When writing a book, most authors start at the beginning. Bill Howey started at the end.
In “Hard Knocks and Straight Talk,” Howey opens his memoirs with his own obituary. He acknowledges it’s a bit premature since he’s alive and well, but freely admits those first two written pages are how he’d like to be remembered — his admiration for the opportunity of a life filled with the beauty of our planet, its diversity of wonderful people and years of satisfying personal challenges.
Raised in a Pennsylvania coal town, Howey hadn’t been inclined toward academics, so he had two choices after high school — the military or the mines. He opted for the Marine Corps and enlisted exactly one day after graduation.
What started as a last resort decision to keep him out of the mines became a fulfilling 32-year career.
“The Marines took me in, trained me and made me grow up — fast,” said Howey. And for that he’ll be forever grateful.
Entering military service as a private, he served in Vietnam as a Second Lieutenant, and upon retirement Howey had earned the rank of Lt. Colonel. Through the years he held jobs most people only dream about. He led clandestine operations for the CIA, served two assignments in the State Department and was part of the Secret Service protecting Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Some missions were dangerous, some assignments were routine, but all of them, said Howey, shaped the way he feels about the country and its future.
During his military career, Howey met and married his first wife and they had two daughters. He served three tours in Vietnam and between 1964 and 1969 he spent a total of 18 months with his family.
“It was tough on family life, but we managed to hold it together.”
After retirement, Howey was offered high paying jobs in Washington, D.C., but he declined.
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Colonel William C. Howey (ret) was determined to give back to a country that had given so much to him. He felt the best way to do that was to start with the kids. After securing his teaching certificate, Howey joined a high school at Boyertown, Penn. to teach government and history to sophomores and juniors.
“I had the time of my life,” said Howey. “My wife told me she’d never seen me happier than after a day with the kids.”
Not only did he bring his Marine discipline to the classroom, but along with it, he brought the same fairness and honesty he learned in the military. He could always be counted on to tell the truth.
“They could ask me anything in the world.”
His students were fascinated with his experiences and took him at his word, asking pointed questions about war-time killing.
“I would have liked to have served for 32 years and never heard a shot fired in anger, but that’s not the way life goes.”
He showed movies he’d taken of the Vietnamese countryside and rice paddies, while talking frankly to his students. His class became so popular, parents would sit in. Finally Howey’s class was moved into the auditorium so study hall students could attend. Howey doesn’t think it’s any big mystery why his classes were so popular.
“They respected me because of what I’ve gone through,” he said. “I started out with nothing, and proved you can do something with your life. I gave them hope that they could do it, too.”
In 1999 Howey received the Educator of the Year Award for Berks and Montgomery Counties. He was nominated by his students for Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers — for 12 consecutive years.
Bill Howey’s first wife, Margaret, passed away in 2002, and he later remarried, Cindy, his present wife. He decided to write his memoirs for his daughters, Kimberly and Dianna.
“I wanted to tell my daughters why their father wasn’t home while they were growing up,” he said. Much of what he wrote was about his military service and patriotic feelings for the United States.
“Then the more I wrote, the angrier I got at our government, and the book took on a life of its own. My memoirs morphed to the political aspects of government.”
Once he got started, he couldn’t stop. “I’d wake up at 2 a.m. and remember something. My wife would find me in my office typing.”
Two and a half years later, “Hard Knocks and Straight Talk” hit the shelves. In it, Howey calls for revolution in America.
“But I want it justified by our Constitution. America must wake up about their politicians.”
Outlined in the book are five key messages Howey believes American citizens must address. People tend to vote for candidates based on the wrong reasons, and not on the actual qualifications of the individual, he said.
“This is the lazy approach and, America deserves better.”
Raised as a Democrat, Howey became a Republican during his military years. Today he’s independent and speaks his mind without party affiliation.
There are critical issues, he said, that should have been dealt with 10 years ago — oil and the National Debt to name just two. His book deals with his perspective only, but he says he faces the issues honestly, just as he did with his former students.
Over his 15 years as an educator, Howey touched the lives of nearly 2,000 students, and many of them keep in touch with him today. He receives nearly 30 e-mails a week and answers every one. Today, between e-mails and phone calls, he’s busy packing up cartons of his book.
In June, he and his wife Cindy will travel back to Boyertown Area High School for a book signing, and he expects many of his former students will be there. The reunion will most likely be emotional.
“I’ve had a great career,” said Howey, “and I love this country.”
While he has had enormous pride in serving as a Marine, upon reflection, he would like most to be known for his relationships and successes with his students.
“I apparently was extremely successful with so many students,” he said. “Their obvious love for me as a teacher is in all likelihood my finest accomplishment.”
Visit www.williamhowey.com for more information on “Hard Knocks and Straight Talk.”