Robert Howard dies on 23 December 2009
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Medal of Honor
HOWARD, ROBERT L.
Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces
Place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 30 December 1968
Entered service at: Montgomery, Alabama
Born: 11 July 1939, Opelika, Alabama
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. 1st Lt. Howard (then Sfc.), distinguished himself while serving as platoon sergeant of an American-Vietnamese platoon which was on a mission to rescue a missing American soldier in enemy controlled territory in the Republic of Vietnam. The platoon had left its helicopter landing zone and was moving out on its mission when it was attacked by an estimated 2-company force. During the initial engagement, 1st Lt. Howard was wounded and his weapon destroyed by a grenade explosion. 1st Lt. Howard saw his platoon leader had been wounded seriously and was exposed to fire. Although unable to walk, and weaponless, 1st Lt. Howard unhesitatingly crawled through a hail of fire to retrieve his wounded leader. As 1st Lt. Howard was administering first aid and removing the officer's equipment, an enemy bullet struck 1 of the ammunition pouches on the lieutenant's belt, detonating several magazines of ammunition. 1st Lt. 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. Through his outstanding example of indomitable courage and bravery, 1st Lt. Howard was able to rally the platoon into an organized defense force. With complete disregard for his safety, 1st Lt. Howard crawled from position to position, administering first aid to the wounded, giving encouragement to the defenders and directing their fire on the encircling enemy. For 3 1/2 hours 1st Lt. Howard's small force and supporting aircraft successfully repulsed enemy attacks and finally were in sufficient control to permit the landing of rescue helicopters. 1st Lt. Howard personally supervised the loading of his men and did not leave the bullet-swept landing zone until all were aboard safely. 1st Lt. Howard's gallantry in action, his complete devotion to the welfare of his men at the risk of his life were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
Robert Howard, Decorated Serviceman, Dies at 70
New York Times, December 25, 2009
By Richard Goldstein
Col. Robert L. Howard, one of the Vietnam War’s most highly decorated servicemen, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing fellow Green Berets while wounded and under enemy fire, died Wednesday December 23, 2009 at a hospice in Waco, Tex. He was 70.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his son-in-law Frank Gentsch.
In five tours of duty in Vietnam, Colonel Howard also received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest award for valor, the Silver Star and eight Purple Hearts.
In December 1968, Sergeant First Class Howard, his rank at the time, was in a platoon of American and South Vietnamese troops who came under fire while trying to land in their helicopters on a mission to find a missing Green Beret. As the men set out after a prolonged firefight to clear the landing zone, they were attacked by some 250 North Vietnamese troops.
As related in “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty,” by Peter Collier, Sergeant Howard was knocked unconscious by an exploding mine. When he came to, his eyes were bloodied and his hands injured by shrapnel that had also destroyed his rifle. He heard his lieutenant groaning in pain a few yards away. He then saw an enemy soldier with a flamethrower burning the bodies of American and South Vietnamese soldiers who had just been killed.
Sergeant Howard was unable to walk, but he threw a grenade toward the soldier with the flamethrower and managed to grab the lieutenant. As he was crawling with him toward shelter, a bullet struck his ammunition pouch, blowing him several feet down a hill. Clutching a pistol given to him by a fellow soldier, Sergeant Howard shot several North Vietnamese soldiers and got the lieutenant down to a ravine.
Taking command of the surviving and encircled Green Berets, Sergeant Howard administered first aid, encouraged them to return fire and called in air strikes. The Green Berets held off the North Vietnamese until they were evacuated by helicopters.
Having gained an officer’s commission after that exploit, he received the Medal of Honor from President Richard M. Nixon on March 2, 1971. The citation credited him for his “complete devotion to the welfare of his men at the risk of his life.”
Robert Lewis Howard was born on July 11, 1939, in Opelika, Ala.. He entered the Army in 1956 at age 17 and joined the 101st Airborne Division, his father and four uncles having served in the paratroopers during World War II.
In 1965, on his first duty tour in Vietnam, he was wounded in the face by a ricocheting bullet. While recuperating in a field hospital, he was recruited for the Special Forces, commonly known as the Green Berets.
He remained in the military until 1992, retiring as a colonel, then worked as a counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
He is survived by his daughters Denicia Howard, of Florida; Melissa Gentsch, of Hewitt, Tex., a Waco suburb, and Rosslyn Howard, of California; a son, Robert Jr., an Army sergeant, of California, and four grandchildren.
Colonel Howard often visited with American servicemen to speak about his combat experiences, making five trips to Iraq.
During a visit there in April, together with Gary Littrell, another Medal of Honor recipient, who had been a sergeant in Vietnam, one soldier asked the men how they had remained motivated during the war and, in turn, how they had motivated their men.
“We had no choice but to stay motivated as leaders,” Colonel Howard said. “As for our soldiers, we reminded them that God and country came before our needs.”
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