Not your average ‘Joe’

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 6, 2007

AHOSKIE – Broadsided by a wave of emotion, Carolyn Mitchell remembered an Ahoskie hero here Tuesday.

Standing in front of the Ahoskie Town Council at their regularly scheduled meeting, Mitchell pitched a proposal to the municipal leaders in regards to erecting a small monument at No Man’s Land Park in memory of the late Joseph C. “Joe” Howard.

Howard, an Ahoskie native, rose to the rank of Major in the United States Air Force and was a member of the USAF’s prestigious “Thunderbirds.” He lost his life on June 4, 1972 during Transpo 72 in Washington, DC when his Phantom F-4E experienced a loss of power during a vertical maneuver. After steering his crippled jet away from a huge crowd of spectators, Major Howard ejected as the aircraft fell back to earth from about 1,500 feet. He descended under a good canopy, but the winds blew him into the blazing crash site.

Major Howard was the first USAF Thunderbird killed during an actual air show of the high performance team, one that has been in existence since 1953.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t do this,” Mitchell said as she fought back the tears remembering her childhood friend and Ahoskie High School classmate. “He was a fine person, so genuine…always the same when he came back home to visit.”

When the highly decorated Vietnam War fighter pilot did come home, he was always greeted by a small army of friends. It’s that group n the self-titled “Friends of Major Joseph C. Howard” n who are the driving force behind the proposed memorial. They wish to place a small monument in a portion of the park that faces Main Street, an area within sight of Howard’s birthplace, the two-story white framed house located adjacent to what is now the Ahoskie Police and Fire Station.

“We’ve spoken with the (Ahoskie) Beautification Committee and with the Town Manager,” Mitchell said. “What we’re asking for is your permission to place the monument before we go any further with our plans.”

Mitchell said due to the small nature of the proposed monument, it will not take away from the large veteran’s monument that now stands as the park’s centerpiece.

“A building at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas named for Joe, yet we have no monument to his memory in Ahoskie,” Mitchell noted. “His friends would like to honor his memory in his hometown.”

Mitchell said plans include incorporating some type of water feature within the monument.

“Having a fountain has been suggested, but we feel that would be hard to maintain,” she said. “We’re still working through plans to include some type of water feature in the monument.”

While Mitchell’s comments came during the public input portion of Tuesday’s meeting, meaning the council members were hearing the proposal, but were not at liberty to take immediate action, it did spark a response from Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn.

“This is a wonderful idea,” Blackburn said. “We do not take action during public input, but I feel this issue should be placed on our agenda for an upcoming meeting. We’ll be in touch with you.”