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Col. Robert L. Howard dies at 70; Medal of Honor recipient

Howard was one of the most-decorated soldiers of the Vietnam War, receiving eight Purple Hearts and also a Silver Star. After a 36-year Army career, he worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

December 29, 2009|Times Staff And Wire Reports
  • Associated Press
Associated Press (kv4u8nc20091228173252 )

Col. Robert L. Howard, one of the most decorated soldiers in the Vietnam War and a Medal of Honor recipient, has died. He was 70.

Howard died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer at a hospice in Waco, Texas, said his son-in-law, Frank Gentsch.

"He was a soldier's soldier," Gentsch said. "He loved his family, especially his grandchildren, but he was very much his whole career about taking care of soldiers."

Howard, who was wounded 14 times in Vietnam and awarded eight Purple Hearts, was nominated three times for the Medal of Honor, the most prestigious award for U.S. combat veterans. He also was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star.

Howard received the Medal of Honor in 1971 for his bravery in Vietnam during a 1968 mission to rescue a missing soldier in enemy territory. Howard, then a sergeant first class, dragged his wounded platoon leader to safety despite his own injuries. According to the citation, Howard, "although unable to walk . . . crawled through a hail of fire to retrieve his wounded leader."

President Nixon bestowed the Medal of Honor on Howard and six others in a private White House ceremony attended only by the recipients and their families. News accounts at the time said Nixon didn't want the ceremonies interpreted as an attempt to win public sympathy for his policies in Vietnam.

"I admire him greatly for everything he's done," Howard's son, Robert Jr., told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in 2006 while in basic training at Ft. Benning, Ga. "My dad's a hero."

Robert Lewis Howard was born July 11, 1939, in Opelika, Ala. He enlisted in the Army at 17 and served from 1956 to 1992. After retiring, Howard worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He visited U.S. troops several times in Iraq.

"I teach them how to survive on the battlefield," he told CBS News;contentBody in May.

"I teach them how to weigh courage and fear. You know, you can balance that."

In addition to his son, Army Sgt. Robert Howard Jr., he is survived by daughters Melissa Gentsch, Rosslyn Howard and Denicia Howard; and four grandchildren.

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