Honor matters. In any organization, military or civilian, the importance of integrity, loyalty, and dedication are beyond question. It is these principles that led the United States to victory in World War I, a war now a century in the past. Millions of Americans served in this war, some giving everything for their country, including Texans. One of the men leading American troops into battle was Gen. Robert Howze, a career officer from East Texas who served with quiet dedication and honor throughout his 38-year career.
Robert Lee Howze was born in Overton, a small community just east of Tyler, in 1864. He was born in the midst of the Civil War as the Confederate effort neared collapse. His father, James Howze, served as a captain in the 14th Texas Cavalry. Growing up, he was inspired by his father’s own wartime service to seek a military career of his own.
Howze graduated from Hubbard College, more of a college-preparatory school, in 1883. He was awarded an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. When he graduated in 1888, he earned a commission as a lieutenant and was assigned to the Sixth Cavalry in the New Mexico Territory.
In 1890, the army grew concerned about the growth of the Ghost Dance religion at the Black Hills Indian Reservation in South Dakota and the associated ceremonial dances. Fearing a rebellion was about to erupt, army units across the West were sent to the reservation to restore order. What resulted was the mass shootings of unarmed civilians, culminating in the Wounded Knee Massacre in December 1890 in which 150 Sioux were killed. Howze and his unit were not involved in that incident, and actions against the Sioux continued. Howze was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in an engagement with a group of Sioux in January 1891. The medals awarded during the campaign, however, have become increasingly controversial since that time.
By 1905, now a lieutenant colonel, Howze was named commandant of cadets at West Point. He emphasized honor and integrity as commandant. When one cadet was ostracized by his entire class for reporting a hazing incident in 1907, Howze threatened to expel the entire class. He would go on to serve with Gen. John Pershing’s punitive expedition into Mexico in 1916 against Pancho Villa. Howze was then assigned to Fort Bliss in El Paso and promoted to brigadier general in 1917.
America was being drawn into the Great War in Europe. President Woodrow Wilson had attempted to stay neutral in the fighting and even tried to negotiate a peace settlement since the war started in 1914. In 1917, after Germany threatened to attack American ships and attempted to incite Mexico to attack the US, America declared war on Germany. Quickly, millions of men were drafted into the service in a war to, as Wilson said, “make the world safe for democracy.”
He was given command of the 38th Infantry Division, training as many new recruits as possible before sending them to France. The fighting was fierce. American casualties surged. He was promoted to major general and given command of the Third Division in the decisive Meuse-Argonne Offensive in October 1918. American troops fought with great courage under Howze’s command. The offensive finished off the exhausted Germans, who asked for a cease-fire after years of battle and millions dead across Europe. The war officially ended on November 11, 1918, a day remembered afterward as Armistice Day and today known as Veterans Day.
Howze and his forces stayed in Germany until 1919 as an occupational force. Germany was in the midst of a revolution after the war, and the Allies stayed to maintain order. He was then returned to Fort Bliss.
In America, Billy Mitchell, a decorated army general, saw a new war coming on the horizon and tried to warn the nation. Mitchell desperately sought support for developing the Army Air Corps and new aviation technology and foresaw the serious deficiencies in American defenses in Hawaii. However, Mitchell’s bitter and public criticisms of army preparedness and air technology development led to his demotion and reassignments to an army camp in San Antonio by 1925. His continued criticisms led to charges of insubordination and a court-martial by early 1926.
Gen. Howze presided over the board of judges hearing the court martial of Mitchell. It would be his last major duty for the army. In the widely-publicized hearing, Mitchell was found guilty and suspended for five years from the service.
The general passed away quietly in Columbus, Ohio, in September 1926, a little more than seven months after the Mitchell trial. His two sons, both West Point graduates themselves, would serve honorable careers in the army, both reaching the rank of general. The army remembered the service of Howze and honored his memory by naming Camp Howze for him in 1941. The camp was an army training center near Gainesville, near the site of the modern-day municipal airport, before it closed in 1946. Another Camp Howze was established in South Korea before it was turned over to South Korean command in 2005.
Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.