Robert Lewis Howard (11 July 1939 to 23 December 2009) was the most highly decorated officer of Vietnam United States Army Special Forces and Medal of Honour recipient of the Vietnam War.
He was wounded 14 times over 54 months of combat, was awarded the Medal of Honour, eight Purple Hearts, a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, and four Bronze Stars.
He was nominated for the Medal of Honour three times over a 13-month period but received lesser medals for the first two nominations, which were for actions performed in Cambodia where the US was fighting covertly. He was awarded the Medal of Honour for his actions on 30 December 1968, his third nomination.
He retired from the US Army after 36 years of service as a full colonel. He was one of the most decorated soldiers in the Vietnam War and was “said to be the most decorated service member in the history of the United States”.
He died as a result of pancreatic cancer, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on 22 February 2010.
Howard enlisted in the Army in 1956 at Montgomery, Alabama and retired as colonel, Army Special Forces, in 1992.
Howard’s service in Vietnam included assignments with 1/327th Airborne Infantry, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group and MACV-SOG
As a staff sergeant of the highly classified Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), Howard was recommended for the Medal of Honour on three occasions for three individual actions during thirteen months spanning 1967-1968. The first two nominations were downgraded to a Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross due to the covert and top secret nature of the operations in which Howard participated.
As a sergeant first class of the SOG, he risked his life during a rescue mission in Cambodia on 30 December 1968, while second in command of a platoon-sized Hatchet Force that was searching for missing American soldier Robert Scherdin for which he was awarded the Medal of Honour. He learned of the award over a two-way radio while under enemy fire, immediately after being wounded, resulting in one of his eight Purple Hearts.
Howard was wounded 14 times during a 54-month period in the Vietnam War. For his distinguished service, Howard received a direct appointment from Master Sergeant to First Lieutenant in December 1969.
Howard graduated from Ranger School class 7-73 in May 1973 and served with the 2nd Ranger Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington as company commander. From 1977 to 1978 he served as Mountain Ranger Training instructor.
Howard later served as officer-in-charge of Special Forces training at Camp Mackall, near Fort Bragg, N.C., and later, commanding the Mountain Ranger Training Camp at Dahlonega, Georgia
Howard graduated from the National War College, Class 1987-1988.
He received two master’s degrees during his Army career which spanned 1956 to 1992. Howard retired as a colonel in 1992.
He was one of the most decorated soldiers in the Vietnam War. NBC News said that Howard may have been the most highly decorated American soldier of the modern era, while KWTX-TV states that he was “said to be the most decorated service member in the history of the United States”. John Plaster in his 1998 book SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam states that Howard “remains to this day the most highly decorated American soldier.”
His residence was in Texas and he spent much of his free time working with veterans until the time of his death. He also took periodic trips to Iraq to visit active duty troops.
Howard died of pancreatic cancer at a hospital in Waco, Texas, on 23 December 2009. He was survived by four children and five grandchildren.
His funeral was in Arlington National Cemetery on 22 February 2010.
In 2014, Howard was announced as the recipient of United States Special Operations Command’s Bull Simons award for his “lifetime achievements in Special Operations”.
In April 2017 a building at the Rowe Training Facility on Camp Mackall was named Howard Hall in his honour.
Medal of Honour Citation
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to
ROBERT L. HOWARD
UNITED STATES ARMY
for service as set forth in the following 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 31⁄2 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.
General Orders: Department of the Army, General Orders No. 16 (March 24, 1971)
Action Date: December 30, 1968
Regiment: 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
Division: 1st Special Forces