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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Portrait Of A Man: Robert L. Howard

(Robert Howard, on the left, with fellow SOG member)

Many of our most decorated military servicemen are well known. Most of you have heard of Audie Murphy, the most highly decorated WWII vet. Names like Alvin York are also easily recognized.

But who has ever heard of Robert "Bob" Howard, believed by many to be the most highly decorated American soldier in history? Although the Medal of Honor is strictly a political award, some men have won it that ought not to have won it, and some who ought to have won it did not. Despite this, some men have won it who richly deserved it. Howard was the only soldier in US history to be recommended for the award three times, for three separate actions, within a 13 month period.

He was born in Opelika, Alabama, on July 11, 1939 and joined the military at Montgomery in 1956. After going through Ranger school, Howard qualified for the Special Forces and was assigned to the famous 5th Group. During Vietnam, he became involved in the super secret MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam- Studies and Observation Group). As a member of the recon team at Kontum, he led classified missions into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam. These were extremely dangerous. Special Forces soldiers gained a fiercesome reputation and were generally looked down on by the conventional army. The undersized sixty man recon team at Kontum was the most highly decorated unit of it's size, with 5 Medals of Honor. These, you can be sure, were not awarded for political reasons, but soley on the soldier's merit.

On December 30th, 1965, Howard, then a Sergeant First Class, went on a rescue mission into enemy infested Cambodia to find American soldier Robert Scherdin. They encountered enemy fire while landing their helicopters and as they began to clear the landing zone, they were attacked by about 250 NVA. 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.”

Fellow SOG operative John Plaster later wrote:"The day that President Nixon draped the Medal of Honor's pale blue ribbon around Howard's neck, I sat before the TV in my parents' living room watching the evening news. Coming on top of his previous decorations - the Distinguished Service Cross and multiple Silver and Bronze Stars, plus eight Purple Hearts - Howard's combat awards exceeded those of Audie Murphy, America's legendary World War II hero, until then our most highly decorated serviceman. At last, Howard would get his due. I flipped station to station, but not one of the networks - not CBS or NBC or ABC - could find ten seconds to mention Captain Robert Howard or his indomitable courage. I found nothing about him in the newspapers. Twisted by the antiwar politics of that era, many in the media believed that to recognize a heroic act was to glorify war. They simply chose not to cover the ceremony. It might as well not have happened."

Howard passed away a week ago today in Waco, Texas. There is an excellent tribute site to him here.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Miss Pickwickian said...

So many amazing heroes are so unknown. Enjoyed your post. Love the cow pictures!

December 30, 2009 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Wow, I saw the obituary for Col. Howard recently, but I didn't know the story behind his recieving the MOH, thanks for the post Stephen!

It was great seeing ya'll this past weekend!

~Mike

December 30, 2009 at 10:45 PM  
Blogger Stephen Boyd said...

Hi y'all:
The reason I chose this story was because no one knows about this man. It meant a lot to me that the most highly decorated soldier in US history was a Southern boy, and an Alabama boy no less! It was very saddening to me when I heard of his passing. When I originally wrote this post earlier at the beginning of the month, he was still alive.

December 31, 2009 at 11:00 AM  
Blogger Johann Van De Leeuw said...

Great post, and congrats on winning Son3's blogger award!

You may enjoy this book:

Double winners of the medal of honor by Ray Tassin.

http://www.amazon.com/Double-winners-medal-honor-Tassin/dp/0938936425/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1262287447&sr=1-1

It goes from the creation of the Medal through WWI.
~Johann

December 31, 2009 at 1:25 PM  

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