Hugh Conor McDowell, Marine first lieutenant, dies in training accident

1st Lt. Hugh Conor McDowell died May 9 when the 13-ton, eight-wheeled reconnaissance vehicle he was commanding at Camp Pendleton plunged into a depression concealed by brush and weeds and turned over. He was 24.
1st Lt. Hugh Conor McDowell died May 9 when the 13-ton, eight-wheeled reconnaissance vehicle he was commanding at Camp Pendleton plunged into a depression concealed by brush and weeds and turned over. He was 24. (AP)

1st Lt. Hugh Conor McDowell, a Marines platoon commander, died May 9 on maneuvers in a military training accident at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, Calif. The former Chestertown resident was 24.

Lt. McDowell was commanding a 13-ton, eight-wheeled reconnaissance vehicle that carried seven crew members. The vehicle rolled over in a depression that had recently experienced heavy rains.


Born in Washington, D.C., he was the son of Michael H C McDowell, a Belfast-born journalist and Canadian Broadcasting Corp. editor. His mother was Susan Marie Flanigan, a former Gallaudet University public relations official who was born in Baltimore. His parents met while his mother lived in Bolton Hill.

Lt. McDowell was raised on Capitol Hill and in Chevy Chase. He was a 2013 graduate of St. John’s College High School, where he joined the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program and was command sergeant major of his school unit. He also played rugby and community soccer.

The 24-year-old Marine Corps platoon commander who died Thursday after being injured in an accident at Camp Pendleton, California was from Maryland.

He was an acolyte, reader and church school student at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square.

He earned a bachelor of science degree from The Citadel and immediately joined the Marine Corps. He was commissioned the day before he graduated and was provost marshal of the 1st Battalion and in Alpha Company.

He began his Marine training at Quantico in Virginia in 2017 and qualified for the Infantry Officer Course and was also selected for Light Armored Reconnaissance.

Family members said Lt. McDowell was known by his middle name, Conor, after his godfather, Conor Cruise O’Brien, an Irish politician, author and columnist for the Irish Independent.

As a child, Lt. McDowell was interested in the military and selected his high school because it offered an ROTC elective.

Marsha Carow, a former social worker, publishing executive and NBC researcher who loved to travel, died May 10 of cancer.

“Conor was a tall, extremely strong and fit man of very military bearing, who was gung-ho about the Marine Corps and serving his country, which had a lot invested in him,” said a family friend, Daniel Berger, a former editorial writer and London correspondent for The Sun. “He had a great enthusiasm for junior ROTC. When it came time for him to go to college, he was for Citadel because it had a strong Marine Corps program. As I watched him grow up, and while he was in military training, he became more fit and strong. He was exactly whom you want defending us.”

Said another family friend, Joseph “Joe” Berger, a Baltimore-born attorney who lives in Washington: “Conor was always friendly and intelligent, and his transformation into an outgoing and accomplished Marine, and a leader in the service, was truly impressive.

“He was very proud to be in the Marines and he loved his work; he was always happy and eager to tell us about his progress, his assignments and his work with his fellow students and soldiers, and he was always looking forward to his next challenge. He was extremely intellectual, knowledgeable and patriotic, and as a student at The Citadel and a respected and rising leader in the service, his enthusiasm for the Marines was endlessly inspirational.”

At the time of the accident that claimed his life, Lt. McDowell was a first lieutenant and Bravo Company platoon commander in the Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton.

Robert J. Pfeffer Sr., founder of a Baltimore trucking company, died May 13 of complications of dementia at Copper Ridge in Sykesville. He was 92.

His father said he was leading his new platoon in a light-armored vehicle that plunged into a depression concealed by brush and weeds and turned over.

“Conor saved the gunner in the twin turret on his left, quickly pushing the corporal down into the safety of the heavy armor, but it was too late to save his own life,” his father said.

His Marine colleagues immediately placed an American flag over the body after it had been recovered from the vehicle.


He spent his summers on his mother’s family summer homes near Easton, Oxford and Royal Oak. He enjoyed music and played the drums. He was also a traveler.

“With his cousins, he raced Hobie Cats on the Bay,” said his father. “He was a good swimmer and athlete, and he loved spending time on the water and at family events with his younger cousins.”

Lt. McDowell was engaged to be married to Kathleen Bourque, a North Carolina resident who attended Loyola University Maryland. They had a home in Cardiff-by-the-Sea in Encinitas, Calif.

A military funeral is being planned at Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery. A private family memorial service will be held Friday in Chestertown.

Lt. McDowell is survived by his parents and his fiancee.

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