In 1967, Fort Belvoir was a bustling post, training Army engineers for the Vietnam War. In spite of combat preparations, soldiers still had time to help with community projects, including preparing Howrey Field Park, just north of Braddock Road in Annandale, for the upcoming Little League baseball season.
On June 1 of that year, Fort Belvoir’s 77th Engineer Port Construction Company sent 14 soldiers to erect light poles at the field so games could continue past twilight. Six soldiers were raising a steel flagpole into position when a gust of wind began tilting it. The soldiers struggled to keep it upright as it continued to lean, until it touched a high-voltage power line. In a blinding flash of sparks and flames, all six died.
Richard Elliott, an elementary school student at the time, remembers he was at baseball practice that day at North Springfield Elementary School, several miles away, when he heard a large boom.
“Then we heard the sirens,” Elliott said. “After practice, we drove home and Braddock Road was a sea of red lights. I remember it like it was yesterday, and how devastated my dad was the next morning.”
Elliott recalled that Fort Belvoir soldiers not only erected the lighting and flagpole but also did the excavation work. “It was a tragic day.”
On June 8, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a proclamation that June 1 be remembered as “Soldiers of Howrey Field Day.”
Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said he would like to see an annual event to recognize the efforts of Fort Belvoir and the sacrifice of those six young soldiers.
“What is more incredible than the story of this tragedy is the contributions that their efforts made to generations of children in Fairfax County who have been able to enjoy those fields and continue to enjoy them to this day,” Walkinshaw said.
Each of the three baseball fields at the complex is now dedicated to two of the men who died that day: Pvt. Paul Briggs and Pvt. Anthony Evans Memorial Field; Spc. Kenneth Steiner and Pvt. Charles Whaley Memorial Field, and Pfc. Marvin Harrison and Pvt. Charles Oliver Memorial Field. The soldiers ranged in age from 17 to 24.
Fairfax County Board Chair Jeffrey McKay thanked Fort Belvoir for the important role it continues to play in the community.
“I had not heard this story before,” McKay said. “We’re telling this story and making sure that this anniversary is always remembered. It’s a powerful tribute to people who lost their lives serving their community.”
Annandale resident Terry Powers, an ex-Army ordnance officer who lives nearby, has been keeping the remembrance alive by cleaning up the landscaping around a memorial plaque and the relocated flagpole. Powers hopes that the county can institutionalize awareness by adding a historical marker at the park’s entrance on Glen Park Road.
“I do have a passion for this, as I’m a soldier,” Powers added. “As the plaque says – ‘Lest we forget.’ I think they deserve to be remembered.”