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DROP IN ANYTIME…. Part Two

Viet Cong prisoner being interrogated by Colonel Howey in 1968. His face was hidden by the sand bag to protect his identity while he informed on other VC seated in the gathering. Submitted

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of Vietnam. One day, August 19, 1969 I found a tunnel. When I pulled on the handle, the VC pulled back. I started to pull harder and I believe I was breaking his knuckles. Finally, he let go and I fell backwards with the cement cover. At the same time he threw a grenade up. It was an American M-26 hand grenade which has a three-second delay. He wasn’t counting on that, or my head would have been blown off. He threw it up and it fell back down and killed him. Funny thing was, I can see legs standing next to me and it was my young team clerk. He was about to go home in a week, but he wanted to go into the field just once. He said he had never been in the field and couldn’t go home after all this time without having the experience. After a lot of discourse with the Team Commander, I said it would be okay. Nothing much was expected to happen in the area we were headed. After the grenade blew up, I looked around and here are these legs standing next to me. I said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ He said, ‘I thought it was a frog!’ I said, ‘That’s it! Get back to my jeep and go back to headquarters. I’ll radio when I want to be picked up! I am not sending you home in a casket!’ So I sent him back to our headquarters. It turned out there was quite a bit more contact with the VC that day so I’m glad he wasn’t with us. However, I was very proud of him for wanting to go into the field.”

“When Grenada came around, I was the Defense and Naval Attaché to Jamaica. I was pulled out of my job as the G2 (senior intelligence officer in the division) to the First Marine Division. Washington knew this thing was building up and it was my job to convince the Jamaican Defense Force to go in with us. The State Department was working with Prime Minister Seaga, and I was working with Brigadier General Neish because we didn’t want it to look like this was a U.S. intervention only. We wanted the different islands in the Caribbean to contribute troops so we could say this effort wasn’t just Americans; it was all of us. Eventually that is what happened. So the night we were to fly the Jamaicans to Barbados to join up with the Marines, I got a call from BGen Neish. It was my birthday and he was at my house for a party when he got a call from the Prime Minister to report to his home. Neish went to the Prime Minister and immediately called me and said, ‘Bill, can you come to Up Park Camp (his headquarters)?’ I went over, and he said the communists on the island had sabotaged the Air Jamaica aircraft that was to fly the Jamaicans to Barbados. ‘I don’t have any way to get my troops there.’ I went back to the Embassy, picked up my secure telephone, called the White House, and said, ‘I’m so-and-so and I want to talk with the senior military person on duty.’ This lovely voice (Fawn Hall) came on the line and said, ‘Yes, Lieutenant Colonel North is on duty tonight.’ I said, ‘Get him on the phone.’ Ollie came on and said, ‘What do you want?’ After inquiring about the beauty of the lovely voice, I stated the situation and he said he’d call me back in fifteen minutes. He did. He informed me I’d have two U.S. Air Force aircraft coming, and they would be there at about 2 a.m. I went back and told B.Gen. Neish, and we got the troops to the airfield. They were disciplined and we got them on the planes. They arrived in Barbados a half hour before the scheduled movement to Grenada.”

“There are a lot of observations you can make between Vietnam, WWII, Afghanistan, and Iraq servicemen and woman. With each succeeding war, the servicemen were better educated and had better technology. We’ve come up with more lethal ways to kill people than one could think of twenty-thirty years ago. But there really is no difference between the troops of each era. They’re hometown American kids across pretty much the entire social and economic spectrum of our society, though I served with more poor kids and kids from the middle class, than with rich ones. Today, troops have an opportunity to get an education, although I am not sure they take advantage of it. Certainly, our service men and woman have the opportunity–more so than ever before in history.”

Greeting left to right, Marge and Bill Howey, Vice-President George and Barbara Bush. Submitted

“My retirement from the military was forced. In 1986, the Commandant of the Marine Corps came out with a letter stating that any officer who had thirty years or more service had to retire by the first of October. I received a call from Washington saying, ‘Bill, the Commandant wants you to know this does not apply to you.’ He said, ‘We’re putting you in for Colonel.’ I reported to Washington and, lo and behold, I was out running and something happened. I wound up in the hospital where they found out I had heart disease. When that happens that is the end of the career; you have to leave. I spent one year in the Pentagon preparing for retirement. I hated the place! The powers that be told me I was going to be the direct representative of the General in charge of Marine Corps Intelligence to the Admiral for Naval Intelligence. Right! I was a Lieutenant Colonel and I had five Navy Captains layered between me and the Admiral. I said, ‘This is never going to continue.’ I was unhappy to retire. But I was happy to leave the Pentagon! A wonderful thing did happen to me just before I left the Corps. I got a call from the Assistant Division Commanding General of the First Marine Division in California. Brigadier General Cates said, ‘Bill, we hear you’re very unhappy in the Pentagon.’ He said, ‘If we can work it out, would you be willing to take over the G2 again?’ I said, ‘I would, but they found out I have heart disease and have to retire.’ This great general wanted to save my career, but because of the disease I wasn’t able to do it. That was the greatest thing! To know I was really wanted. I have never forgotten Brigadier General Cates’ call!”

