Thursday, August 16, 2007

Alun R. Howells dies 'of wounds suffered from enemy direct fire'

The war in Iraq has claimed the life of the first U.S. soldier known to have strong connections to the Gunnison Valley. Alun Howells, a 2005 graduate of the Gunnison Valley School, was killed in action earlier this week.

Howells, a Private First Class in the Army, was serving as a combat engineer in his first deployment to the war-torn country. He'd been in Iraq since June.

Little is being publicly released about the circumstances surrounding his death at this time. Howells reportedly was on patrol in Baghdad when the Humvee he was traveling in was attacked.

Gunnison resident and family friend Kathy MacAllister confirmed that Howells' parents, who now live in Wisconsin, were officially notified of his death on Monday.

"They're obviously shocked," MacAllister said of Gwen and Jaena Howells.

The Howells are British citizens who spent many years living in Gunnison. They formerly owned and operated Island Acres Motel in Gunnison and Treasury Liquors in Crested Butte. Gwen is a former soldier in the British military.

Alun Howells, who maintained dual citizenship, spent grade school through high school here. He was good friends with MacAllister's son, James Beda, who is also in the military and stationed in Iraq.

"They did everything together growing up," she explained. "The were in 4-H together. They bought horses together. They raised sheep together."

And, along with another friend, Nick August, they dreamed of one day being in the military together, MacAllister explained.

"The boys, all of them, wanted to do this since they were little," MacAllister said. "All three enlisted the summer after they graduated from high school.

"I told Gwen that Alun was with his friends and doing what he wanted to be doing."
GVS teacher Neil Coen called Howells an "extraordinary kid" who went through a huge transformation during high school.

When he started GVS, Coen recalled, Howells "was into this bizarre stuff trying to define himself." He dressed in all black, even black lipstick and fingernails, trying to look like a vampire.

"Alun pushed those edges to find himself," Coen said. "Then one day, he comes to school in a pair of corduroys, a white button-up shirt and tennis shoes.

"He said, 'Ah, I'm over it.' That was all he said. And from that day on he was a committed student leader and a tremendous advocate for the kids who came in (to GVS)."

It was March of his senior year when Howells informed his teachers of his plans to enlist in the military. Coen admits quizzing him to make sure the decision "wasn't some ego, stability thing."

"He gave all the right answers," Coen said. "This was a path he chose for himself."

On Howells' Web page, he talked of his future and how he'd like to travel, finish college and eventually move back to the U.K. He spoke of how he couldn't wait to meet up with his family and friends again, "and be grateful for their presence and humor and all the other things I took for granted before I left."

In addition to his parents, Howells is survived by three siblings. He was 20 years old.

From the Gunnison Times