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Joseph Howard, 79; innovative Vietnam commander
By Jack Williams STAFF WRITER, San Diego Union Tribune August 29, 2006
As the grandson of two admirals and the son of a distinguished Navy captain, the only question about Joe Howard's military future was how he would carry on the tradition.
The definitive answer came during the Vietnam War.
Flying more than 400 combat missions in a UH-1B helicopter, Cmdr. Howard earned several medals, including a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Bronze Star.
“He and his troops saved my bacon on the rivers of the Mekong Delta,” said his cousin, retired Vice Adm. H.C. “Hank” Mustin, who was in charge of river patrol boats in the combat zone. “Everyone agreed he was one of the all-time great guys, a brilliant combat leader.”
Cmdr. Howard, a 27-year naval veteran who later investigated auto repair complaints for the state of California, died Aug. 20 at Scripps Mercy Hospital. He was 79.
The cause of death was complications from injuries he suffered in a fall off a ladder at his Coronado home, his family said.
During the Vietnam War, Cmdr. Howard formulated tactical standards for armed helicopters in maneuvers with patrol boats, and received a Bronze Star for his work.
He also perfected tactics for the patrol air cushion vehicle, a type of hovercraft, and for helicopter fire-support teams in combat conditions.
“Using (helicopters) to provide air cover for river patrol boats was a pretty new idea,” Mustin said. “Joe developed all the tactics in the UH-1B helicopters.”
A support mission in 1966 earned Cmdr. Howard the Distinguished Flying Cross. Responding to a distress call from a patrol boat in the San Nam River, he launched an attack that disrupted the enemy's attempt to cross.
In a separate encounter, he dispersed the enemy near Vinh Long with machine gun fire from his helicopter while exposed to intense Viet Cong fire. His efforts resulted in the equivalent of a 13th air medal.
As officer-in-charge of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron One, Cmdr. Howard also received the Navy Commendation Medal.
Joseph Bowyer Howard was born Jan. 22, 1927, in Annapolis, Md., to a distinguished naval family.
A destroyer was dedicated in the name of his father, Douglas Legate Howard, a World War I veteran and recipient of the Navy Cross. His grandfathers, Adms. Thomas Benton Howard and John Marshal Bowyer, were battleship commanders.
Cmdr. Howard enlisted in the Navy toward the end of World War II and was accepted at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946.
After graduating in 1950, he served aboard aircraft carriers and flew jets in the Korean War.
He later returned to the Naval Academy to teach marine engineering and coach lacrosse, a sport in which he had been active. He had played on a national championship team in his undergraduate days.
After serving in the Vietnam War, he retired from active duty in 1974.
Cmdr. Howard then became a teacher of automotive electronics at Southwestern College and worked in San Diego with the Allen Automotive Test Group.
In 1991, he began a new career, using his mechanical expertise as an investigator for the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs.
“He never met a cat he didn't love or a car he couldn't fix,” said his cousin, Douglas.
About five years ago, Cmdr. Howard suffered a heart attack. Six months after undergoing surgery to receive a pacemaker, he was back at work.
“He was going to work as long as they would let him,” daughter Nancy said.
Said Mustin: “He was a guy who wanted to stay involved and busy and liked being around people.”
Cmdr. Howard didn't retire until he was 78. He then invested much of his energy into gardening and computers.
His wife, Phyllis Freeman Howard, whom he married in Coronado in June 1953, died last year.