“When I was sitting at home recuperating from being vastly overmedicated by the VA hospital in Bethesda, MD, my wife would watch the soap operas. I could always guess what was going to happen next. ‘This is going to happen, she’s going to say . . .,’ etc. After about a year, she said, ‘Enough! Get out! Get out of the house. Get a job! I started to look for one when she said, ‘Bill, you always loved kids and teaching. Why don’t you go up and get your certification?’ I went to the area college. I wouldn’t even name it in the book because, here I was with a Master’s Degree, but they wouldn’t give me a teaching certificate unless I did one year at their school. It was the worst educational year of my life! The courses and professors were horrible. I had to pass a Pennsylvania state teachers’ exam, and when I found out there was geometry, trigonometry and algebra on it, I told my wife there was no way I’d pass it. None of the educational courses taught math, and all I had was the basic addition, subtraction, etc. The results came on New Year’s Eve, our anniversary. My wife asked if I wanted to open the letter or wait a couple of days, and I said, ‘Go ahead.’ She screamed, ‘Bill you passed! I put my name in for a teaching job and there were 435 applications for one social studies job. They selected me. I had a wonderful time teaching for the next fifteen years.”

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Howey at home on Marco Island. Photo by Val Simon

“I took on teaching because I wanted to give something back to society. I had been so lucky in my life. In the last year before I left the high school, the principal told me I had to hold all my classes in the auditorium. My audience would consist of my students, students from study halls, teachers, parents, and the superintendent and his staff. These people wanted to hear my version of history and government as I lived it. When I reached my final day at school I had been honored as the 1999 Montgomery and Berks County Teacher of the Year and had been nominated for Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers for twelve straight years. Teaching was incredibly rewarding. I can’t tell you how many of the kids have kept in touch with me! On my last day of school, all these students came walking out of the cafeteria, filling the hallway and carrying this big banner wishing me well. It was signed by half the high school. The kids told me the other half didn’t get a chance to sign it. It was unbelievable. I had to work my tail off to get the kids to work at their potential. Those who did still stay in touch by e-mail. When I sold my book up there, my new wife, Cindy, said, ‘I don’t believe this. The whole town of Boyertown, PA is out there!’”

“About 1990, my first wife and I started to visit different cities along the Gulf Coast looking for a place to retire. One year, I said, ‘What about this Marco Island place?’ We finally looked into Marco around 1996 and by 1998, the Marriott employees would ask me, ‘Mr. Howey, would you like the same room next year?’ I lost my wife during a liver transplant operation in 2002. I continued to come to Marco Island and, by 2004, I knew I had to make a move. I had lost Marge, but had kept teaching for two more years after that. Thank God! I don’t know what I would’ve become. I knew if I didn’t retire, I’d never write the book. But, before I retired, I came down for one last visit. As I was walking down the beach by myself, I told myself, ‘I am coming to Marco!’ I went back to the hotel and was walking through the corridor, when I heard one of the managers say, ‘Mr. Marriott, I would like you to meet one of our loyal customers.’ I was introduced. We went into the office and talked about the hotel and Marco Island. I told him what a wonderful place Marco Island was; how nice the hotel was; and how great the people were on Marco, especially his employees. We parted ways. About a week later, this crate was delivered to my front door. It was a statue of dolphins from Mr. Marriott and the manager. One of my friends in Boyertown fell in love with it, so when I came down I gave it to her.”

“There was a group of eight women in the high school who would do all sorts of nice things for people when they were sick. Dealing with my wife’s illness was time consuming and these ladies would cook, clean, get groceries, whatever was needed to help any teacher in distress. They never expected anything in return and never sought recognition for what they did. After I retired down here, I said it was time someone did something for them. I made arrangements for them to fly to Marco Island for a week with all expenses paid. I had them picked up by a limo in Boyertown, and another limo picked them up in Fort Myers. When they walked down the steps, each one was wearing a T-shirt that read I am Bill’s girl. Then they handed me a t-shirt that read, I am Bill! It was very entertaining for the passengers at the old terminal.”

“I can thank my second wife, Cindy for my being here today. We were about to be married when I went in to take a physical exam on a Wednesday and was told I had to go under the knife first thing Monday morning. They planned to do four arteries, but when they got in they had to do all five. Dr. Schultz came by to see me the next day and said, ‘You had about six weeks to six months to live–they were that bad. Now you have twenty-four or so more years.’ Meeting Cindy saved my life!”

“Advice or wisdom I’d like to pass on regarding the global conditions today? I am convinced the planet is divided between good and evil. I have learned that, while we like to always portray ourselves as being the good guys, we aren’t always. My advice would be to NEVER TRUST OUR GOVERNMENT! You must always be vigilant, take part in it, and understand it. And protest! I love what the Tea Party is doing. They are actually making people on both sides sit up and pay attention. More power to them if we can clean out the rats’ nest that is our government. Protesting is one of the only things humanly possible we can do that these politicians understand. I am so angry at this country right now! The politicians have taken this country over for themselves. There are 535 people who don’t give a damn about the American people! Quite frankly, I am incredibly worried about where this country is going. We have lost our credibility around the world. We are hated in half the world; and it is all because of the way these politicians treat other countries. So my advice; DON’T TRUST YOUR GOVERNMENT!”

“My life has been wonderful! That is why I wanted to write a book. When I was teaching the kid’s would say, ‘Mr. Howey, you’ve got to write a book. You’ve got to put this down in writing.’ When I married Cindy, I started Hard Knocks and Straight TalkFrom the Jungles of Vietnam to the American Classroom. It is still selling on Amazon.”

Reflecting on his years of service, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Howey said, “Until the day I die, I believe God was, and is, looking out for me. Vietnam certainly tested my faith, but HE won out. I attend the Marco Island Lutheran Church, and I believe it is the best Lutheran church I’ve ever attended anywhere.”


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