Gregory C. Howman – Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
No. 926-04

DoD Identifies Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lance Corporal Gregory C. Howman, 28, of Charlotte, North Carolina, died September 15, 2004, due to enemy action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.  Howman was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California.


Gregory Howman

Charlotte Marine killed by Iraq blast

The family of a Charlotte Marine killed in Iraq last week can't seem to escape tragedy.

Lance Corporal Gregory Howman's mother died suddenly six weeks ago at his sister's home in the Florida Panhandle. Less than two weeks after the funeral, Howman — the family hero, who joined the Marines to fight for his country after 9-11 — shipped out for his second tour of duty.

Then last Tuesday, his sister's family had to flee their home as Hurricane Ivan stalked the coast. It slammed their neighborhood the next day.

Staying with relatives in Alabama on Wednesday night, Howman's sister heard the news: An explosion had killed her brother while he was on patrol in Anbar province.

It doesn't end there. When Howman's family gathered in Charlotte to mourn, they were greeted with more bad news: Their stepmother had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

“I don't think we can get hit again,” said Howman's sister, Rebecca Lehmann. “I don't think I can take it. I can't have the breath knocked out of me any more.”

Somehow, though, Lehmann sat calmly in her father's home Monday near Pineville, talking about her little brother. She told an aunt on the phone that she felt strangely peaceful. “I guess I'm out of tears,” she said.

She'll cry again. Maybe at the memorial service Friday. Maybe next week, when Howman, who was 28, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. A commanding officer recommended him for a Purple Heart, the Marines said Monday.

He's the second serviceman from Charlotte killed in action in Iraq. Army infantryman Chris Hill, who was 26, died March 11, 2004. Some 43 soldiers from the Carolinas have died in Iraq since the conflict began.

Baseball and the Marines

Howman and his sister were born in Atlanta, but they grew up in Charlotte. Howman always seemed to be playing baseball, or watching baseball, or talking about baseball, his sister recalls.He was a 6-foot-5 lefty, made to play first base, which he did for the Park Sharon Athletic League and Olympic High School.

And he loved the New York Yankees. Even in Iraq, he'd call home and ask how they were doing in the pennant race.

Howman also talked about being a Marine when he grew up. He didn't graduate from Olympic — he was one of those people who just don't fit in school, his sister said — but he earned his GED.

He got work with a residential stone distributor and put off joining the service. He had a job, a serious girlfriend and a black lab named Maverick.

Then terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, and Howman wanted to help fight back. “I think like a lot of people after Sept. 11, he just felt like he had to do something,” Lehmann said.

A determined recruit

He was 25 then, older than most recruits. He failed the entrance exam three times and almost gave up. But his father, Gary Howman, told him not to quit if this was what he really wanted. The fourth time, Greg passed.

He lost 40 pounds in boot camp. His unit, based at Camp Pendleton in California, was one of the first to cross the Kuwaiti border into Iraq when the war started in March 2003.

He served there for 10 months, mostly north and west of Baghdad, sleeping on cots in a train station for a while. Howman was so much older than the rest of his unit that the recent high school graduates called him “Grandpa.”

“He felt this responsibility for the younger kids,” Lehmann said. When a comrade lost a leg, he told her the Marine had a young wife and kids back home and said, “It should have been me.”

After nearly a year back in the United States, Howman was ready to return to Iraq. His sister said he felt like he was really helping people there. He loved giving the Iraqi kids his meals or the candy she sent him in care packages.

In photos he sent home from the desert, Howman is smiling.

An unexpected loss

His unit was shipping back when his mother, Hannah Howman, died in July at 64. She'd been diagnosed with cancer nine years ago and had lived long past the doctors' estimates.Still, her death was a surprise. She'd been living with Lehmann and her family in Florida. Lehmann came home for lunch one day and found that her mother had passed away.

The American Red Cross helped Howman come home for the funeral while his unit deployed to Anbar province. He acted a little strangely that week in Florida, Lehmann remembers. He told her and his father how much he loved them — the kind of thing the usually stoic Marine would never say.

And he told them if he died, he wanted his life insurance to put his nieces through college.

“It was almost like God knew we needed that time with him,” Lehmann said.

Deadly explosion

The Marines haven't told Lehmann and her father exactly how Howman died yet. The military said an explosive device killed him, but the family doesn't know if it was a mine, a roadside bomb or something else.

They know the explosion, during a late night patrol, peppered the left side of his body with shrapnel. He was helicoptered out but died less than an hour later, early Wednesday morning.

The Marines came to Gary Howman's door in Charlotte on Wednesday night. Lehmann got the call in Alabama, where she had evacuated with her husband, daughter and their three cats as Ivan stormed ashore.

