Tennessee Airman visits grave of World War II relative in Hawaii

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Teri Eicher
  • 134th Air Refueling Wing

In the bright morning sunlight, a young Airman carefully trims blades of grass around a slab of polished stone. The stone marks the grave of a United States Marine who died February 22, 1944. Airman Haley Howard, a Personnel Apprentice with the 134th Air Refueling Wing, has come to honor her great uncle who died in World War Two.

One of ten children, Private 1st Class Henry Durwood Howard volunteered to enlist with three of his siblings at the outbreak of the war. Airman Howard’s grandfather has often told her about his brother, whose grave few in the family have been able to visit.

Private 1st Class Howard was killed during the battle for the Marshall Islands, leaving behind his wife and unborn child. When offered the choice to have his remains shipped home or to allow him to be interred in Hawaii, she chose to let him rest. Since the funding of the National Memorial Cemetery in the Pacific in 1948, Howard’s final resting place has been a place of honor among the fallen.

After scrubbing away a layer of grit and placing an American flag above the stone, Airman Howard called her family via video chat to share the moment. Howard read the inscription aloud and her aunt commented, “Wow, he was only twenty years old when he died. Can you imagine?”

Howard replied, “Yeah, he was the same age as me.”

A quiet moment passed as Howard contemplated that realization. Finally, she said, “It was a different world back then, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” her aunt agreed, “it was.”

When she was unable to reach her grandfather, Howard recorded a video to share with him instead.

“I feel very proud to be able to honor my great uncle today,” Howard said. “It’s a cool experience for me, but I think it’s even more important that I was able to be here for my family and share this with them. Most of them have never been able to see this, so they were very excited when they heard I would get to visit Uncle Durwood’s grave while I was here.”

Howard was accompanied by several members of the 134th Air Refueling Wing, including Command Chief Master Sergeant Stanley Drozdowski.

“I think this was the highlight of my entire trip,” said Drozdowski. “To be able to take Airman Howard out to the memorial, see her visit the grave site and share that with her family, was amazing. These opportunities are once in a lifetime, and to be able to offer that experience during a trip with the Air Force is a bonus for us all.”

The 134th ARW members are visiting Hawaii as part of a training deployment to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The Airmen are here to support the local units and complete annual training requirements.

Howard concluded, “It’s been an amazing trip so far, and it was very special to be able to come here for work and share this with my family.”

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific was established in 1948 to provide a permanent burial site to thousands of World War II service members. The memorial now includes members from the Korean and Vietnam wars, and its Hawaiian name, “Puowaina,” means “Hill of Sacrifice.”