Arthur W Howe III, 88, formerly of Chestnut Hill, a decorated war hero and local insurance executive, died of lung disease March 10 in Charleston, S.C.
Mr. Howe was a proud member of the so-called Greatest Generation, growing up in the Chestnut Hill area during the Depression and going on to fight in World War II. He left Williams College at the outset of World War II to enter the Naval Aviation Cadet program.
He became a commissioned officer and served in numerous air battles in the Pacific Theater before he was shot down and captured in 1944 by the Japanese at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
In a remarkable coincidence, after his fighter plane was hit, Mr. Howe’s life was saved from enemy artillery fire by his childhood friend, longtime Philadelphia City Councilman and Chestnut Hill resident W. Thacher Longstreth. Unbeknownst to Mr. Howe, Longstreth had left Princeton University also to become a Naval pilot. He was flying from another aircraft carrier but engaged in the same battle.
In a story recounted often by Longstreth, the two recognized each other in mid-air while Mr. Howe was preparing to eject from his burning plane. Longstreth performed a series of maneuvers to direct fire at enemy ships and ground encampments that allowed Mr. Howe to land safely in the water.
Mr. Howe was the first captive in the battle and, along with other U.S. airmen, was eventually sent to Japan’s most brutal prison camp, the Ofuna Interrogation Center, also known as the “Torture Camp.” Mr. Howe survived six months of continuous torture and interrogations at the hands of the center’s sadistic head guard, a pharmacist nicknamed “Congo Cho,” later sentenced to death by the War Crimes Tribunal.
After his release from prison in 1945, Mr. Howe submitted to the military a detailed account of the camp and its treatment of prisoners, but he would never speak again about his experience until near his death.
Mr. Howe received numerous citations, including the Air Medal, Purple Heart, POW Medal, and the Presidential Unit Citation. After serving in the Korean War, he later went on to become a test pilot, flying 25 different types of aircraft, including the Navy’s first jet aircraft, and setting a number of speed records.
As a pilot testing planes made by the Chance Vought aircraft company, he became a member of the Caterpillar Club for having to parachute out of a disabled aircraft. He also was a member of the elite 1,000 MPH Club, as one of the first people to fly a fighter plane more than 1,000 mph. He later became one of the first pilots to break the sound barrier.
Mr. Howe retired from the Navy in 1962 to take a job in public affairs at the Philadelphia-based Insurance Company of North America, now Cigna. He went on to become president of the Insurance Company of North America Foundation. While in that role, Mr. Howe worked closely with Philadelphia mayors and civic leaders on everything from the initial “Earth Day” to putting together an exhibit of the history of firefighting.
Mr. Howe and his wife of 54 years, the former Jean Craig, lived in Chestnut Hill until 1980 before moving to Kiawah Island, S.C., where they retired and participated in the island’s development and growth. Mr. Howe later joined the board of directors of the Bee Street Home that conceived and built Bishop Gadsden, a retirement community outside Charleston where he and his wife would move.
Born in Philadelphia, the son of Arthur W Howe, Jr. and Willie Moss Howe, also of Chestnut Hill, Mr. Howe attended St Paul’s School in Hanover, Maine, and attended Williams College. He completed his education at the University of Pennsylvania.
He was a member of the Exchange Club and served on the vestry at the Church of our Savior. He also was an active tennis player and a former member of the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Howe is survived by a son, Arthur Howe IV of Wyndmoor; a daughter, Helen Turnage, and a stepdaughter, Lisa Mittnacht, both of Charleston; stepsons Frederic and Craig Asche of Charleston; a sister, Rosemary Wetherill, and nine grandchildren.
Family and friends are invited to a visitation at the Howe’s Cottage, Bishop Gadsden, 3 Bishop Gadsden Way, Charleston, S.C. 29412, from 3-5:30 p.m. Sunday, March 20. Memorial donations may be made to the Bishop Gadsden Resident’s Fund at the above address.