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Marine Lance Cpl. Blake Howey, 20, Glendora; killed in roadside bombing

March 04, 2007|Julie Cart | Times Staff Writer

To Blake Howey, there was never any doubt about what he wanted to do: become a Marine. He even devised a way to graduate from high school in Glendora early so that he could join his buddies and enlist upon graduation.

"I tried to talk him out of it," his mother, Audrey Nichka, said of her son's insistence on joining the military.

"I'd tell him, 'You're the laziest boy I know. How are you going to get up at 4 in the morning? You can't even mow the lawn.' I even sent him on a trip to Hawaii so my cousins would change his mind. He went on the trip, but didn't tell me that he joined up the day before he left. After the shock of it, I respected his wishes and supported him. I'm so proud of him."

In his senior year at Glendora High School, Howey transferred to Whitcomb High School, a continuation campus, to earn credits more quickly. Tom Paegel, who taught Howey in his science class at Whitcomb, said it was apparent that nothing would prevent the young man from achieving his dream.

"He was very determined," Paegel said. "He wanted to follow his buddies and become a Marine. He did whatever it took." Paegel said Howey was among five Whitcomb seniors in the class of 2005 who enlisted in the military; three joined the Marine Corps and two went into the Navy.

After graduating, Howey immediately joined the Marines. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Although he expected to go to Okinawa, Japan, the lance corporal was sent to Iraq. Lacey Webb, a lifelong friend, said Howey was so gung-ho that he became his unit's point man.

"He was very proud of himself; he knew how much he would grow up in the Marines," Webb said. "He went in as this goofy kid who wore band T-shirts, and he came out a man."

On Feb. 18, Howey, 20, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Iraq's Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. He had been in Iraq for three weeks.

The small foothills town of Glendora has rallied to support Howey's family and friends. The Police Department escorted his body home after it arrived at Ontario International Airport on Feb. 24, and the Fire Department joined the procession when it reached the city limits.

A candlelight vigil was held at Finkbiner Park, and Glendora High lighted its memorial flame in Howey's memory. Whitcomb High cut short its school day so students and staff could attend a memorial service Wednesday at Glenkirk Presbyterian Church in Glendora.

In addition to his mother, Howey is survived by his father, Greg; his stepfather, Ron Nichka; and a 7-year-old sister, Taylor, all of Glendora.

Howey's mother said she was overwhelmed by the response to her son's death, both from people in the community and from Marines and their families, many of them strangers.

"I'm amazed," she said. "Marines' mothers and friends have come from all over, people I've never met before. I've got people all over the house. I'm amazed at how much people have poured out their hearts. My son was so proud of being a Marine, and I can see why."

She said she was establishing a memorial fund to be used for supplies needed by Marines in her son's unit, whom she called "my boys." "I can't help every Marine, but I can help his platoon," she said.




War casualties

Total U.S. deaths*:

* In and around Iraq**: 3,160

* In and around Afghanistan***: 308

* Other locations***: 58

Source: Department of Defense* Includes military and Department of Defense-employed civilian personnel killed in action and in nonhostile circumstances

**As of Friday

***As of Feb. 24

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