GM3c Rolan George Howard,

Unknown Sailor

GM3c Rolan George Howard

A week before he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Rolan George Howard mailed $1 to the Christmas Cheer Fund in Mason City, Iowa.

He included a Christmas card and a note to the staff at the Globe-Gazette newspaper, which operates the campaign to raise money for needy North Iowans. “Please accept these good wishes and this small contribution from a former Mason Cityan,” he wrote. “Hope you reach your goal this year.”

Mr. Howard was a gunner’s mate and petty officer third class on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed on Dec. 7, 1941. He had left Iowa in January 1940 to enlist.

The newspaper reported his gift on Dec. 22, 1941, and said that while he was on the battleship, his family believed he was among the survivors because it had received no word about him.  “We are pleased to report that one of the more than 500 packosnacks dispatched by the Christmas Cheer Fund to men in service is on its way to this fine lad who didn’t forget his neighbors in need,” the article added.

The snack boxes included meat from the J. E. Decker & Sons packing plant, where Mr. Howard worked for five years before enlisting.

Within days of the news story, Mr. Howard’s parents received word that he was missing in action. And in late January 1942, the snack box was returned to the Globe-Gazette office marked: “The addressee died in the service of his country.”

Mr. Howard was born March 16, 1914 in Austin in south-central Minnesota to Harry L. Howard, a railroad employee, and Esther Lilliequist, a homemaker and Swedish immigrant.

The son attended Ottumwa (Iowa) High school southeast of Des Moines before returning north to Mason City about 45 miles south of Austin. He graduated from Mason City High in 1931. He was active in Hi-Y, a club dedicated to “high standards of Christian Character,” the school yearbook said.

A memorial service for Mr. Howard was held on a Sunday evening in March 1942 at the Church of Christ. The Rev. David L. Kratz counseled mourners not to complain about shortages of goods while military men were risking their lives for little pay.

“The precious right of Americans to earn their money in any way they want, to work at any task they choose, to protect their own safety and lives is not shared by the boys at the front,” Mr. Kratz said. “If we are willing to share their sacrifices we must not only pay the costs of carrying on the war but also for extending mercy and help to the war disposed (cq) of, the wounded and starving populations.

“But even as the boys at Gettysburg brought about a better world, so we must believe that the sacrifice of Rolan Howard and the other boys killed in their nation’s defense is not in vain. We must believe and we must nobly strive to complete the task and restore to all men liberty, justice and the peace of God.”

Mr. Howard’s brothers, Gene and Stanley, served in the infantry during the war.

The Christmas Cheer Fund, started in 1927, continues to this day.


Sources: The Mason City (Iowa) Globe-Gazette is the primary source for this profile. Other sources include: Iowa application for World War II service compensation; Census; Navy muster roll; 1931 Mason City High School yearbook photograph; Minnesota birth record; letter of family friend R.L. Goltz; Census. This profile was research and written on behalf of the USS Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

NOTE: If you are a family member related to this crew member of the U.S.S. Arizona, or have additional information, pictures or documents to share about his life or service to our county please contact us through our FAMILY MEMBER SUBMISSION FORM