Survivor -- Urgent Fury veteran still active after near-death experience in Grenada;
By Sgt. Sharon G. Angell
| | September 11, 2000
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
"They were shooting at me for sport. That made me mad, because sooner or later they would have to hit me," said Col. Timothy B. Howard in a November 1986 article from The Observation Post. "So I waved my middle at them in my last hope of defiance."
Howard, who is the 2d Marine Division's assistant chief of staff for intelligence, at the time, was part of a squadron providing air support for ground troops during Operation Urgent Fury. The operation called for U.S. troops being sent in to St George's, Grenada, to rescue American citizens who were being held hostage by the Marxist People's Revolutionary Army.
Howard recalls his above reaction to what he thought would be his capture or eventual death when he was forced to land in a grassy field during Urgent Fury after his AH-1T Cobra attack helicopter was shot down over St. George's.
Howard was on his second tour with what was then the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit when they were headed to relieve the Marines of the 24th MAU.
Howard's tour with the 22d MAU proved to be a lot different from anything the Marines from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-261, or any of the other units comprising the 22d MAU, had experienced on their previous tour.
When they set sail, the mission of the 22nd MAU was to relieve the 24th MAU in Beirut, Lebanon.
Before the turnover happened, the 22d MAU was diverted to Grenada.
Ironically, the mission was changed Oct. 22, 1983, one day before the Beirut bombing that took the lives of 241 U.S. service members.
"We were supposed to relieve the 24th MAU, but we got diverted," said Howard.
"We got the call about the bombing after we had already turned for Grenada, and it was too late to turn around to help them. We still had to complete our mission."
The beginning of U.S. support in Grenada began Oct. 25, 1983, when Army Rangers and Marines landed to help in the rescue efforts of the American students and to help return the island to a peaceful environment, said Howard.
That morning, Rangers were dropped over Point Salines to secure the area.
Other Rangers were given orders to secure True Blue campus. However, they were ambushed and requested assistance.
Along with these Rangers, another Ranger detachment was trying to secure the area at Fort Frederick overlooking St. George's. These soldiers came under heavy fire and Marine gun-ships were called in to assist them.
Two AH-1T Cobra attack helicopters were also sent in to provide cover fire for the soldiers.
One Cobra was manned by then Capt. Howard and his co-pilot Capt. Jeb Seagle.
The other was piloted by Maj. John "Pat" Guigerre, and co-pilot 1stLt. Jeff Sharver.
After Howard's Cobra made four passes, the bird needed more ammunition.
Following a re-supply, the Cobra made a fifth pass over St. George's. This pass would change Howard's life forever.
Before he knew it, his bird was hit by anti-aircraft fire originating from a nearby mental hospital, according to an article from All Hands magazine from May 1984.
Howard's Cobra has been hit several times, including three shots that injured him. The first shot hit him in the right arm tearing it off from the just below the elbow and down.
The second shot hit him in the right leg, seriously impairing his knee. After a final shot hit the aircraft, a golf-ball size piece of the aircraft became imbedded in his neck.
Howard said they were forced to land in a field near St. George's beach. During the forced landing, Howard called for his co-pilot to lower the bird, but realized Seagle had been knocked unconscious from rounds impacting the helicopter.
"He must have hit his head when we got hit, because I tried yelling his name, but he wouldn't come to. I knew I had to do something, so I tried everything I could to land safely," said Howard.
Despite his injuries, Howard managed to wrap his left arm around the "stick" and control the helicopter enough to land it.
During the landing however, the aircraft was seriously damaged. It caused the tail rotor to furrow and separate from the tail boom, according to a brief in a May 1984 of All Hands magazine.
Upon landing, all the warning lights on the circuit board were lit up, and although the helicopter managed to stay upright, it caught fire. Seagle regained consciousness after landing and attempted to assist Howard.
"He kept yelling at me to get out, but I don't think he knew how bad I had been hurt," said Howard.
Although Howard managed to unbuckle himself, he fell to the ground. Howard recalled that Seagle grabbed him by the back of his shirt and dragged him toward safety.
"I used my good leg to push with, while he was pulling me. He left me in a tall grassy field, next to a soccer stadium," said Howard.
Howard says he was worried more for his co-pilots safety more than his own, and he kept yelling, "You've got to get out of here. I am going to die, but you've got a chance," according to an article from The Washington Post entitled, 'Pilot recalls launch of Grenada invasion.'
Seagle went for help, but Howard still anticipated his own death, and said he knew he was never going to see Seagle again.
Seagle managed to send a call for help before leaving on foot to find ground support.
The other Cobra received the call and provided fire support while a CH-46 crew tried to rescue Howard.
During the rescue attempt, the Cobra received fire from anti-aircraft from somewhere on the island and was shot down.
Both Guigerre and Sharver were killed when their helicopter crashed into the ocean.
Meanwhile, Gunnery Sgt. Kelly Neideigh, a CH-46 door gunner, and Vietnam veteran, risked his life by running into live fire to drag Howard to the CH-46 for safety.
By the time Neideigh reached Howard, more than an hour had passed since Howard's Cobra went down.
Unfortunately, Howard's co-pilot, Seagle, never made it to safety; he was found dead on the beach. He had been captured and murdered while trying to find help for Howard.
After the rescue, Howard spent many long months in the hospital learning to deal with the loss of his arm and the grim diagnosis made by his doctors that he would never walk again.
That was 17 years ago and he's proven the doctors wrong. He recently ran three miles in 23-minutes during a physical fitness test.
"I still run, and I do the sit-ups for the PFT even though I am not required. I just don't do the pull-ups because it would take me a long time to work up to being able to do one-armed pull-ups," explained Howard.
Howard attributes his wife of 22-years, the former Bethany Tyrrell, for keeping him motivated.
"I think she has been the biggest part of my success and recovery. She has stood by through everything," he said. "When most people marry, they say 'I do,' but they mean I do until the times get hard or don't go their way. My wife is not like that."
Howard joined the Marine Corps in 1977 to fly helicopters.
Upon completion of a successful tour with MAG-29, he was promoted to captain and augmented the Cobra detachment that was assigned to HMM-261 to complete his second tour.
Following Urgent Fury, Howard took many months to recover from his injuries and fought to stay in the Marine Corps and won.
He was assigned to various duties following his recovery, including activating the 1st Remotely Piloted Vehicle Company in Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Howard received the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with a Combat "V," and the Purple Heart for his actions in Grenada. He also received several awards from civilian organizations honoring his courage and dedication to duty.