Eli Page Howard, Jr.

He was one of the greatest all-around athletes (arguably the greatest) in Pelham history, so talented that he had a chance to become a professional ballplayer.  Instead, he opted to enlist in the military and went on to serve a tour in Korea and two more in Vietnam.  He was killed in action when his helicopter was shot down by the Viet Cong.  His name was Eli Page Howard, Jr., known by all as “Tim,” and he was a 1946 graduate of Pelham Memorial High School.   On this Memorial Day, we remember and honor him as one of the many from Pelham who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.

Tim Howard was born in Chicago March, 26, 1928 and moved with his family at an early age to Pelham where they lived at 224 Fourth Avenue (once located behind the current firehouse, but which sadly no longer stands).  His parents worked as domestic help: his father, a veteran of WWI, was a chauffeur and gardener, his mother, a housekeeper and cook. Tim received his first communion at St. Catharine’s Church and attended Hutchinson Elementary School (where he sang in the Glee Club) and Pelham Middle School (where he was a boy scout).  As a student at Pelham Memorial High School, he lettered in three sports.

On the baseball field, Tim had a batting average of .333 as a freshman.  He started at third base and went on to become a star pitcher on the varsity team, called by the nickname “Fireball” by The Pelham Sun. In a famous game against Bronxville in his junior year, he was expected to pitch half the game.  But after throwing a no hitter for the first three innings, the coach kept him on the mound. He went on to pitch his first no-hit, no-run game. 

PMHS Baseball Team.  Tim Howard is front row, second from left. Photo from Tim Howard Scrapbook, courtesy of the Howard Family.

His basketball skills were pushed into play as a sophomore when stars of the PMHS team began departing for service in WWII. Legendary PMHS phys-ed director and coach Carl Schilling tapped Tim, who helped turn the tide of the season and to take the team to the county semi-finals. Soon after arriving on the court, The Pelham Sun gave him a new nickname of “Mitts” because “he has the fastest moving hands we’ve seen on a basketball player in a long time…. This year, ‘Mitts’ has gone into the scoring game and brother, he’s firing with both barrels and not missing.” In his last game at PMHS playing center, he was the team high scorer with 18 of 37 points.

PMHS Basketball Team, c. 1944.  Tim Howard is Number 16. Photo from Tim Howard Scrapbook, courtesy of the Howard Family.

It was no different on the football field. Tim played halfback in the old “single-wing formation,” a variation of which put him in the role of a modern quarterback. Every week of his senior year season, Tim made headlines. “Pelicans Conquer Isaac Young 19-0 as Howard and Tracy Star in Opener,” said The Pelham Sun in October 1945. Two weeks later, the paper blared “Pelicans Swamp Eastchester 42-0; Howard Stars, Scoring Twice And Passes for Three More Touchdowns.”

As in basketball, his coach was Carl Schilling and Tim led PMHS to an undefeated and untied season, the first since 1934 and the last in Pelham’s history. In the final game of his PMHS career, The Pelham Sun headline was “Pelham Proves Pleasantville Panthers just Pets” and reported that:

“Once again, it was Eli (Tim) Howard, Coach Carl Schilling’s indispensable man, who showed that it is he who carries the Pelham fortunes squarely on his gangling shoulders and strong right arm. Playing his last game in a Pelham uniform, Howard tallied three touchdowns and an extra point, pitched two scoring passes, did the kicking, intercepted passes and tackled ferociously. In his spare time, he ripped off 90 yards in 12 attempts rushing, thus belying the report that he is a passer and kicker only.  Just how valuable Howard is to the Blue and White is shown in the fact that of the 461 yards gained in various ways by the Pelicans, he was responsible for 273. By the time the Pelham star was through perpetrating assorted atrocities on the hapless Panthers, they were only too glad that it was the last time they would have to face him.” 

The PMHS Football Team, November, 1944.  Tim Howard is number 74.
Photo from the Town Historian Collection.

Tim made All-County and, receiving an overwhelming number of votes, was voted Westchester County’s Most Valuable Player. For all his success, he carried no bravado. “He was just a genuinely nice, soft-spoken guy,” says Dr. Jim McElhinney, life-long Pelham resident and one of his few surviving PMHS classmates. “Everyone liked him.”

Tim Howard with Coach Carl Schilling.  Photo from Tim Howard scrapbook courtesy of Howard Family.

After graduating PMHS, Tim entered the U.S. Marine Corps, was honorably discharged as a Corporal after one year and entered Morgan State College (now University) as a Cadet ROTC Officer. Once again, he starred on the football team (as quarterback in the modern T formation) and, again as co-captain, led his team to an undefeated season.   One press report stated that he was "recognized as one of the smartest quarterbacks in collegiate football."  He also continued to play basketball and was described in the college newspaper: “Like a tiger while in action, Tim is shrewd, cunning, dangerous and powerful. He has kept the team together and the morale of the boys high with his driving, fighting spirit, throughout the season.”

Morgan State had no baseball team, but Tim wasn’t about to give up his third sport so he played in the minor leagues for two years, first for a Bronx team called the “Williamsbridge nine” and then for a team in Baltimore. In his senior year (just three years after Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers), he was invited to try out for the New York Yankees. He chose instead to enter the military.

At graduation, he received an award as the most outstanding ROTC cadet and another award for the best student of military science and tactics. While a star in football, basketball and ROTC and playing minor league baseball, he still found time to court a young lady named Joan Graves, whom he married a year later.

Tim Howard in team uniform as a player on the Williamsbridge nine minor league baseball team.  Photo from Tim Howard scrapbook, courtesy of the Howard Family.

