there and never met each other,” Shelby said.
When they first met, both wearing their WWII Veterans hats, the two men first shook hands and then hugged. They met as old friends.
Howard and Moomaw sat around a table in the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library with their wives. They exchanged war stories and talked about their days overseas for close to an hour.
“He never does this,” Howard’s wife, Betty, said. “He doesn’t usually talk about the war. Family members try and ask him about it, he just doesn’t usually talk about it.”
But despite talking about people they lost during the war and friends they’ve lost to old age, the two men and their wives spent most of the conversation smiling and happy, laughing at jokes and being surprised at the strange coincidence of their birthday and similarities of their stories.
“There was about 10 of us that got together in ’87, and I’m the last one,” Moomaw said with a small laugh. “The rest of them have gone on.”
They also compared the toll the war and age had taken on their body. They discussed surgeries and pacemakers — both men have them, and both got them two years go. They also discussed fighting, a sniper taking out a member of their squad, bombings and ambushes. They talked about the relentlessness of the Japanese.
“When I lost my hearing, the Japanese dropped 18 bombs on us in just a small area,” Moomaw said. “I heard the first one go off, and I never heard anymore.”
Moomaw said hearing aids don’t help because of the nature of how he lost his hearing. Howard says his aren’t strong enough to help. They have to repeat things to each other occasionally.
“They had to send him back on a hospital ship,” Betty said. “He had that jungle rot on his feet and couldn’t wear his shoes.”
At one point in the fighting in New Guinea, Howard had to go two weeks with out taking off his boots. It took him nearly a year to recover.
They talked about the weather — the hot, long days and the rain that would come out of nowhere. It was strange because the rain would even be hot when it hit you.
They also talked about the fear of war.
“When we first went into combat, there was a combat MP he told us to put on our steel — that was our helmets, you know — and load your rife and lock it,” Moomaw said. “And he said to keep both eyes open. I was scared from that day on.
Moomaw added, “Everyone was scared, if they say they weren’t well ...”
Howard finished his sentence, “they were lying then.”
They also talked about their buddies and troops who were left behind.
“Do you still wonder what happened to a lot of your men?” Moomaw asked Howard.
“Yeah, yeah I wonder about that,” Howard said.
“They’d pick them up take them off and you’d never see them again,” Moomaw said.
“You’d never see or hear of them ever again,” Howard said.
“It bothers me now, and it’s been a long time ago, and it still bothers me to this day,” Moomaw said.
Both men were ready to be out of the service. Moomaw was a firefighter after leaving the service and has been retired from that since 1984. Howard worked at Reynolds Metal Co.
“They wanted us to sign up for another year when we were leaving,” Moomaw said. “And we came home for 90 days and not a one of us signed back up. We wanted out.”
Both men laughed.
“Yeah, I did too,” Howard said. “I threw my army uniform away when I got out.”
Howard said he threw away all his medals and his uniform. When he got back he was done with the Army.
But time has a way of changing things.
“They took three years of our young lives,” Moomaw said later. “But I would do it again in a minute.”
Howard agreed, “oh yeah, in a minute.”
Bobby Bozeman can be reached at 256-740-5722 or bobby.bozeman@TimesDaily.com.