Monday, they got their first bit of good news in a while: A friend called from Florida to say that even though Ivan had trashed most of their neighborhood, their house is still standing.

A sign, perhaps, of hope.

Lehmann managed to conjure up smiles and laughter while remembering her brother. And she talked about how she and her father hope to say goodbye.

After Howman's funeral, they want to go to a game at Yankees Stadium, to see the team he loved so much. They'll bring one of his baseball hats with him.

Then when the game is over, they'll leave it behind.


Lance Corporal Gregory Howman's family plans a memorial service in his honor Friday at 2 p.m. at McEwen Funeral Home, 10500 Park Road in Pineville. It will follow a visitation at 1 p.m.

A Marine honor guard will accompany his remains to Charlotte and stand guard during the services.

On September 27, 2004, Howman will be transferred to Arlington National Cemetery, where he'll be buried with full military honors at 3 p.m. on September 29, 2004.

Information on where to donate in Howman's honor has not been decided. His obituary will appear in Wednesday's Observer.

Families struggle on

Cierra Hill knows her daddy from his photos.

And from his gravestone.

Six months ago, Charlotte buried its first soldier lost in the Iraq war. Cierra's father, Army Specialist Chris Hill, died at 26 when a roadside bomb ripped his Humvee.

Cierra visits his gravesite often. At 20 months, she's learning to walk and talk. She looks at the granite headstone and knows that's where daddy is.

Now a second man from Charlotte has lost his life in the war. Marine Lance Corporal Gregory Howman's body arrived home Wednesday. An explosion killed him last week while on patrol.

Three Marines escorted Howman's flag-draped coffin to a funeral home in Pineville, where they'll stand as an honor guard at his Friday memorial service. Howman, who was 28, will be buried Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Hill's widow, Cheryl, plans to be there Friday, reaching out to Howman's family and sharing their pain and loss.

“They're not by themselves,” Cheryl Hill said. “I know where they're standing right now, and it's the worst feeling in the world.”

The hurt will get better, she said. But it takes time.

Her two-year wedding anniversary was September 7, 2004, and her sisters sent her flowers and candy. Cheryl appreciated the gesture, but it just didn't feel right.

“I tried to sleep the day away that day,” said Cheryl, who is 25. “It didn't work too well.”

It's Cierra who gives Cheryl a reason to get out of bed in the morning, her mother, Chris Cope, said.

Cheryl works part-time at her parents' business, and she's building a house on Lake Wylie where Cierra can grow up safe and happy. But mostly, she takes care of her daughter. And like any mother raising a child alone, she has good days and bad ones.

“My sister has twins now,” Cheryl said. “She has a husband to help her. When she needs to get out of the house for 30 minutes, he's there to help.

“I don't have that.”

Cheryl and Chris met through a friend in early 2002. Chris was still in the Army, based in Washington, D.C. His first tour of duty ended in July and they got married in September.

Cierra was born in January 2003, and Chris reported for his second enlistment in May.

He loved his family, Cheryl said, but he needed to be in the Army. It was the only place he fit.

“He had a hard time keeping a job when he came out,” Cheryl said. “There, he always knew his job. Was always good at it. When the war started, he wanted to go back in. That was what he had trained for.”

Cheryl supports what her husband did and still supports the war. But it gets harder, she said. She's always thinking: Why did it have to happen? Why did he have to die? Is it doing any good?

“Don't get me wrong. I think what he did was very brave. But for me, as a wife, it was very hard to accept that he was going away from his wife, from his daughter.

“More than anything, I regret that we didn't have more time.”

She has photos of Chris, from their wedding and in uniform. And she has songs that remind her of him. “Brown Eyed Girl,” which he always sang karaoke to. Elvis' “Can't Help Falling in Love,” which he sang as she walked down the aisle on their wedding day.

But it's Cierra who reminds her of him the most. She has Chris' curly hair and green eyes. She even laughs like him.

“At first I was like, `No, take after me,' ” said Cheryl, who's much quieter and more shy than her husband. “But it's a good thing now.

“She's going to realize at some point that she's not a lot like me, and she's going to want to know where that came from. He was a great person, and luckily for her, she's just like him. She's identically like him. As long as she continues to be the way she is, she will always have her daddy.”

Chris Hill's platoon arrives home from Iraq in less than two weeks at Fort Riley, Kan. It's a day Cheryl had been looking forward to since Chris joined the Army a second time.

“I don't forget,” she said. “Every day I think about Chris, the good times. What could have been, what should have been. Him walking off that plane.

