Sunday, May 14, 2000

A long way from Tipperary: World War I veteran turns 100


Friends celebrate at nursing home

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS — Albert Harnist Sr. proudly wore his World War I victory medal Saturday afternoon.

        One of the Tristate's estimated six World War I veterans celebrated his 100th birthday — a few days early — during a party on the grounds of the VA Nursing Home in Fort Thomas, where he lives.

[photo] ALBERT HARNIST JR. AND HENRIETTA BUSH
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        Family members, fellow residents and VA officials — more than 100 people in all — attended. The party was held in a picnic shelter on the nursing home grounds, and a band played for 21/2 hours.

        “It's a great feeling,” Mr. Harnist said of becoming a centenarian. “I'm glad the good Lord let me stay around this long.”

        He is one of an estimated 5,700 American World War I veterans still living from a wartime force of more than 4.7 million in uniform.

        Some 12,000 WWI veterans were alive in 1996, 75,000 in 1991, according to the Veterans of World War One of the U.S.A. Inc., of Alexandria, Va.

        Mr. Harnist was born May 18, 1900, in South Fairmount.

        In August 1916, he joined the Navy. He was released from the service in 1919 but called back to active duty in 1921. He received an honorable discharge as a seaman second class later in 1921 and was given 5 cents a mile ($15.55) to get home and a $60 war gratuity.

        Mr. Harnist worked as a fireman and a guard in the Navy. He returned to Cincinnati to work for the Carlton Machine Tool Co. in Northside — it made transmission cases for tanks during World War II — until his retirement in 1962.

        His wife, Helen Mary Harnist, died in 1959. They had three children. Mr. Harnist Sr. also has nine grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren.

        “Grandpa was able to get on with his life after my grandmother died,” said Ellen Demaree, 50, of Delhi Township, who attended the party with her husband, Don, and two of her children.

        “I remember, growing up, that Grandpa has always been happy-go-lucky. He always was a party person and traveled well into his 90s.”

        Mr. Harnist Sr.'s girlfriend of 32 years, Henrietta Bush, 89, of Westwood, also was there to wish him happy birthday.

        It wasn't until after he turned 90 that Mr. Harnist Sr. left his Price Hill house for the VA Nursing Home. He's still known for his love of bingo.

        “If you happen to visit him while he's playing bingo, he won't talk to you until he's done,” Mrs. Demaree said.

        Entertainment was provided by the Seven Sharps Orchestra, a 13-member ballroom dance band.

        Albert Harnist Jr., 72, of Delhi Township, a saxophonist, is the group's oldest member. It has been together since the 1940s, when its members were students at St. Xavier High School.

        Family and friends had submarine sandwiches and cake.

        “He has had a good, full life,” Albert Harnist Jr. said of his father. “We do this every year, because you're never sure which one will be the last.”

       



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