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Army Sgt. William R. Howdeshell
Died July 26, 2007 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
37, of Norfolk, Va.; assigned to the 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.; died July 26 in Saqlawiyah, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Also killed were Spc. Charles E. Bilbrey Jr. and Spc. Jaime Rodriguez Jr.
They called him Sergeant Howdy, as in Howdy Doody, the 1950s television character with a perpetual smile. That was Sgt. William Howdeshell.
“They always come up with names for everyone,” Howdeshell’s wife Kimberly recalled. “He was a big joker. They did a lot of that over there. They keep their sanity by playing jokes.”
Howdeshell never graduated from high school, but he wasn’t just another kid from Illinois with an ear for Metallica and Slayer. He was sharp, smart enough to ace his ASVAB exams when he enlisted in the Navy two years before meeting his future bride. He was 26 when he signed up.
“He qualified for anything,” Kimberly said. “He had many, many choices when he joined.”
Back then, Howdeshell was living in Springfield, where he was born. He became an aviation electrician and set out to see the world. He’d always wanted to be a soldier, but an allergy to ants forced him to pick another branch.
Less than a month after the two met, Kimberly married Howdeshell in a simple civil ceremony in Virginia, while a hurricane brewed. They picked Aug. 26 — after all, her birthday is June 26, and he was born on Feb. 26.
“We were soul mates,” she said. “He just looked at me and said, ‘Let’s get married now.’ I said, ‘OK.’ “
Howdeshell was also married to the military. On Oct. 26, 2005, he realized his dream and joined the Army via a program that allows service members to transfer to different branches, allergies to ants notwithstanding.
“He loved the service, but he liked the Army a lot better,” Kimberly said. “He didn’t want a 9-to-5 job. He wanted to be out in the middle of everything. I was worried, but I supported him 110 percent.”
Howdeshell became a cavalry scout. The man who’d always loved shooting pretend guns on computers was soon riding in Humvees and shooting guns for real.
He went to Iraq in January 2007. Kimberly last saw him in June of that year, when he came home for a two-week leave.
“We were trying to see all of the family,” Kimberly said. “We spent a couple of days by ourselves. It was too fast.”
By month’s end, Howdeshell was back in harm’s way.
“I talked to him online the day before it happened,” Kimberly said. “He told me they were going on a dangerous mission. He wasn’t allowed to give me any more information.”
Army officials have filled in some blanks.
“His vehicle was first in line,” Kimberly said. “They hit an IED. I don’t know how to spell or pronounce the name of the town. He was killed immediately. He didn’t know anything. He felt nothing.”
Two other soldiers, Charles E. Bilbrey, 21, and Jaime Rodriguez, 19, died in the blast. Howdeshell, 37, was commanding the Humvee.
Kimberly says she and her husband knew his military career could end in tragedy. Nonetheless, he had just re-enlisted for six years, she said.
“He was in complete support of … the war and what we’re doing,” Kimberly said. “He loved what we were doing. The military was his life.”
Howdeshell was cremated and interred at Arlington National Cemetery after a funeral in St. Petersburg, Fla., where his wife and son live.