“But I try to just be completely honest with myself, to say this is what happened, this is how it is, and this is what I have to do.”

She still plans to be there. She'll watch the men who served with Chris, the last men who saw him alive. She'll watch them hug their wives and girlfriends, see them scoop up their laughing children.

She and Cierra will be waiting, too. Alone. Together.

• For more information about Cierra Hill, including how to donate to the Cierra Hill Foundation, go to

• Memorials in honor of Lance Cpl. Gregory Howman may be made to Marine Corps Community Service, Commanding General, Attention: John B. Sollis, Marine Corps Base, PSC Box 20004, Camp Lejeune, NC 28542-0004.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – A 28-year-old Marine from Charlotte, N.C. – the nephew of two Marion women – was killed by an explosive September 16, 2004, while serving in Iraq's Al Anbar Province.

Lance Corporal Gregory Howman was the son of 1955 St. Mary graduate Gary Howman and the late Hannah Morgan Howman, also of Marion.

Gregory Howman's death was one of several tragedies the family has been dealing with in recent weeks, as the soldier had just returned to the war after attending his mother's funeral.

“I ran out of tears a long time ago,” Becky Howman-Lehmann of Navarre, Florida, said “I have to remain strong now for my dad. He's had a lot to deal with and is not doing real good right now. He still can't talk to anyone about Gregory.”

Howman joined the Marines about three years ago, his sister told the Star.

“He had talked about being a Marine while he was growing up,” Howman-Lehmann said. “He had always been patriotic. But after the September 11 terror attacks, there was something that brought that up again.”

She said he had signed up for service late but it was what he always wanted to do, and he was able to live out his dream.

“Gregory was one of the best patriotic people I knew,” she said. “He loved his flag and he loved his country.”

Howman was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division I Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, California. His unit was one of the first to cross the Kuwaiti border into Iraq when the war started in March of 2003. He had been in Iraq then brought home in late July when his mother passed away.

“I had 10 wonderful days with my brother,” his sister said. “I got to know Greg a little better.”

Caledonia resident Beverly Crist, Gregory's aunt, said her nephew was only a few days into his second rotation when he was killed.

“I was glad his family got to see him one last time,” she said, adding she and a cousin, Michael Dean O'Brien, plan to attend the burial service September 29 in Arlington National Cemetery. His other aunt living in Marion is Alice Blake Gunder.

Gregory's father, Gary, was notified in person by a Captain and Sergeant from the Marine Corps about 11:45 p.m. the day after the explosion.

The family has also been told, but not confirmed by the White House, Howman was one of three killed by an explosive on September 16, 2004. The family doesn't know if it was a roadside bomb, a landmine or mortar fire. They do know he was peppered with schrapnel on the left side of his body. He lived long enough to be med-evacuated on a helicopter but died less than 45 minutes after being hit.

Howman failed the entrance exam three times when he tried to join the Marines but his father encouraged him to keep trying and to follow his dream. Because of his age Gregory was affectionately called “Grandpa” by the younger Marines, his sister said, adding he told the family he felt a real sense of responsibility for the younger ones in his unit.

His sister said, “He was ready to join his unit back in Iraq when he was home for mother's funeral. He really felt like he was helping people there.”

Marilyn Williams and Jerry Ballenger, St. Mary graduates with Gary Howman, both expressed condolences to their classmate and said they had not seen him since graduation.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful classmate,” Williams said. “He was always nice to everybody. We went to school together 12 years.”

“A committee has been meeting to plan our 50th reunion and one of them called Gary,” Ballenger said. “He indicated he planned to return for the reunion. I'm thankful that his son served and sorry there was a death for him to deal with. Gary was a good guy.”

Gregory Howman's body was flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on September 18, 2004,. and then to Charlotte, N.C., where a memorial service will be held. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors and will be honored with the Purple Heart posthumously.

His mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer nine years ago and had lived much longer than her doctors expected, died suddenly at the home of her daughter in late July.

On September 14, Howman-Lehmann, her husband and daughter, evacuated from their home in Florida to escape the wrath of Hurricane Ivan. They had traveled to northern Alabama to stay with relatives to wait out the storm. Ivan stormed their neighborhood the next day. Then late Wednesday night, Howman-Lehmann got word of her brother's tragic death.

Their Florida home escaped any Ivan damage, but the string of bad news when she learned her stepmother, Beth, had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Through their grief, the Howman family continues to lift up those who are fighting the valiant fight for their country.

“We support what's happening in Iraq,” Becky said. “We're not angry. We're not bitter. We're very proud that Gregory got to honor his country and his family. We will miss him, but he died doing what he believed in.”

PINEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA — Several hundred family and friends gathered at the McEwen Funeral Home Friday to remember a Charlotte Marine killed in Iraq.

Lance Corporal Gregory Howman, 28, was killed during a late night patrol on September 16, 2004, in the Anbar Province of Iraq.

Friends remember Howman as a 6-foot-5 lefty first baseman who loved baseball and his country.

“My brother was a true Marine,” said sister Rebecca Lehmann. “He was a hero, and he died a hero.”

He was born in Atlanta, but grew up in Charlotte. For a time, he attended Olympic High School, played baseball and was in the ROTC. He later worked at Luck Stone in Pineville, helping to load trucks and assist customers.

After 9/11, he joined the Marines, enlisting as a rifleman with the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Pendleton, California.

He spent 10 months in Iraq, returned home for a year, and left for his second tour a few weeks ago.

Angie Rogers was Howman's classmate at Olympic High School. She was washing dishes and listening to the news when she heard his name.

“I stopped washing dishes, and I went into the living room to watch,” she said. “When they said he was gone, I almost passed out. I couldn't believe it.”

It has been a devastating several weeks for his family. Six weeks ago, his mother died suddenly at the age of 64. And since his death less than two weeks ago, his step-mother was diagnosed with lung cancer.

He will be buried next week in Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday. His commanding officer has recommended Howman for a Purple Heart.

PINEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA – Family members said their goodbyes Friday to Lance Corporal Gregory Howman, a Marine who lost his life last week during an explosion in Iraq.

Howman, 28, grew up in Charlotte. His former high school classmates said they were touched by his outgoing personality.

“You couldn’t be upset around him,” said Stacy Hazelwood, who attended Olympic High School with Howman. “You couldn’t have a bad day with him around. There was just no such thing as a bad day with him around.”

Dozens of people participated in the memorial, even those who did not know Lance Corporal Gregory Howman.

Fellow classmate Angie Rogers said Howman “always had a smile on his face.”

During Howman’s memorial service Friday in Pineville, his family was presented with a Gold Star, a Purple Heart and the American flag.

“It recognizes their loved one’s sacrifice, their honorable service and their commitment to keeping this nation free,” Lieutenant Colonel Jim Clark said.

Dozens of people participated in the memorial, even those who did not know Howman.

“He is a brother, he is a comrade, and he did the ultimate,” veteran Michael Harris said.

Gregory Howman, 28, grew up in Charlotte. His former high school classmates said they were touched by his outgoing personality.

The Howman family said it appreciates the support.

“My brother was a true Marine,” Rebecca Lehmann said. “He was a hero, and he died a hero. He loved this country, and we love this country. And we support what’s happening and will continue to support what’s happening.”

Howman’s body will be taken to Washington, D.C., on Monday. He will be buried Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.


ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – A few weeks ago, Lance Corporal Gregory C. Howman told his sister, Rebecca Lehmann, that he probably wasn't special enough to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Not him, not a guy who used to load stone for a living, a guy who had to take the test to get into the Marines four times, a guy who was just a lance corporal at 28.

He was wrong.

The families of all military dead have the option of having them buried at Arlington. And so it was that Howman, a high school graduate from Charlotte killed two weeks ago in Ramadi, Iraq, was buried at 3 p.m. Wednesday in a plot of America's most hallowed ground.

Howman's body rode into Arlington in the back of a hearse, past the headstones of generals — they die too, lance corporal — and Supreme Court justices, past the monuments to famous units and famous battles.

On he went, almost to the south edge of the 624-acre cemetery, to section 60, Grave No. 8001.

Section 60 is where most of Arlington's 84 dead from the war in Iraq are buried, just a few hundred yards from the Tomb of the Unknowns and one hill from President Kennedy.

The hearse eased to a stop in front of seven saluting Marines in blue jackets and white pants.

The caravan of trailing vehicles stopped, and Howman's family stepped from a black Chevrolet Suburban. His father, Gary L. Howman, held the hand of his wife Beth, Gregory's stepmother. Lehmann huddled beside them with her daughter, Savannah, 5, and husband, Patrick Lehmann, who stood straight in his Air Force uniform.

They stood together as the Marines hoist the flag-covered casket and carried it to the grave, which was covered with outdoor carpet.

The thin marble headstones on his row and the one filled before it were noticeably whiter than their neighbors. Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, nearly all say.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and huge numbers of World War II veterans now in their 80s, Arlington is busy these days. It tries to be as efficient as it is ceremonious; it has to be, with an average of 25 burials each weekday.

On Wednesday, there were 28, and even as Howman's service began, the tap of a distant snare drum drifted across the fields from the south, and from the north came the rumble of a backhoe digging another grave.

