The Georgia Virtue Veteran Spotlight Series features veterans in communities around Georgia that humbly and selflessly served our country. The series is sponsored by Femac Security Solutions.
Born in 1944, Mr. Gilbert Emerson Howard is a veteran of the United States Navy. A native of Bulloch County’s Brooklet, Ga, Howard comes from a family of servants to the community. His grandfather, John Belcher, was the city fire chief and at the ripe age of 15, Howard would respond to fires in town alongside him. His father served in the U.S. Army in the Pacific in World War II and one of Gil’s brothers served in the U.S. Air Force.
Gilbert E. Howard is the oldest of the six Howard children and in anticipation of receiving a draft notice in November 1962, he decided to enlist in the armed services. He traveled to Savannah to meet with a recruiter for the U.S. Marines and ended up signing up with the U.S. Navy recruiter. He was 18.
Shortly after, the South Georgia native was sent to Chicago, Illinois and spent roughly eight weeks there during some of the coldest days of the year. “For a country boy in a corn field, you just don’t know what a culture shock is until you’ve gone from Brooklet to Ice City,” he said.
After training, Howard was told he would best serve in communications and he was sent back south to Pensacola, Florida. There, he was in Top Deck school but just a few days before the end of the course, he fell ill and was unable to test out. The sickness left him with permanent damage to the ear and hearing loss, so while standards dictated that if you didn’t complete the school with your class, you had no other opportunity to complete the school, it did not mean Howard was unable to serve. He was subsequently transferred to Norfolk, Virginia where he awaited his orders.
Howard moved to the naval base in Goose Creek, South Carolina roughly twenty-five miles northeast of Charleston. There, he worked with a team of five others on guidance systems of ships – installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting, all of which required a heightened security clearance. It’s also where a Polaris Missile was built.
But his service called for time at sea and not long after, Howard was sent ‘down the road’ to NWS Charleston, which supported the local submarine squadrons and provided room to store over 27 million tons of artillery and equipment. There, he boarded the USS Charles F. Adams DDG-2, or what he and his fellow seamen called ‘The Charlie 2.’ The ship was the lead ship of her class of guided missile destroyers for the Navy, commissioned in 1960 with the motto “First in class, second to none.” The 437 foot long ship carried 24 officers and 330 enlisted seamen.
“You’re on a guided missile destroyer, you’re gone from home more than you’re home,” Howard said. “I loved it. Ain’t nothin’ better than that,” Howard said of his time out at sea.
Howard was aboard the Charlie 2 when President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. He spoke of the positions his ship – and nearly every other – did that day, as they awaited the news of who was responsible for killing the President of the United States. “It was a dark day and we were ready for anything,” he said.
Howard and his fellow Seamen on The Charlie 2 traveled all over the eastern coast, up to the Arctic Circle, down to Puerto Rico, and ultimately to the Mediterranean, making stops in Italy, Spain, and a number of other places.
He beamed as he spoke of how people responded to American naval ships porting in their cities. “They gave us the town. We couldn’t pay for anything – flags everywhere, they fed us, they were just overjoyed that we were there,” he said. “It was amazing.”
In August of 1965, 21-year-old Howard married his wife, Bobbie, who was 18. They had known each other since childhood and he once responded to a fire at her house when he was helping his grandfather. Bobbie would visit him in Charleston and their marriage meant that the $78 per month salary he earned was doubled. This ultimately allowed Bobbie to move to Charleston and rent an apartment to await Gil’s return, as he left again one month after they were married. He laughed about their ability to keep an apartment, buy a car, put food on the table, and have money in their pockets on the money they had.
The Charlie 2 was home for Howard until November 1, 1966. “I was just your average sailor,” Howard said of his years in the service. “I enjoyed it and wanted to leave but wasn’t ready to leave.” He and Bobbie returned to Brooklet to begin their life together.
He and Mrs. Bobbie have now been married for 56 years and they still reside in the quaint town of Brooklet in a home that once belonged to his grandmother. They have one son, Sean, a daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. Over the years, Howard has done many things – working as a mechanic, selling insurance, infiltrating the restaurant industry, and serving as a volunteer firefighter in town. But his service laid the foundation for all of it. “It turned me into the way I turned out.”
At age 77, Howard still has nothing but pride for his service. “It structures life…but it taught me one of the most important things I ever learned: there is a realization that you owe your country something. You owe your nation respect,” he said, mentioning that that means different things for different people. “But what you owe your country, you also owe your community…because we are all here together.”
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