On Friday, Hardin celebrated both his 96th birthday and an honorary degree awarded by Western State Colorado University.
“After the war I returned to the farm but never had the opportunity to go back to college. That has troubled me for the past 70 years,” Hardin said. “I was always a pretty good student, but working the [family] farm was the priority.”
The degree represents just a small thank you for Hardin’s sacrifice, Western President Greg Salsbury said.
“Western is honored to be able to recognize Mr. Hardin in this way for his selfless service to our country,” said Salsbury said. “He forfeited his own opportunities to attend college when he went to fight for his country.”
The celebration at Denver’s American Legion Post 1 was standing-room only, filled with family, friends and service members. Colorado Sen. Nancy Todd and Rep. Su Ryden attended, as did reporters from The Denver Post, Fox31 Denver and CBS Denver.
Photos by Justin Edmonds and Dan Puleio
Throughout childhood, Hardin lived and worked on the family farm just south of Karval, surviving both the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. Upon entering high school, he began a printer’s assistant position with the Easter Colorado Plainsman.
Hardin then enrolled at Colorado State University on a Future Farmers of American scholarship and joined the ROTC. But just 18 months later, he made the decision to leave school and enlist in the military, where he served in the U.S. Navy’s construction battalion branch, the Seabees.
Hardin was among the first of the 75th Seabees to ship out to the South Pacific during WWII.
His service took him to New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Banika, New Guinea and the Philippines to construct bridges, roads, water ways, housing and runways, preparing the way for successful U.S. operations.
Upon retirement from the Navy, Hardin returned to Colorado. He married June Margaret Ramsour in 1947, raised five children on their small farm in Arvada and returned to the printing business.
“’I never thought [the degree] would happen, but it did. People are too good to me. I was filled with joy. To Western, thank you for everything,” Hardin said.