A man who dropped paratroopers behind enemy lines during World War II, then returned home to operate an iconic mom and pop store on Main Street for decades, has passed away.
Howard E. Locke died Sunday at the age of 99.
Mr. Locke’s life became eventful at an early age when he served as a U.S. Army Air Corp pilot from 1941 to 1946, ascending to the rank of captain. He flew treacherous missions during World War II, including the D-Day invasion.
In a 2015 Southern Standard article, Mr. Locke recalled finding the D-Day drop zone for his paratroopers by watching for a bonfire soldiers had set. The operation was flown in pitch darkness so the plane wouldn’t be detected by Germans. However, Mr. Locke said they still took heavy incoming fire as they headed toward the drop zone.
“There were machine gun bullets going everywhere,” Locke recalled. “There were holes all in the wings. I’m just glad they weren’t in the cabin.”
Locke spent over four years as a pilot flying missions into enemy territory. “I went from Normandy till the end of the world dropping paratroopers,” he said.Upon returning to Warren County after the war, Mr. Locke joined the operation of his family store on Main Street, Locke’s Five-and-Dime.
“It was the Walmart of today,” said Norman Rone, a former McMinnville Mayor. “Back in the ’40s and ’50s, all the activity took place on Main Street. There were several clothing stores there and Locke’s was one of the main characters. It was a major store.”
Despite being a war hero, Rone said Mr. Locke was humble.
“He was very modest about his World War II experience for what he did,” said Rone.
Jimmy Haley, also a former McMinnville mayor, said Mr. Locke lived life to its fullest.
“He was a member of the Greatest Generation,” said Haley. “He enjoyed life as much as anybody. He went golfing, went to ballgames and was a mainstay on Main Street. If you couldn’t find it anywhere else, you could always find it at Locke’s.”
In an interview with the Standard in 1999, Mr. Locke said the store thrived during The Depression because he didn’t remember a single item costing more than 49 cents.
“We did well during The Depression. I think it might have been because we sold things that didn’t cost a lot,” said Mr. Locke.
Lester Cowell remembers serving with Mr. Locke on the beer board, a board where Locke served as chair.
“Nobody wanted to be on that board because there is no pay and you’re only going to make people mad if they don’t get their way,” said Cowell. “But he really did a good job running it.”