Honoring a Pelham Hero on Memorial Day, 2022
By Arthur Scinta
Pelham Town Historian
He was one of the greatest all-around athletes (arguably the best) in Pelham history, so talented that he had a chance to become a professional ballplayer. Instead, he opted to enlist in the military and went on to serve a tour in Korea and two more in Vietnam. He was killed in action when his helicopter was shot down by the Viet Cong. His name was Eli Page Howard, Jr., known by all as “Tim,” and he was a 1946 graduate of Pelham Memorial High School. On this Memorial Day, we remember and honor him as one of the many from Pelham who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.
Tim Howard was born in Chicago March, 26, 1928 and moved with his family at an early age to Pelham. His parents worked as domestic help: his father, a veteran of WWI, was a chauffeur and gardener, his mother, a housekeeper and cook. Tim received his first communion at St. Catharine’s Church and attended Hutchinson Elementary School (where he sang in the Glee Club) and Pelham Middle School (where he was a boy scout). As a student at Pelham Memorial High School, he lettered in three sports.
On the baseball field, Tim had a batting average of .333 as a freshman. He started at third base and went on to become a star pitcher on the varsity team, called by the nickname “Fireball” by The Pelham Sun. In a famous game against Bronxville in his junior year, he was expected to pitch half the game. But after throwing a no hitter for the first three innings, the coach kept him on the mound. He went on to pitch his first no-hit, no-run game.
His basketball skills were pushed into play as a sophomore when stars of the PMHS team began departing for service in WWII. Legendary PMHS phys-ed director and coach Carl Schilling tapped Tim, who helped turn the tide of the season and to take the team to the county semi-finals. Soon after arriving on the court, The Pelham Sun gave him a new nickname of “Mitts” because “he has the fastest moving hands we’ve seen on a basketball player in a long time…. This year, ‘Mitts’ has gone into the scoring game and brother, he’s firing with both barrels and not missing.” In his last game at PMHS playing center, he was the team high scorer with 18 of 37 points.
It was no different on the football field. Tim played halfback in the old “single-wing formation,” which put him in the role of a modern quarterback. Every week of his senior year season, Tim made headlines. “Pelicans Conquer Isaac Young 19-0 as Howard and Tracy Star in Opener,” said The Pelham Sun in October 1945. Two weeks later, the paper blared “Pelicans Swamp Eastchester 42-0; Howard Stars, Scoring Twice And Passes for Three More Touchdowns.” As in basketball, his coach was Carl Schilling and Tim led PMHS to an undefeated season, the first since 1934 and the last in Pelham’s history. In the final game of his PMHS career, The Pelham Sun headline was “Pelham Proves Pleasantville Panthers just Pets” and reported that:
“Once again, it was Eli (Tim) Howard, Coach Carl Schilling’s indispensable man, who showed that it is he who carries the Pelham fortunes squarely on his gangling shoulders and strong right arm. Playing his last game in a Pelham uniform, Howard tallied three touchdowns and an extra point, pitched two scoring passes, did the kicking, intercepted passes and tackled ferociously. In his spare time, he ripped off 90 yards in 12 attempts rushing, thus belying the report that he is a passer and kicker only. Just how valuable Howard is to the Blue and White is shown in the fact that of the 461 yards gained in various ways by the Pelicans, he was responsible for 273. By the time the Pelham star was through perpetrating assorted atrocities on the hapless Panthers, they were only too glad that it was the last time they would have to face him.”
Tim made All-County and, receiving an overwhelming number of votes, was voted Westchester County’s Most Valuable Player.
After graduating PMHS, Tim entered the U.S. Marine Corps, was honorably discharged as a Corporal after one year and entered Morgan State College (now University) as a Cadet ROTC Officer. Once again, he starred on the football team (as quarterback in the modern “T formation”) and, again as co-captain, led his team to an undefeated season. He continued to play basketball. The college newspaper reported: “Like a tiger while in action, Tim is shrewd, cunning, dangerous and powerful. He has kept the team together and the morale of the boys high with his driving, fighting spirit, throughout the season.”
Morgan State had no baseball team, but Tim wasn’t about to give up his third sport so he played in the minor leagues for two years. In his senior year (just three years after Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers), he was invited to try out for the New York Yankees. He chose instead to enter the military.
At graduation, he received an award as the most outstanding ROTC cadet and another award for the best student of military science and tactics. While a star in football, basketball and ROTC and playing minor league baseball, he still found time to court a young lady named Joan Graves, whom he married a year later.
Tim entered the service as a Second Lieutenant, United States Army Reserve and received further training before serving in the Korean Conflict. In the early 1950s, he was the Grand Marshal of the Pelham Memorial Day Parade. “Tim loved the army. When he got back from Korea, there was no chance of him doing anything else,” Joan would later say. He signed up for a tour in Vietnam and then volunteered for a second, serving as commander of the Third Battalion, 196th Light Infantry Brigade. During his service he received two Combat Infantry Badges, two Bronze Stars both with Oak Leaf Clusters, two Air Medals and a Purple Heart. In one of his many acts of bravery, he was ambushed and wounded but fought his way back to base. Once treated, he immediately travelled back on the same road to warn another unit of the hiding enemy, saving many American lives.
In 1965, the famous LA Times foreign correspondent, Jack Foisie, reported from Vietnam that “Maj. Eli (Tim) Howard is one of 5,000 American officers … who train, fight – and not infrequently dies – in the swamp and jungle of Viet Nam.” On August 19, 1969, Tim and six other soldiers along with an Associated Press photographer were in a helicopter that was struck, caught fire and crashed. In the following days, three companies of infantry, battled their way through 31 miles of hostile territory to reach the wreckage. They found no survivors. Tim’s body was identified and transported back to the United States where he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, a row over from his father. He left behind a widow and five children, ages 17 to 6. He was 41 years old.
In a recent conversation with his oldest daughter, she relayed that “One of the things that kept us going was that dad was killed doing something he felt strongly about.” Although serving at a time when the military was just being integrated, she said “he loved this country through all its ups and downs. He saw hope in this country and its people.”
For more photos and information about Tim Howard, visit PelhamTownHistorian.com
Thank you to Dr. James McElhinney (PMHS ’46) for inspiring this article and to Lisa Shacklette, daughter of Tim Howard who generously shared information and photos from her family’s scrapbook about her father.