Thursday, May 19, 2005

Family welcomes injured soldier home

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (May 19, 2005): Just a month after being injured in a roadside explosion in Iraq, Army Cpl. Jack Howland returned to Maine to spend two weeks recuperating at home.

Howland, whose family is almost entirely in Scarborough but whose parents live in Porter, was the guest of honor Saturday at a surprise party at the Clambake Restaurant on Pine Point Road in Scarborough.

More than 50 friends, neighbors and relatives attended the gathering, including Howland’s three living grandparents, Philip and Sue Bayley and Gladys Howland.

There were four generations of each side of the family to welcome Jack home, just 24 hours after his delayed flight had landed in Portland.

Traveling with him was his girlfriend, Teena Sphar of Midway, Ga., and Teena’s daughter, Taylor. They had expected to arrive far earlier in the day, but bad weather and airline schedules delayed them for hours.

When the trio finally came through the gate, family members were there with a banner, and a crowd of strangers waiting for other loved ones let out a huge cheer.

Howland, 23, had been in an Army Humvee, protecting a convoy near Baghdad, when a roadside bomb exploded, burning his eyes and lungs and injuring another soldier in his vehicle.

He had spent four and a half months in Iraq, and found himself airlifted to a U.S. military hospital in Germany and then back to the States for more treatment.

Howland’s eyes are now fine, and his lungs have healed to about 60 percent of their normal function. They are continuing to heal, and Howland will return to Georgia for more medical treatment in a couple weeks.

His family’s surprise party was a simple subterfuge, with Howland’s mother, Mary (Bayley) Howland, saying she was going shopping with her daughter-in-law, Heather Howland, and Sphar, who was on her first trip to Maine and her first meeting of her boyfriend’s family.

They suggested to Jack that they should all meet up for dinner at the Clambake later on.

But instead of going shopping, the three women and other friends and relatives went straight to the Clambake in the mid-afternoon, and began setting up. One appropriate decoration was already in the room – a mounted “jackalope” on the wall, like a hunting trophy.

Jack’s uncle Dana Howland is the manager at the Clambake, and Jack worked at the restaurant for seven years before entering the Army three years ago. He is a member of the 94th Maintenance Company, 87 Corps Support Battalion, stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., where he met Sphar.

The party grew as Jack’s arrival neared, and when he walked into the room he was totally surprised by the crowd.

“It’s a totally joyous celebration for us. It could have been totally different,” his mother said.

“I had no idea,” Jack said with a grin, amid shaking hands and hugging friends and relations.

His grandmother Sue Bayley was glad to see her grandson – and several other grandchildren who came to celebrate – but still had her mind on Jack’s comrades in Iraq. “I just wish they could all come home,” she said.