Marine Lance Cpl. Gregory C. Howman had wanted to serve in the military since he was a little boy. Two weeks ago, he died fulfilling that dream.
Yesterday, under a gloomy gray sky, Howman, 28, was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
A rifleman assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps' 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Brigade Combat team 2, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Howman died Sept. 15 from wounds received in an explosion in Iraq's Anbar Province.
Howman, who had recently begun his second tour of duty in Iraq, had instructed his family to bury him at Arlington if he did not make it back home to Charlotte, the Charlotte Observer reported. Among those who gathered yesterday to say goodbye to the burly, 6-foot-5 Marine were his father, Gary Howman, and his sister, Rebecca Lehmann.
Howman was the 84th service member from the Iraq war to be buried at Arlington.
Howman was fascinated with sports and the military. Larry Davis, manager of the Pineville, N.C., construction supply company where Howman worked before enlisting, said Howman revered the armed forces and vowed that he would join someday. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks gave him the incentive, Davis said in a telephone interview.
"I think, like a lot of people after September 11th, he just felt like he had to do something," Lehmann told the Charlotte Observer.
Howman failed the military entrance exam three times but did not give up, the Observer reported. On his fourth try, he passed. He enlisted in January 2002.
At 25, Howman was much older than most of the recruits in his unit at Camp Pendleton in California. They teasingly called Howman "Grandpa," and he looked out for them, his sister said.
Howman's unit was among the first to cross from Kuwait into Iraq when the war began in March 2003. After a fellow Marine who had a wife and children lost a leg, Howman told his sister, "It should have been me," the Observer reported.
Howman was a dedicated employee who "completed anything and everything that he started," and talked sports all the time, Davis said. He always covered his blond crew cut with baseball cap -- usually the navy blue and white of the New York Yankees, his favorite team, Davis said.
"We rarely saw what his head actually looked like," Davis said. "He wore a Yankee cap pretty much all the time."
The military seemed to make the shy Howman more confident, Davis said. When the Marine came home from boot camp for a brief visit, he was 40 pounds slimmer and stood taller and prouder, Davis said.
"He seemed like a different person," he said.
Howman believed in his mission, his sister told the Observer. But his service in Iraq did not quell his passion for his Yankees. Howman would call home from Iraq just to find out how the team was doing, Lehmann said.
Yesterday, Lehmann buried her head in the shoulder of her stepmother, Beth Howman, as Gary Howman was presented with a folded U.S. flag. After the ceremony, all three laid their hands on Howman's coffin. Lehmann, wiping away tears, bent down to kiss it.