MARJAH, Afghanistan --
A memorial service for Lance Cpl. Abram L. Howard was held at the Marjah District government center in Marjah, Afghanistan, Aug. 12.
Howard, a military policeman with the Police Mentoring Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, was killed July 27 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
The 21-year-old Marine from Williamsport, Pa., was remembered as a standout athlete, a humorous storyteller, and most importantly, a great friend to his fellow Marines.
“He’s the type of guy you know would have your back, no matter what,” said Cpl. Andrew J. Gales, a military policeman and Howard’s team leader with PMT, 2/6. “Abe, I’ll miss you, brother.”
“He excelled at all things, but was greatest at being a friend,” said Cpl. Greg Safron, a military policeman with PMT, 2/6. “I’ll miss my little, big brother, but I know he’s watching over us and waiting in a better place.”
A team jokester and humorous storyteller, Howard always found ways to make his fellow Marines smile, during good times and bad.
“One time he was working out with his shirt off, and a gunny came by and yelled, ‘Howard, you look like a Spartan!’ That only fueled his ego,” Gales said.
“He told us a story about his first match in varsity wrestling. His plan was to go in, shoot aggressively, take him down and intimidate him. He didn’t know that his opponent had placed in the state championships. So when he went to go to shoot, he took a hard crossface and found himself on his back. His coach yelled at him, ‘welcome to varsity, son!’” Safron said.
“The only thing that separates us from being brothers was blood,” said Cpl. Shane Weyant, a military policeman with PMT, 2/6.
While conducting research on Howard for a personal letter to his parents, Lt. Col. Kyle B. Ellison, the commanding officer of 2/6, realized he had a lot more in common with Howard.
“I do not claim to have known this Marine in the physical form, only as a name on a roster, or in passing on a patrol,” Ellison admitted. “As I wrote a letter to his parents, I began to feel a connection, and by the end, I felt I knew him.”
Much like Ellison, The six-foot, one-inch tall Howard was deeply involved in sports throughout his childhood and teenage years, Howard stood out as an excellent 189-pound varsity wrestler at Williamsport Area High School.
The Marine Corps runs deep in both family lineages. Howard was the 13th member of his family to have earned the title of United States Marine. He kept his father’s and grandfather’s identification tags in his cargo pockets of his trousers. Howard’s great uncle fought and died on the island of Okinawa during World War II.
“Finally, as I finished writing this letter, I knew he clearly joined the Marine Corps to give back to a nation that had given him so much. That’s why I joined,” Ellison said.
While many Marines shared the memories of Howard, one Marine knew him better than others.
Lance Cpl. Dennis M. Morales, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, flew from Combat Outpost Cafaretta in Now Zad, Afghanistan to attend this memorial service. He had lost his childhood friend.
Morales and Howard grew up in the same Williamsport neighborhood, and both were 2007 graduates of Williamsport Area High School.
“He showed this California kid the true greatness of Pennsylvania,” said Morales, who moved to Williamsport from Ventura, Calif., during his sophomore year of high school.
Howard convinced Morales to try out for the open 160-pound spot of the high school’s varsity wrestling team, which ultimately did not fare well for Morales.
Morales joined the Corps, and Howard soon followed. Morales took leave to attend Howard’s boot camp graduation, and picked him up once Howard graduated from Marine Combat Training in North Carolina.
They kept in touch constantly through the years, through text messages, phone calls and Facebook. While both Marines were deployed, both Morales’ and Howard’s parents would send both Marines care packages. Morales also remembered that this past June marked Howard’s 21st birthday.
Through his communication with Howard, Morales knew that Howard wanted to make the Marine Corps a career.
“This kid would never stop talking about reenlisting. He wanted to go EOD [explosive ordnance disposal],” Morales said. “His truck had all kinds of Marine Corps stickers on them.”
Although a somber moment for the Marines in Marjah, Ellison urged his Marines not to let Howard’s passing divert them from their mission.
“There are more patrols to be conducted, more Marjah police to be mentored, and more Marjah citizens to be helped,” Ellison said.