Bart and Connie Howard, of Old Lycoming Township, have told stories of how their young son, "Abe," loved to drive over the former Arch Street bridge with his grandfather on the way to their cabin.
On Saturday morning, beneath the span connecting Williamsport with DuBoistown that crosses the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, a ceremony was held at Susquehanna State Park to rename the bridge the Lance Cpl. Abram L. Howard Memorial Bridge.
The Marine, affectionately known as "Abe," died in July 2010 when the vehicle in which he was traveling was hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. It is said that Howard shielded his brothers-in-arms, saving many of those in his unit from injury and death.
Many people gathered Saturday morning for the dedication of the new DuBoistown Bridge, renaming it the Lance Corporal Abram L. Howard Memorial Bridge. Above, the Howard family unveils the new sign to be placed on the bridge.
At the request of the late Marine's family and friends, state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, sponsored a House bill signed into law on Oct. 24, 2012. Mirabito said he received bipartisan support from state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, and on Saturday nearly 1,000 people watched and listened to a soul-stirring service in honor and memory of one of the few and proud.
Now, whenever anyone drives over the bridge renamed in his honor, they may remember his and other soldiers' sacrifices through the ages.
"Only Abe could pull this off," said Jeff Dincher, Howard's cousin, whose voice cracked with emotion as he expressed his appreciation to those in the city, borough of DuBoistown, and state and federal governments who were able to honor Abe with this tribute.
Dincher, who spoke on behalf of Howard's family, including his parents, said that no amount of words can justify the sacrifice made, not just by Abe, but by those who have fallen in Korea, on the sands of Okinawa, on the beaches of Normandy, in the jungles of Southeast Asia and in present-day operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Howard's brother tossed a wreath into the river just before the unveiling of a plaque signifying the new Lance Cpl. Abram L. Howard Memorial Bridge.
He was the first Marine from Lycoming County to be killed in the Afghanistan's Operation Enduring Freedom.
Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland became instantly choked up as he thought about his eldest son serving in the Air Force and acknowledged - as he looked at Bart and Connie - his greatest fear is to receive the telephone call the Howards did nearly three years ago.
"When I go across the bridge I will be thinking of Lance Cpl. Abram Howard and all the parents with children in the service," Wheeland said, with tears in his eyes.
His colleague, Commissioner Tony Mussare also expressed appreciation for Howard's son. "I want you to know you can always lean on this community," Mussare said. "After all, we've leaned on your son."
Commissioner Ernie Larson reminisced about the days when workers had to get in a row boat to cross the span to go to work in the morning.
DuBoistown Borough Council President Mike Cashera described the day as "glorious." While Cashera recognized the heartache that time could not ever fully heal felt by Howard's parents and loved ones, Cashera said the bridge represents a code of pride and brotherhood, what Howard lived by and one that all Marines follow to this day.
Yaw acknowledged it was difficult to find the right words to say so he paraphrased and quoted past U.S. presidents.
"Some people live their entire lifetime and wonder if they ever made a difference in the world, but the Marines never have that problem," Yaw said, quoting President Ronald Reagan.
"From an old Army officer, Yaw said, "I salute you," he said looking at Howard's parents.
Williamsport Mayor Gabriel J. Campana used the Bible and words of Jesus Christ, who said, "No greater gift can a man give than to lay down his life for others."
Citations from the U.S. House of Representatives, were presented by U.S. Rep. Thomas A. Marino, R-Cogan Station, who also gave Howard's parents a medallion in honor of their son, and a citation was sent on behalf of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, by his aide Steve Kelly, and recognition was given on behalf of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton. State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, sent his appreciation and was celebrating the birth of a second grandson, according to Mirabito.
For his bravery, Howard received the Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with distinguished "V" device, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Armed Forces Service Medal and NATO Medal. Howard came from a long line of Marines.
"Look at that bridge," said the Rev. John Manno, representing the United Churches of Lycoming County and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Montoursville. "Look at the bulwarks and span," he said, looking at the Howards and saying, "You also give use much strength."
Manno borrowed the lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," with, "I will lay me down," a reference to the sacrifice made by Howard in war-torn foreign land.
Throughout the ceremony were readings, such as "In Flanders Fields," by James Foran, and playing of Amazing Grace and The Gael on trumpet and bagpipes.
"The bridge is Lycoming County's small way of saying to Abe and every solider who has ever donned the uniform - thank you. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten," Mirabito said.