Drafted into the Army on May 15, 1941, Howard was assigned to the 4th Armored Division at Watertown in upper New York State. But the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed his life. The Army Air Corps needed pilots, so with his keen vision and sense of duty Howard requested a transfer. He received basic flight training at Parks Air College in St. Louis, primary training at Vance Airbase in Enid, Oklahoma, and finished his schooling at Foster Field in Victoria, Texas.
Commissioned as a second lieutenant with pilot’s wings on November 11, 1942, Howard’s first flight assignment was at Westover Field in Springfield, Massachusetts. There, he flew P-47 Thunderbolts under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Avelin P. Tacon Jr., who commanded the 359th Fighter Group, comprised of the 368th, 369th, and 370th Fighter Squadrons.
Assigned to Grenier Field in New Hampshire in 1943, the 368th and 369th Fighter Squadrons continued their training in P-47s, although a shortage of planes limited each pilot’s flight time. In May, Howard was transferred to Republic Field on Long Island, where his squadron received new Thunderbolts, and training intensified. Howard then returned to Westover Field in August. On October 1, 1943, he received his combat orders and traveled to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey to await his transfer overseas.