Monday, May 30, 2011

A Memorial Day Tribute To My Uncle "Bub"

My uncle, Leo R. "Bub" Howe, passed away on 31 March this year. Uncle Bub typified members of "The Greatest Generation" in that he was humble, hardworking, generous, and very modest about his combat service during World War Two. When I was growing up, both my father and mother made reference to Uncle Bub's heroism during the Battle of the Bulge, but there were never any details. As I became older, and went into the Army during the mid 70s, I tried a couple of times without success to get Leo to talk about his wartime experiences. He just would say something like, "It wasn't fun," and change the subject. 

Several years ago, Uncle Leo and Aunt Mary Lou were staying in our home, visiting my dad and some other friends in the area. I had just received notice that my reserve unit was going to be deployed to Iraq, so I asked Uncle Bub if he had any advice for me. He retorted bluntly, "Don't go!" Leo paused for a minute, then started telling me what it was like during the final days of the push into Germany in 1945. He was a Sergeant in the 364th Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 76th Infantry Division, and was assigned as a forward observer/scout/liaison, driving ahead of the front lines in a jeep with a lieutenant. Uncle Bub explained that it could get pretty dangerous out there, with the constant potential of running into a German ambush, but he liked the freedom of roaming the countryside. One morning in April, as Leo and his lieutenant were approaching a woodline outside of a small German village, a small group of Wehrmacht soldiers came out of the forest with their hands in the air. A German Colonel asked Leo if he would be willing to take their surrender. When the lieutenant said "Yes", and asked how many troops were surrendering, the colonel replied something to the effect of "The whole division." He went back into the trees, and emerged with a major general. The general indicated he wished to surrender his division to the American Army, rather than the Soviets who were bearing down from the East. Uncle Leo and his lieutenant radioed this news to their command post, and were directed to bring the general back to battalion HQ. As for the rest of the German division, Uncle Leo said he told the colonel to have them ditch their weapons, and start them marching down the road toward the U.S. front lines. Leo and the lieutenant drove the general back to the battalion, where he was bundled into a Piper Cub observation plane, and flown back to Division HQ. Uncle Bub grinned slightly, and said that incident gave him the most pleasure of anything that had happened to him during the war.

That was the only time Uncle Leo and I talked directly about the war. I know that he was decorated with the Bronze Star Medal for valor, in an era when such medals were given sparingly. More important than any medals he earned, Uncle Leo was a hero more for how he lived his life after returning from Europe. He was an honest, faithful, contributing member of his community up until his last day. He and Aunt Mary Lou raised a family, instilling in them those same attributes. Whether Uncle Bub was operating his barber shop, working for the local school district, or managing the small hotel in Hawaii, he did everything with energy, enthusiasm, and humor.

I'm very proud to have known my uncle, Leo R. Howe, and will always be grateful for the courage and sacrifice he and our other war veterans have made, and continue to make on our nation's behalf.
Rest in Peace, Uncle Bub...You've earned it ten times over.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You've Got To Read "Lions of Kandahar"!

Major Rusty Bradley, US Army Special Forces, and Combat Journalist Kevin Maurer have co-written an amazing, powerful non-fiction account of the little-known Battle of Sperwan Ghar, which occurred north of Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2006. I had the opportunity to preview this book prior to its publication date (June, 2011), and was sucked in by page two.
There are some really superb books out there describing the realities of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. ( Kaboom, by Matt Gallagher, is one of those) What really grabbed me about Lions of Kandahar is Rusty Bradley's talent for pulling the reader into the middle of the action...His descriptions felt so real to me that I was compelled to drink lots of water while reading about some of the prolonged firefights.
I have talked to a couple of acquaintances who are part of the Special Forces community, and know Major Bradley. These folks say he's the real deal, not a self-promoting poser, which validates the highly positive impression I formed from the way he described his philosophy of combat leadership, and relationship building with the Afghan people.
Anyone who is serious about gaining a perspective about why we are in Afghanistan, and whether we can truly accomplish anything more after the death of Osama Bin Laden, should definitely read this book.
If you don't also feel humbled and awed by these Special Operations warriors after the last page, then nothing will move you. I am truly grateful for what Major Bradley and his fellow Green Berets have accomplished, and sacrificed, since 2001.