COX Leroy Howell,
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COX Leroy Howell
In his last letter home from Pearl Harbor in November 1941, Navy coxswain Leroy Howell wrote that he was “going to school” on the U.S.S. California, which he reasoned would lead to a promotion and a pay raise.
So when his family in Gas City, Indiana, heard about the Japanese attack on the U.S. fleet, they had hope that he was not aboard his home ship, the U.S.S. Arizona, which was bombed and sank on Dec. 7
As it turned out, Mr. Howell had returned to the Arizona two days earlier. He was badly burned in the attack and died on Dec. 10. The California also was bombed and torpedoed at Pearl Harbor, and 103 of its crew died. The Arizona suffered 1,177 dead.
Mr. Howell was born in Gas City — a town northeast of Indianapolis named for its then-abundance of natural gas — on Nov. 19, 1921. His birth certificate listed his name as Leroy, though later documents identified him as Edgar Leroyce. His father, Frederick Howell, was an engineer, and his mother, Elizabeth Wicker Howell, was a homemaker. She died of heart and liver problems when Leroy was 14.
After 8th grade he lived for a year with an uncle in Illinois, where he joined the National Guard. He then returned to Gas City and lived with his eldest sister, Ethel Kellogg, and her family. He also spent three months at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp near Fort Wayne. The CCC was a Depression-era federal jobs program.
Mr. Howell’s goal was to join the Navy, but it took him three tries because there were more applicants than open positions. He finally enlisted on March 26, 1940.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6728 in Gas City was named in his memory. His body was one of the few of the crew recovered, and Mr. Howell was buried after the war at Riverside Cemetery in Gas City. A grave marker lists his date of birth as Nov. 19, 1923, but his birth certificate says 1921. The year 1921 is correct. His youngest sister, Madge, was born in May 1924, making it impossible that he was born the previous November.
His brother Carl served in the Army and his brother Fred in the Coast Guard during the war. His sister Madge served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946.
Sources: The Indianapolis (Indiana) News; The Tipton (Indiana) Daily Tribune; The Terre Haute (Indiana) Tribune; unidentified Indiana newspaper; Navy muster rolls; Census; Indiana birth and death records; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs death files; the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.