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A Family Tradition

Commander, Special Operations Command Central

My grandfather Hugh Wyman Howard and his brother Curtis William Howard both attended the United States Naval Academy in the late 1930s, separated by a year in the classes of 1937 and 1938, respectively.  Our family’s long history with the U.S. Navy influenced their Naval Service, including their father, Jasper Victor Howard, who was a Navy doctor after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania medical school. 

Hugh Wyman Howard’s Naval Academy sweater.

The brothers were teammates on the Navy boxing team where Curtis earned the nickname Punchy. In the Naval Academy yearbook Lucky Bag, his classmates noted that he was “possessed of a good sense of humor, exceptional perspicacity, and an able brain.”  They were junior officers when the war broke out with Curtis pursuing Naval Aviation and my Grandfather narrowly missing the attack on Pearl Harbor while onboard USS Lexington.  My Grandfather was later awarded the Silver Star for actions during the Sicily landings. 

At Midway, Curtis was a Naval Aviator and the Operations Officer with Torpedo Squadron 3 operating Douglas TBD Devastators.  On the morning of June 4, 1942, USS Yorktown’s Air Group formed part of Task Force SEVENTEEN, Pacific Fleet, under the direct command of Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander Task Force SEVENTEEN (who served with my Great Grandfather, RADM Clifford Evans Van Hook, USN, as junior officers at Vera Cruz, Mexico prior to World War I).

Curtis’ gallantry alongside his teammates – including the Torpedo Officer/Navigator and Radioman/Gunner crew – is well captured in his Navy Cross citation where he, “in the face of tremendous anti-aircraft fire and overwhelming fighter opposition, pressed home his attack to a point where it became relatively certain that, in order to accomplish his mission, he would probably sacrifice his life.”   

Christening bottle from the CURTIS W. HOWARD (DE-752) ceremony in 1944.

My great grandmother Prudence Wyman [Howard] Wohleb christened the CURTIS W. HOWARD (designated DE-752) – a CANNON class destroyer-escort – on March 26, 1944 in San Pedro, CA. However the ship did not enter active service due to the war’s end; the Western Pipe and Steel Co. construction of the ship was canceled on September 1, 1944.  The original christening bottle remains with the family as a physical reminder of his sacrifice – his unyielding pursuit of excellence and ironclad commitment to the Nation; a standard for teamwork and accountability that inspires my family’s Naval Service.  He is a source of pride and a place to reflect on the importance of grit, humility and honor.     

William Faulkner wrote, “I believe man will not merely endure.  He will prevail because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”  Words appropriate for our Greatest Generation, words that capture their resilient journey – through failure, combat loss and triumph – and serve as guideposts to future Americans.