Highly decorated Vietnam hero gets final honors
February 22, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 22, 2010) -- One of America's most decorated Soldiers, Col. Robert L. Howard, was laid to rest Feb. 22 in Arlington National Cemetery, after having served his country for nearly half a century.
Howard enlisted in the Army in 1956, at only 17 years old. His service included time with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions; 2nd Ranger Battalion; 3rd, 5th, and 6th Special Forces Group; 5th Infantry Division; 7th Corps and XVIII Airborne Corps. He also served in the Eighth United States Army and Combined Forces Command.
Howard served five tours in Vietnam -- and claimsed a total of 58 months in combat.
While a noncommissioned officer, Howard served as a demolitions sergeant. And with Special Forces, he served the majority of his time with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - Studies and Observations Group.
In December 1969, then-Master Sgt. Robert L. Howard was commissioned to first lieutenant.
While serving in Vietnam, Howard was wounded 14 times. Between 1968 and 1969, he was put in for three Medals of Honor. He was awarded one of those in 1971, by President Richard M. Nixon.
It was for his actions while serving as a platoon sergeant in Vietnam that Howard was nominated for and ultimately received the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 30, 1968, Howard's unit was on a mission to rescue an American Soldier who was missing in enemy territory. After his platoon left their helicopter landing zone, they were attacked by enemy combatants. Howard himself was wounded and his weapon was destroyed. Howard saw his platoon leader, a first lieutenant, was also wounded and exposed to enemy fire. "Although unable to walk, and weaponless, ... Howard unhesitatingly crawled through a hail of fire to retrieve his wounded leader," reads the Medal of Honor citation.
While administering first aid to his platoon leader, an enemy bullet struck one of the lieutenant's ammunition pouches, detonating several magazines of ammunition.
"Howard momentarily sought cover and then realizing that he must rejoin the platoon, which had been disorganized by the enemy attack, he again began dragging the seriously wounded officer toward the platoon area," the citation continues.
Howard was able to rally his platoon and get them reorganized, the citation said. At risk to himself, Howard crawled from position to position and administered first aid to those who needed it. He also led his platoon in staving off enemy attacks for three and a half hours until it was possible to permit the landing of rescue helicopters.
During his time in service, Howard earned the Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, four Bronze Stars for Valor, eight Purple Hearts, the Defense Superior Service Medal, four Legion's of Merit and a Bronze Star for Meritorious Achievement.
Following 36 years on active duty, Howard retired from military service, though he continued to serve Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines by working with the Department of Veterans Affairs for more than a dozen year.
Howard died Dec. 23, in Waco, Texas, of pancreatic cancer. He was 70. He is survived by four children: Melissa Gentsch, Denicia Howard, Roslyn Howard and Sgt. Robert L. Howard Jr. Howard also has four grandchildren.
(Pentagram reporter Alex McVeigh and ARNEWS correspondent C. Todd Lopez contributed to this report.)