Monday, February 26, 2007

Blake H. Howey dies of injuries from I.E.D.

GLENDORA - Marine Pfc. Blake Howey of Glendora died in Iraq on Sunday at age 20, becoming the second person from Glendora to be killed in Iraq.

Howey was only a few weeks into his first deployment when his convoy was struck by a roadside bomb in Fallujah, said family friend Karen Butterfield. Howey's family asked her to speak for them after they were notified of his death Monday.

"They're just not ready to talk yet," she said. "Even for me it's like losing a family member. It's awful."

Howey is survived by his parents, stepfather and younger half-sister.

He and several close friends joined the Marines directly out of high school, Butterfield said. He followed Butterfield's younger brother, Marine Cpl. James Eckels, from Glendora High School to Whitcomb High School so they could graduate early together and join the Marines as soon as possible. Eckels graduated early, and Howey and a few other friends soon joined him after a June graduation.

"They were a good group of kids," recalled Whitcomb Principal Marc DuBois. "Howey was the quiet one in that group that was going into the service. This guy was great - and funny, too."

He was never in trouble and made the honor roll as well, DuBois said. His former science teacher, Tom Paegel, said Howey was an extremely determined student. Whitcomb will post a tribute to him on the school's marquee, Paegel said.
The city is also working to arrange a small ceremony in Howey's honor, said Councilwoman Karen Davis.

An impromptu memorial to the Marine has already appeared beneath his banner north of the Grand Avenue and Foothill Boulevard intersection, Butterfield said.

Because of Howey's friendship with her brother, Butterfield said Howey was like another little brother to her.

"He was kind of quiet, kind of shy, always a real sweet kid," she said. "He loved paintball and snowboarding."

Eckels and Howey's other friends were practically adopted by Howey's mom, Audrey Nichka, Butterfield said.

"She's an amazing lady," Butterfield said. "She calls them all her sons, and they call her mom.

"The biggest thing she wants now is to have the other boys come home," she continued. "It's scary, knowing that my brother's still over there."

The Department of Defense had not yet confirmed Howey's death late Tuesday, but Butterfield said the explosive killed Howey while he was traveling in a Humvee from Fallujah to Baghdad.

Nichka plans to have a memorial service for her son Sunday or Monday at Oakdale Cemetery in Glendora. She is setting up a fund in Howey's honor to send helmets, flak jackets and other necessities to soldiers in Iraq. "Her boys have helmets and flack jackets, but there's things they don't have, like magazines for their guns or cold weather gear, and we've sent that stuff," Butterfield said.

"To know that someone can just be taken - Howey wasn't even in combat - it's crazy," she said. "I wouldn't take a bit of support away from my brother, but I wish they gave them all the things that they need."

From the Tribune