New battleship has Bladen County connection

By: Paul Layton - Special to the Journal

NORFOLK, Va. — The largest aircraft carrier in the world, the USS Gerald R. Ford, was commissioned for duty on July 22 — and the $12.9 billion, 100,000 ton vessel carries with it, for as long as she is commissioned, is a plaque honoring ENFN Joshua D. Howard.

Howard was an honor graduate of East Bladen High in 2012 and an Eagle Scout from Elizabethtown, N.C., Boy Scout Troop 600. After choosing the Navy as a career, he attended basic training at Great lakes Training Center near Chicago before he was assigned to Norfolk to work on the USS Gerald R. Ford.

But tragedy soon struck.

On his way home July 3, 2014, to celebrate the July 4 holiday with family, in heavy rain his car hit a water puddle, became overturned and Howard was killed.

After a full naval honors funeral at Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church in Bladen County, and a memorial service at the Chapel at Langley Air Force Base in Norfolk conducted by Capt. John Mieier, commanding officer of the USS Gerald R. Ford, it was stated that Howard had completed in three months what took most 18 months to do.

Howard’s accomplishments working with diesel engines caused his shipmates to want to honor him with a plaque in the diesel room of the new battleship. The promise they made in 2014 came to fruition with the commissioning ceremony of the USS Gerald R. Ford on July 22.

Up and down narrow ship steps, through hallways with crooks and turns, eventually leads a visitor to the diesel room. Although this ship is nuclear powered, it has four large diesel engines — and there in the diesel room, mounted on a steel upright, is the plaque honoring Howard. It has his photo at the top, a copy of the poem “Snipe’s Lament” underneath and, at the bottom in large letters, they have printed HOWARD POWER.

It is said that the USS Gerald R. Ford should be in commission for at least 50 years. The people who will command her in the future have not even been born yet. Ford is the only president of the United States to have earned the rank of Eagle Scout, and he gave a lot of credit for his leadership ability to that accomplishment. In fact, in the book titled “Integrity at the Helm,” commemorating the ship, is an entire page dedicated to scouting (titled “Eagle Scouts Carry on Ford’s Legacy”).

Howard, because of his being an Eagle Scout, was given a jump in rank by the Navy that affected his status and his pay.

Because the mighty battleship will sail the seas for more than 50 years, so will the plaque commemorating Howard. Wherever the USS Gerald R. Ford goes and whatever she does, Howard will be a part of it — two Eagle Scouts, one representing the power on high and the other representing the power down below.

HOWARD POWER represents the thousands of men and women who work every day to make things move and keep things going. It is said that those on the bottom are the ones who make those on top look good.

Paul Layton is Joshua Howard’s grandfather, but was referred to by Howard as “Pa” because Layton raised him. He is a lifelong Elizabethtown resident.
Joshua Howard memorialized aboard USS Gerald R. Ford

Paul Layton

Special to the Journal