Memorializing our veterans

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 12, 2005

My name is Alan Howard, and I am from Covington. I am contacting you to let you know that my family and I are among 1,825 plus other American families who have experienced a loss of a loved one due to the War on Terror.

On Aug. 11, 2004, we were notified by the United States Marines that my youngest brother, Sgt. John Ryan Howard, had been killed in a helicopter crash in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. Ryan, of Covington, was only 26 years old when he died. He was serving his country for the second time in Iraq, flying as a Crew Chief aboard a CH53E helicopter when it experienced engine failure and crashed. Through the wife of one of the other men onboard the helicopter who survived, we have been told that Ryan did not die as a result of the crash, he died as the result of trying to go back into the helicopter to save a fellow Marine.

Once inside the downed helicopter, it exploded and killed my brother and another man trapped inside. Three others survived the crash. Just so happens that the other Marine that was killed was also from Virginia. Lcpl. Tavon L. Hubbard of Reston was riding as an observer after picking up the days mail at FOB Duke. Tavon was only 23 and was a mail carrier headed back to Fallujea. Both men were with the 11th MEU, married and have children, and families who miss them very much.

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You should know, Ryan died doing exactly what he was raised to do, helping others. Through his strong family upbringing in western Virginia, and through his Marine Corp training, he knew that he could not leave Tavon behind. Ryan died doing exactly what I or our brother Derek would have done, trying to free Tavon from that downed helicopter. That is why it is so fitting for both men to have been buried together at Arlington National Cemetery. Due to the circumstances surrounding their deaths, and the way that they died, Ryan’s remains were mixed with those of Tavon. In saying this Ryan is actually buried in two places. Here in Covington, where he grew up, and in Arlington with Tavon. Ryan was buried with full military honors here in Covington on Aug. 24, 2004. Tavon and Ryan were both buried in Arlington with full military honors on Sept. 3, 2004. May they both rest in peace for their fight in this war is over!

In the last year since my brother’s passing, my family and I have been looking for ways to continue to help others in the honor and memory of Ryan. For example, we have established a scholarship fund in his name and awarded the scholarship for the first time this past May at the high school we all graduated from as kids and will continue to do so as long as we have funds available. All of the funds to date have been given to our family in memory of Ryan by family, friends, and from those we have never met.

Since Ryan’s passing, we’ve also had the chance to meet other families here in Virginia who have lost a loved one due to the War on Terror. We know what they are going through, as we live their lives daily. We stay in touch with these families because they are now a part of our family. This has been such a good way for us to heal, but still it feels as if we are just not doing enough to help these families.

So in June of 2005, I actively began to look for an organization that truly was helping all families of those servicemen lost in the War on Terror. An organization that I felt was trying to memorialize these fine young men and women for a job well done. Memorializing them forever in the hometowns, and communities of which they were born in, raised in, and loved so much.

After learning about the Department of Defense website &uot;AMERICASUPPORTSYOU.MIL&uot;, and after visiting that site, I located just that organization, Statues of Servicemen.

Statues of Servicemen, or the SOS Fund, is a 501/3/c organization that is associated with the National Heritage Foundation and is being endorsed by the Department of Defense. The SOS Fund, I truly believe, is going to memorialize every lost service member in the War on Terror. By doing so, the SOS Fund will keep the memories of those lost alive forever, and justly so for their sacrifices of life for freedom. The SOS Fund is creating life-like busts of those service members lost and presenting them to their families to be placed in town halls, parks, or governmental buildings in their hometown. An unveiling takes place with distinguished guests from the local, state and federal governments, as well as members of the armed services, and the families of those being honored. Corporate sponsors involved are also present for the presentation of the bust to the family, as well as representatives from the SOS Fund. This event is a major media event. To date, two busts have been unveiled in Tennessee, with hundreds (including my brothers) in line to be created and presented to their families. This project will take millions of dollars and approximately 10 to 15 years to complete with the current number of those lost. The majority of the money used for this project is generated through the sale of camo wristbands, and corporate and individual donations. All of which are totally tax deductible.

Since contacting the SOS Fund about applying for my brother’s bust, I have decided that I too want to help make the memories of those lost live on forever. In doing so, I have decided to join in and help the SOS Fund project by becoming an SOS Fund Project Director right here in Virginia. I have also taken on the responsibility of West Virginia too, due to its close proximity to Covington. Some 80 families in both Virginia’s now share what I share, the pain of losing a loved one in the War on Terror. What better reward could I receive than that of helping others keep the memory of their loved ones alive forever through the efforts of the SOS Fund?

In closing, I am coming to you for help. I need to get the word out to all of the other families in Virginia and West Virginia about the SOS Fund, and to tell my story about my brother who died helping another. Please go to our Web site, and take a look at the site for more details about the project. You can also look at the busts of the first two brave men that have been memorialized to date. You will also see how others can help by purchasing our camo wristbands. I am available for interviews with your reporter. To contact me by email, please use the address or by phone at 540-969-7458.

I look forward to hearing from you soon, but most of all thank you for helping to keep the memory of my brother and others like him alive forever.

Gregory A Howard of Covington


the SOS fund project director for Virginia and West Virginia.