Born in Opelika, Alabama on July 11, 1939, Robert L. Howard grew up to become one of America’s most decorated military individuals. The son and nephew of five World War II veterans, he entered the service on July 20, 1956 in Montgomery Alabama.
During thirteen months of the Vietnam era, spanning 1967–1968, Howard received Medal of Honor nominations for three individual actions. The first two were downgraded to a Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross due to the covert character of the maneuvers in which Howard participated. 14 times over 54 months of combat, Howard was wounded and awarded 8 Purple Hearts and 4 Bronze Stars.
On December 30, 1968, Howard was a Sergeant First Class of the highly-classified Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) and second in command of a platoon-sized Hornet Force when he risked his life during a rescue mission in Cambodia while searching for missing American soldier, Robert Scherdin. It was this mission for which he was finally awarded the Medal of Honor. Howard learned of his award over a two-way radio while he was under enemy fire, during which he was wounded, earning him one of the eight Purple Hearts Howard received during his career.
Howard’s Army career spanned 1956 to 1992. During his government career, which spanned almost 50 years, Howard received two Masters degrees and retired as a full Colonel on September 30, 1992. After retirement, Howard made his home in Texas and spent a large portion of his free time working with veterans. He also made periodic journeys to Iraq where he would visit active duty troops.
A larger-than-life figure on the national military scene, Colonel Howard participated in many patriotic events in San Antonio. At his suggestion, the local chapter of Blue Star Mothers of America began holding an annual ceremony in late December to remember the troops serving overseas.
On December 23, 2009, Howard died of pancreatic cancer at a hospice in Waco, Texas. Survived by four children and four grandchildren, Howard was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on February 22, 2010. According to NBC News, Howard is considered to be the most highly-decorated American soldier since World War II.