The freshest graves were beside Howman's resting place, five so new they didn't have headstones. His neighbor, in grave No. 8000, was an Army man, First Lieutenant Tyler H. Brown of Atlanta, who also died in Ramadi, shot September 14, 2004.

On that same day, Howman, a 6-foot-5 former high school first baseman, called his girlfriend to check on how his beloved Yankees were faring in the pennant race.

The next day, September 15, Howman died when a bomb exploded near his patrol. Lehmann said that the Marines had told the family that he was badly wounded by the shrapnel and died quickly.

Tremendous capacity

At Howman's feet Wednesday, an open field waited for more dead. There is space for hundreds more in Section 60, and still, somehow, plenty of territory for expansion. Cemetery officials expect to have space until 2060.

More than 290,000 people are buried at Arlington, and behind Howman's head, thousands of the thin, white marble markers stretched like lines of dominoes. They blurred in the distance into solid white, like a permanent layer of snow under the oaks and maples.

From the foot of Howman's grave, a tiny piece of the Pentagon was visible through the trees; more will show when the leaves fall. It's a fitting view. What happened there and in New York and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, is the reason Howman is buried in Arlington.

He wanted to be a Marine as a child, Lehmann said. But after high school, he got a job and a girlfriend, and talk of the Marines faded.

Then came 9/11.

“He felt like he had to do something,” Lehmann said.

His unit was one of the first to enter Iraq when the war started last year. He spent 10 months there and was eager to return, she said.

His death was what Lehmann hopes is the last of a string of family tragedies. A few weeks before he was to ship out again for Iraq, their mother died unexpectedly, and Howman came to Lehmann's home in Florida for a few days. That's when they spoke of Arlington. It was the last time she saw him.

At the cemetery Wednesday, Lieutenant Commander Robert Rearick, a U.S. Navy Chaplain, spoke briefly. Then Lehmann, sitting on the front row, wiped a tear and crossed herself in one continuous sweep of her hand.

The Marine casket team lifted the flag and held it, stretched it tight over Howman's casket as seven more Marines fired their rifles three times and Private First Class Jonathan Alexander played taps on his bugle.

Then, the casket team painstakingly folded the flag into a tight triangle, a complex operation that lasted as long as any part of the ceremony. Staff Sergeant Mack Grimmett knelt in front of a seated Gary Howman and held out the bundle of cloth.

Howman, his face clenched like a fist, leaned to make make out the words. “On behalf of a grateful nation …”

In less than 20 minutes, it was over. The Marines climbed onto a bus, Howman's family and friends talked briefly and left. A few minutes later, a backhoe crew drove up to lower the casket and fill the grave.

Howman's headstone, when it comes, will be just like that over the nation's top World War I general, John J. Pershing.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, herself now buried at Arlington beside the president, thought he should be buried somewhere extraordinary. “He belongs to the people,” she said.

Now Gregory Howman does, too.

Courtesy of the Charlotte Observer

In letters to his father and stepmother, Gregory Howman of Charlotte described Ramadi as so dangerous, he was starting to feel scared for the first time.The Marine lance corporal told his Rock Hill girlfriend, Tina Mullins, that he felt safest holding her. He sent her the Bible passages he said in combat and asked her to recite them.

In a September 14, 2004, letter, he wrote about the barrage of mortar fire hitting his farmhouse, and the dead Iraqis in the streets. He mentions his mother, who died in July of cancer.

“I hope God knows if I did kill someone innocent I didn't mean to … I struggle with that every time I pull the trigger. I always dreamed what it would be like to go to war as a kid, and always wanted to go. Now I hope if I ever have a son that he never has to see the s— I have …

“I love you very much, and I hope you don't think ill of me because I am stupid enough to believe I am making a difference and maybe I am saving some young Marine's mom and dad from having that … car pull up in front, telling them their son is dead.

“I would give myself up before I would let someone in my squad die if at all possible. I can't take having to write to another parent again.

“But I have Jesus Christ and guardian angels all around me … Plus I have my wonderful mother watching over me now, too. God, I miss her so much, but I know she isn't ready to see me again just yet.”

Gregory Howman, 28, died September 16, 2004.

VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 09/14/2002 – 09/14/2004
DATE OF BIRTH: 05/17/1976
DATE OF DEATH: 09/16/2004


Marines fire their rifles as Lance Cpl. Gregory C. Howman of Charlotte is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. All military dead can be buried at Arlington


Gregory C. Howman's father and stepmother, Gary L. Howman and Beth Howman, pay final respects. The Marine had been anticipating his return after 10 months in Iraq when he died




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