By Tim O’Meilia
Walter Gregory Howarth, Jr., a World War II hero and prison camp survivor who became
the police chief in his New Jersey hometown, died June 19 in his adopted home
at Seagate Towers in Delray Beach. He was 88.
Mr. Howarth, known as Greg, was rarely out of uniform from the time he joined the
New Jersey National Guard while in high school in1939 — moving from the
National Guard to the Army to the police force and, finally, a security guard
At 6-foot-2 with an ever-present crewcut, Mr. Howarth was a “man’s man,” as his friends said.
“He was quite formidable,” said his daughter, Sherri Hayes. “Whenever a boyfriend would come over, they didn’t know whether to shake his hand or salute.”
As a member of the 507th Paratroop Infantry Regiment of the fabled 82nd Airborne
Division, he parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the Allies
launched their invasion. Although he survived the landing, he was wounded by
shrapnel two days later and awoke in a German hospital.
Mr. Howarth spent the remaining nine months of the war as a prisoner in Stalag 3C,
for enlisted men, until Allied forces liberated the camp at the war’s end. He
was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the French Croix de Guerre.
Like many of generation, he rarely spoke of his wartime experiences. His daughter
said she learned more about him by talking to his men at annual reunions of the
507th. “When he was captured, he was a squad leader, so he felt guilt that he
had let his men down,” she said. “Those were the sort of values he had.”
After the war, in 1946, Mr. Howarth earned his commission as a second lieutenant. A
year later, he signed on as a policeman in East Paterson, N.J., where he grew
up. He remained in the National Guard.
He was activated during the Korean War and trained paratroopers at Fort Benning,
Ga., in 1951. He retired in 1972 as a lieutenant colonel after 33 years in the
By then he had worked his way through the ranks of the East Paterson police force
from patrolman to sergeant to detective lieutenant to captain to deputy chief
and finally police chief in 1970. Two years later, the town changed its named
to Elmwood Park.
Mr. Howarth retired eight years later and moved to a home near Lake Ida in Delray
Beach. For 18 years he worked as a security guard at a gated community to keep
busy. In the 1990s, they moved to Seagate Towers.
He knew his eventual wife, Marie Grunier, at Eastside High School, but it wasn’t
until after the war that they became sweethearts. “It was a When Harry Met Sally story,” his
A high school buddy, who was also in the same prisoner-of-war camp as Mr.
Howarth, was Marie’s beau and invited him to double-date with them. The rest,
as they say, is history.
As high school graduates, the Howarths delighted in the doctorate earned by their
daughter, who is on the faculty at the University of Miami Medical School. “He
would introduce me as ‘My daughter, the doctor,’ ” Hayes said.
The couple was married for 52 years until Mrs. Howarth’s death in 1995. “She was the love of his life,” his daughter said. “Each year without her got sadder.”
Mr. Howarth is survived by his sister, Margaret Bowman of Hawthorne, N.J.; his daughter, Sherrill Hayes of Palmetto Bay, and three grandchildren.
A memorial service is being planned for September. Instead of flowers,
contributions may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project (Disabled Sports
Project), 7020 AC Skinner Parkway, Suite 100, Jacksonville, FL 32256, or to the
First Presbyterian Church, 33 Gleason St., Delray Beach, FL 33483. Loren &
Sons Funeral Home, Delray Beach, is in charge of arrangements.