Tim entered the service as a Second Lieutenant, United States Army Reserve and received further training before serving in the Korean Conflict.  In the early 1950s, he was the Grand Marshal of the Pelham Memorial Day Parade.  “Tim loved the army. When he got back from Korea, there was no chance of him doing anything else,” Joan would later say.  After being stationed in Germany, he signed up for a tour in Vietnam and then volunteered for a second, serving as commander of the Third Battalion, 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

Eli P. Howard, Assistant Commander of the 3rd Armored Division trooping the line during farewell ceremony for Brig. General Creighton W. Abrams (front right), who was the departing 3rd Armored Division Commander, Frankfurt, Germany, April 20, 1960.
Photo Courtesy of the Howard Family.

Tim was a highly-decorated officer.  In one of his many acts of bravery, he was ambushed and wounded but fought his way back to base.  Once treated, he immediately travelled back on the same road to warn another unit of the hiding enemy, saving many American lives.  He never told his wife he had been wounded, according to his daughter, Lisa Shacklette.  In a recent interview with the Pelham Town Historian she said, "Mom found out for the first time at the award ceremony [when he received the purple heart]."

In a letter to a 2003 Morgan State conference on "African Americans in the Korean War," one of his fellow officers, Donald R. Brown, wrote about how Tim saved an entire platoon on a mission from a place called "Heartbreak Ridge" in Korea and opened his eyes to the importance of Army integration.  Ammunition rations had been imposed, he said "because some nitwit political appointees in the Pentagon thought that if the ammunition supply was limited, there couldn’t be any offensive actions by US forces and a peace treaty would be signed."   When the platoon was attacked and surrounded, he said: 

 "The only thing that saved us was the accurate, supporting mortar fire from Tim’s platoon. He skillfully directed the fire so that we were able to get back to our lines. In so doing, he fired more than the rationed amount of ammunition and later, Tim was chewed out by the Battalion Commander for firing more than he was allowed to do. Tim told the Battalion Commander in no uncertain terms that was far as he was concerned, there was no such thing as rationed ammunition when US soldiers needed support.  To me, Tim was a hero, as he was to all the men in our battalion. The Battalion Commander later saw that he had been wrong and apologized to Tim."

LTC Brown closed his letter by saying "To me, Tim wasn’t a 'black officer.'  He was an outstanding Army officer… PERIOD!"  

LTC Eli P. Howard receives the Legion of Merit from Brigadier General Edward Bautz, Jr., Director of Military Personnel Policies, OCDSPER, in ceremony held at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., January 10, 1969.  Photo Courtesy of the Howard Family

In 1965, the famous LA Times foreign correspondent, Jack Foisie, reported from Vietnam that “Eli (Tim) Howard is one of 5,000 American officers … who train, fight – and not infrequently dies – in the swamp and jungle of Viet Nam.”  On August 19, 1969, Tim and six other soldiers along with an Associated Press photographer were in a helicopter that was struck, caught fire and crashed.  In the following days, three companies of infantry, battled their way through 31 miles of hostile territory to reach the wreckage.  They found no survivors.  Tim’s body was identified and transported back to the United States where he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, a row over from his parents.  He left behind a widow and five children, ages 17 to 6.  He was 41 years old.

“Even though he was killed in Vietnam, he died doing something he felt strongly about," his two daughters recently told the Pelham Town Historian. "He served through the integration of the Army.  He loved his country through all its ups and downs.  He saw hope in this country and its people.”  From conversations with his children, it is a legacy that they clearly carry on.

Eli Page "Tim" Howard, Jr.
March 26, 1928 - August 19, 1969

U.S. Marine Corps July 1946 - July 1947 Bachelor of Science, Morgan State College (University), 1951
Graduate, U.S. Army Infantry School Officer Advanced Course, 1957

Ranks: Second Lieutenant Infantry U.S. Army Reserve, June 5, 1950
Promoted to Captain, 1951
Regular Army Second Lieutenant Infantry, February 5, 1954
Promoted to Captain, July 9, 1956 Promoted to Lieutenant June 2, 1957 Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel

Legion of Merit & Oak Leaf Cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Star Medal & Oak Leaf Cluster
Purple Heart & Oak Leaf Cluster
Air Medal
Army Commendation Medal Award & Ribbon

Thank you to Dr. James McElhinney (PMHS ’46) for inspiring this article and to Lisa Shacklette, daughter of Tim Howard who generously shared information and photos from her family’s scrapbook about her father.

Sources: Tim Howard no-hitter game: F. Teekay, "Skimming the Sports," p 4, The Pelham Sun, May 17, 1945, p. 4; Tim Howard called "Mitts" by F. Teekay, "Skimming the Sports," The Pelham Sun, December 21, 1944, p. 10; "Howard Voted MVP 1945 Gridiron," The Herald-Statesman (Yonkers, NY), December 19, 1945, p. 10; "1945 All County Football Team," The Herald Statesman (Yonkers, NY), December 6, 1945, p.21;  The Pelham Sun, November 21, 1945, p. 3; Recognized as smartest collegiate quarterback, New York Age, October 29, 1949, p 21;  The Daily Argus, December 18, 1945, p. 8; The Baltimore Afiro-American, June 3, 1950, “Morgan Honors R.O.T.C. Officer – Lieut. Col. E.P. Howard Wins Two Military Awards; Try-out with Yankees from Farrara, F., "Skimming the Sports," The Pelham Sun (undated) from Tim Howard Scrapbook, courtesy of Howard Family; "Heroic Maj. Howard Gets 3 Awards for Viet Duty," The Belvoir Castle (Fort Belvoir, Virginia), April 8, 1966;  Foisie, Jack, “U.S. Advisor’s Life Hazardous in Viet Nam,” Los Angeles Times News Service (The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), April 18, 1965); Obituary, Washington Post, August 30, 1969, p. B3.

Arthur L. Scinta, Town Historian

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