C. Roe Howard, Class of 1917 and a founder of Beta Omicron, was Cornell’s greatest World War I hero. He left campus in the spring of his senior year to enter the first officer’s training camp for World War I, receiving his degree from President Flint in a special service for students serving in the military. He won a commission as first lieutenant and was one of nine men chosen to go to France at once. Howard was wounded near Chateau Theirry and decorated for gallantry in action. He was killed in action near Verdun, France, on Oct. 16, 1918. President Flint placed a potted white heather plant, in the name of all Cornellians, on his grave during a trip to Europe in 1921.
“Of all the men who went from Mount Vernon it would be hard to find one who was more generally liked and esteemed than Lieutenant Howard,” said a Mount Vernon Record article. “When he enlisted he was a great big, bright, good natured boy of high ideals, clean cut in every way, with a big heart and a kind word for everyone. … he said many times that he hated war, but that he would not, for the world, be anywhere else than where he was, doing his bit, so long as the work remained to be done.”
His was the first American regiment decorated by the French government, given for marked bravery under the fiercest assaults of the enemy. Howard had written friends on campus that he had been “scratched” once or twice but said nothing of his Distinguished Service Cross for heroism. He was hit in the thigh by a piece of shrapnel an inch long and half an inch wide. He did not consent to go to the hospital until two days later. The Mount Vernon Record printed several of Howard’s letters, including one to his mother saying, “I do not suffer at all, only I am restless from continually lying in bed. … this hospital is at one of France’s famous old watering places and you never saw such wonderful buildings. It must be quite similar to World’s Fair Architecture.” His letter mentioned only one of three wounds he sustained.
In the final article before his death, the Record said, “Lieut. Howard has shown himself to be a fearless soldier, who could not be driven from his post until his work was done; and following this, he was big enough to write of the gallantry of his associates, making his own part merely secondary. That is the spirit that will follow him into civilian life, where he will stay by the hard jobs, big jobs that will be his to perform, leading his men on to victory as he did in France, and not emphasizing the part he is taking in the work.”
Howard made a lasting contribution by co-founding the Owls and was a true liberal arts student. He was an all-state guard on the football team, played basketball and tennis, participated in orchestra, and was a member of the Amphictyon Literary Society. Roe Howard was memorialized on Oct. 2, 2004, with the dedication of the Roe Howard Fitness Center in the Thomas Commons.