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Dedicated to the History of Burke, Virginia | P.O. Box 243 Burke, VA 22009

Tragedy at Howrey Field

By Mary Lipsey, with contributions from Brian Slawski.  Credit goes as well to Glenn Curtis, whose recent interview helped provide this information, and to Jim Hawkins, who recorded the interview.

On June 1st, 1967, six young soldiers from Fort Belvoir were electrocuted at Edward Howrey Field, at the intersection of Braddock Road and Glen Park Road, when they lost control of a 45-foot flag pole that they were installing at the ball fields.  The flag pole had been placed in a hole but started to sway.  The soldiers were trying to steady the pole when it fell onto a 7,200-volt electric line.

The victims were part of a ten-man team of the 77th Engineer Port Construction Company.  As community service, the team was preparing the ball fields for opening day.  A witness, sixteen-year-old Bob Ramey, said there was a big flash, and then he saw the soldiers lying on the ground with their clothes on fire. 

According to Glenn Curtis, a first responder, the Burke fire chief was driving down Braddock Road when a Fort Belvoir soldier flagged him down.  The fire chief called in the alarm to the Burke Firehouse.  Both the Annandale and Burke fire department responded.  No aid could be provided until the power was turned off.

The six soldiers, who were all under the age of 22, were Pvt. Paul Briggs, Pvt Anthony Evans, PFC Marvin Harrison, Pvt. Charles Oliver, Spec. Kenneth Steiner, and Pvt. Charles Whaley.  Memorial services were held at the Fort Belvoir Chapel and later at the Howrey fields.

Over fifty years has passed since the tragedy.  A widened Braddock Road covers the original location of the accident.  Today, each of the three ball fields is named in honor of two of the soldiers, and there is a flagpole and memorial signs to remember the young men.  The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has designated June 1st as “Soldiers of Howrey Field Park Day.”

Finally, you may be wondering about the Edward Howrey for whom the park was named.  Edward F. “Jack” Howrey was born in 1903 in Waterloo, Iowa, and came to Washington for law school.  After working for the U.S. Department of Justice and in private practice, he was appointed to the Federal Trade Commission, serving as chairman until 1955.  Subsequently, he co-founded Howrey & Simon, which became one of the largest antitrust and intellectual property firms before dissolving in 2011.

In 1935, Edward and Jane Howrey purchased Oak Hill, built ca 1790, the last surviving manor of Fairfax County’s historic Ravensworth land grant.  (While today Oak Hill has an Annandale address, in his FTC confirmation hearings Mr. Howrey stated that he considered himself a resident of Burke.)  During the couple’s stewardship of the home, they discovered in the attic a trove of former owners’ personal correspondence and legal documents, spanning the years 1743 to 1902.  Fortunately, the Howreys donated this bonanza to the Virginia Historical Society, and photocopies are available at the Virginia Room of the City of Fairfax Regional Library.  As for Oak Hill itself, the house remains privately owned, but once a year it’s opened to the public in cooperation with the Fairfax County Park Authority.

If you haven’t been there, we hope you get a chance to visit Howrey Field Park—which remains in frequent use by Little League teams—to see the memorials.  It seems fitting that this site jointly recognizes the contributions of its honorees, who served both the country and the local community in various ways, and whom we can thank for their role in bestowing two of Fairfax County’s treasures today: our parks and Oak Hill.

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