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Ohio WWII vet gives his life to save beloved wife

COLUMBUS (AP) — Betty Biddle walked through her house yesterday holding a picture of her husband, Clark.

Now and then, she kissed it.

“I don’t know if I’m going to make it without him,” she said.

No one who knew 88-year-old Clark Biddle well would be surprised to know that his final act, on Feb. 26, was to push his wife of 68 years out of the way of a car.

She was bruised. He died.

“Sometimes I wish I went with him,” said Mrs. Biddle, also 88, sitting in the living room of her house in Norwich Township.

“I really do.”

The couple’s son, Gary, said Mr. Biddle had been Mrs. Biddle’s primary caregiver since she fell and broke a hip two years ago. He undoubtedly acted out of instinct when he pushed her to safety before the car, backing out of a shopping center parking space, could hit her.

“It would just be natural for him,” said Gary Biddle, who lives in Hong Kong.

The Biddles’ relationship reflects a classic American story: sweethearts at West High School, Class of 1944, who put marriage on hold so he could serve in the Army during World War II.

After the war, he obtained a degree from The Ohio State University and opened Biddle’s Drive-In Restaurant, a business on West Broad Street that he ran for 25 years.

They had two children: Gary and his sister, Sally Cress, of Upper Arlington.

In the 1970s, the family moved from Lincoln Village to the larger place near Hilliard. He loved riding his mower and sharing the bounty of his vegetable garden.

“Just a very loving man in general, to his wife and to his kids and to the neighbors,” said Laura Jones, who has lived next door to the Biddles since 1999.

After Jones’ husband died six years ago, Mr. Biddle let her dog out every day when she was at work, she said. He always left two cookies and a short note for her.

Mr. Biddle had many interests: He played saxophone and clarinet in dance bands, enjoyed fishing and was an active member of the Aladdin Shrine.

“He was also a pilot,” his son said. “We had a small plane when I was a boy. He thrilled my Cub Scout mates with rides once.”

Going to the grocery store with Mr. Biddle, son-in-law Dan Cress said, was never a short trip.

“Everybody in the place would know this guy. It was just amazing how he connected with people.”

He loved to talk about his deep Columbus roots. Mr. Biddle was a descendant of Thomas Biddle, who arrived in Columbus in 1830 from Wales, established a farm on what now is the north end of downtown and opened a lumber mill that supplied wood for the construction of the Ohio Statehouse.

The Biddles maintained a monthly ritual of getting together for lunch with old classmates from West High.

That’s where they were headed about 1:30 p.m. Feb. 26 when the accident happened.

Mr. Biddle had helped his wife, who uses a walker, from their car and was holding her by an arm as they crossed the parking lot of O’Charley’s restaurant in the Georgesville Square Shopping Center, she said.

When he saw the backing car, he pushed her out of the way but couldn’t avoid being struck himself. He fell and hit his head, suffering massive brain trauma.

“I will never get over turning around and seeing him on the ground,” Mrs. Biddle said.

He died two days later at Mount Carmel West Hospital.

Columbus police Sgt. Brooke Wilson, of the accident-investigation unit, said the driver initially was cited with a misdemeanor, but that has been dropped until there is more investigation of what happened.

As they prepare for a service today to celebrate the life of Mr. Biddle, his family and friends are still trying to process the loss.

The phone at Mrs. Biddle’s house rang frequently Wednesday as people called with condolences.

Button, a small, white dog belonging to the Biddles’ daughter, wandered around confused. Mr. Biddle frequently watched Button.

“She misses her grandpa,” Mrs. Biddle said.

Out in the garage sat trays of tomato seedlings. Mr. Biddle was growing them for himself, his neighbors and anyone else who might like a few.