There is sad news this morning that we have lost another one. No, it was not some actor who kills himself with chemicals at a young age, or a famous personality whose face we recognize from television or politics. What we lost yesterday is one more of those heroes that Hollywood couldn’t make up, and wouldn’t be believed if they did. Colonel Robert L. Howard, United States Army, Retired, has passed away. He was just 70, and, as Brian Williams said in his touching piece, “cancer did what the enemy could not do”.
Then-Captain Howard received the Medal of Honor from President Nixon for his actions in a 1968 rescue mission in Vietnam. Below is his citation.
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.
In addition to the Congressional Medal of Honor, Colonel Howard was awarded eight (count ‘em) Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross twice, a Silver Star, and four Bronze Stars. As his tribute website points out, his deeds and his Medal of Honor award ceremony were virtually ignored by the Press. That is to their everlasting shame. This was Vietnam, and honoring heroism was tantamount to glorifying war.
Despite his diagnosis of cancer, Colonel Howard was a regular visitor to Iraq and Afghanistan, and was a voice for our men and women in uniform. In his piece, Brian Williams said “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore”. I am not sure Colonel Howard would have agreed.
He likely saw himself in the young faces he met in Iraq and Afghanistan that are fighting our Nation’s wars. They, in turn, saw a hero and an inspiration.