- September 22, 2021
For many military families, the drumbeat of war and deployments of loved ones to war zones over the last twenty years heightened their senses of things once mundane — the honks, horns, waving flags — as long last looks and tight embraces at departure gave way to a throbbing beat inside their chest as the
For many military families, the drumbeat of war and deployments of loved ones to war zones over the last twenty years heightened their senses of things once mundane — the honks, horns, waving flags — as long last looks and tight embraces at departure gave way to a throbbing beat inside their chest as the countdown of days for homecoming began. The beat grew louder, sharper with every report of an improved explosive device (IED) blast, or a remote outpost in the dusty hills of Afghanistan under siege, or a ‘green-on-blue’ insider attack on base.
While many loved ones returned home, some never did. As Korean War veteran and purple heart recipient Howard William Osterkamp once poignantly shared, “All gave some; some gave all.”
Abe Howard, a native of Williamsport, gave all.
A Family of Marines & Musicians
Abram LaRue Howard hailed from a family of Marines and musicians.
One of three children to Bart and Connie Howard, Abe was surrounded by the lore and lure of service and song.
“He was a typical boy — very active,” Connie shares with a laugh. “He was a good kid, kind and caring. He and brother Alex played a lot with Legos and toys, played outside, and liked to hunt. They also loved playing music. Abram played violin, and when he went to high school, he started playing stand-up bass, acoustic and electric guitar, as well as mandolin.”
Alex played the cello, and their sister, Olivia, played the violin.
Every Thursday and Friday night, the family would get together for a ‘music fest’ to play music and share stories, Connie recalls. “Conversations at our dinner table were about Marines. And music.”
“Music is as much a part of our family lineage as the Marine Corp,” shares Bart. “My uncle was a musician who played guitar. My father taught himself how to play, and in turn, taught me and my mother. I’ve always considered playing music with my family a blessing — I mean, really, it’s a beautiful gift — and one I’ve been able to share with my children, too.”
Enlisting in the United States Marine Corps while he was still in high school, Abe followed in the footsteps of his father, who served as a Marine in the eighties, his paternal grandfather who served in Korea, his great uncle who died fighting in the Battle of Okinawa in WWII, and his maternal grandfather, becoming the twelfth Marine to serve in their combined families.
Abe chose to serve as an MP (military police) after boot camp. He planned to come home for ‘Family Day’ to see his family and sign pre-combat documentation before leaving for Camp LeJeune with his reservist unit.
Bart greeted his son at the airport. On the way home, ‘In Color,’ a song by country artist Jamey Johnson, played on the radio and immediately captivated Abe.
“Dad, we need to learn this song,” Abe told his father. “Play it again.”
Bart recalls they must have played the song ten more times.
The lyrics haunted both Marines.
And if it looks like we were scared to death
Like a couple of kids just tryna save each other
You should’ve seen it in color
Yeah, a picture’s worth a thousand words
But you can’t see what those shades of gray keep covered
You should’ve seen it in color
Abe’s unit deployed to Afghanistan on Super Bowl Sunday in 2010 for a six-month tour.
Just days before coming home, Connie spoke with Abe on the phone — they arranged his welcome home dinner (pies from Park Pizza) and his need for new clothes because of his weight loss.
“We were at Smokey Joe’s for wing night. Bart and Alex were leaving to go play music at our house. I was outside talking to friends, and my phone kept ringing. It was my daughter, Olivia. She said, ‘Mom, I don’t know what’s going on, but there are Marines here. You need to get home.’”
“And that’s when I knew it wasn’t good.”
When Everything Fades
The Howards became a Gold Star Family on July 27th, 2010. It’s not a membership any family wants.
Bill Keiser, longtime family friend, funeral director, and owner of Sanders Mortuary, coordinated Abe’s homecoming escort and services, and designed the stone marking his final resting place.
Over 6,000 people attended Abe’s military funeral honors and committal service held at Williamsport Area High School auditorium. Local filmmaker Carlos Saldivia captured the procession live and streamed it over the internet so Abe’s friends and fellow Marines in Afghanistan could bear witness remotely.
“The way this community and the Marine Corps came together to honor my son was truly astounding,” says Bart.
As he reflects on his son’s sacrifice, Bart shares, “I know in my mind, he truly was an asset to our community. A citizen raised up to be a veteran — to walk into a recruiter’s office in a time of conflict is an act of bravery. To go into harm’s way and leave every facet of security you ever knew— to do that — that is service to your country.”
Since Abe’s passing, Bart and Connie have looked for ways to give back to the community that helped raise and bury their son.
They became involved with the Central PA Chapter of Gold Star Families and have recently created and chaired the Lycoming County Gold Star Family Memorial Fund to design a Gold Star Family Memorial to be installed at the Lycoming County Veterans Memorial Park on Wahoo Drive.
“We’re not the only family in the area who has lost a son or daughter, husband or wife, in service to our country. And we want their service and sacrifice to be honored, too.”
The Lycoming County Gold Star Family Memorial, made of black granite, fades to feature the outline of a service member poised in hand salute, forever saluting those who gave all.
The memorial will be dedicated at a date in the near future (to be announced).
Rocking The Monument
To raise funds for the installation and maintenance of this memorial and other memorials at the park, the organization has partnered with the Community Arts Center to host a special event on Saturday, September 18th.
‘Rocking The Monument’ is a one-night-only event at the Community Arts Center featuring Bart Howard & The Mountain Road Band and Cass & The Bailout Crew.
Backed by seasoned local musicians, Bart Howard and the Mountain Road band will be performing tracks from their EP “Ain’t Dress Rehearsal,” including the tribute song to his son Abe — Bart’s rendition of ‘In Color.’
Bart recorded the song on the day of Abe’s birthday, June 15th, of this year. “I feel like this was his last wish,” Bart says. “He wanted so much to play this song together. So, I’m playing it for him.”
In addition to Howard’s set, local roots-rock band “Cass and The Bailout Crew” will be performing tracks from their album “Room to Breathe.”
Mountain Road band includes some familiar names from the local music scene featuring Mike Steppe (Guitar/Vocals), Cass Chatham (Vocals), Nick Laylon (Bass), Mike Wrench Jr. (Drums), Jimmy Lovcik (Organ), Chris Carithers (Guitar), Donny Saar (Steel Guitar, Banjo), Adam Seiferth (Guitar).
The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the box office or online at http://www.caclive.com.
All proceeds benefit the Central PA Gold Star Family Memorial Fund and their new scholarship fund.