WACO (December 23, 2009)—Retired Army Col. Robert L. Howard, 70, who died Wednesday in Waco, was a Medal of Honor winner who at the time of his death was believed to be the most-decorated living American soldier. Howard will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Services were pending Wednesday through OakCrest Funeral Home in Waco. Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon in which he said Howard “was the bravest soldier I ever met.” “His unshakeable commitment to freedom, displayed in countless episodes of battlefield gallantry, lives on in the actions of our military men and women who continue to serve in hostile conditions overseas,” he said. Howard, who grew up in Opelika, Ala., enlisted in the Army in 1956 at the age of 17 and retired as a full colonel in 1992. In Vietnam, he served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and spent most of his five tours in the secret Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group, or MACV-SOG, which was an unconventional force whose members were assigned to deep-penetration reconnaissance and interdiction missions. He was nominated three times for the Medal of Honor, which he was awarded in 1971 for the rescue of a seriously wounded platoon leader who was under enemy fire. Col. Robert Howard’s Medal Of Honor Citation During his 54 months of combat duty in Vietnam, Howard was wounded 14 times and was awarded eight Purple Heart Medals. He leaves behind his children, Denicia Howard of Florida, Melissa Gentsch and husband, Waco Assistant Chief of Police Frank Gentsch of Waco, Rosslyn Howard of California and Robert Howard, Jr. and his wife, Tori of California. Col. Robert Howard’s Obituary http://rlhtribute.com/ ROBERT L. HOWARD Sergeant first Class, U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces Robert Howard was seventeen years old when he joined the Army in 1956. His father and four uncles had been paratroopers in World War II, and he followed in their footsteps, joining the 101st Airborne. In 1965, during the first of his five tours of duty in Vietnam, he was wounded when a ricocheting bullet hit him in the face. While recuperating in a field hospital, he met a patient who was in the Special Forces. When the man’s commanding officer visited, he sized Howard up, then talked him into transferring to the Special Forces. In 1966, after six months of training in the States, Howard returned to Vietnam as part of the 5th Special Forces Group. By late 1968, he had already been recommended for the Medal of Honor on two separate occasions when, on the afternoon of December 28, his unit was ordered to rescue a wounded Green Beret. As the choppers carrying his platoon of American and Vietnamese Special Forces tried to land, the enemy opened fire. It took two hours for Howard and his men to clear the landing zone and get all the troops in. By dusk, as they were moving forward to a hill where they thought the wounded Green Beret might be hiding, a force of about 250 North Vietnamese suddenly attacked. Howard and his lieutenant were at the head of the platoon when a claymore mine went off nearby. Howard was knocked unconscious; when he came to, he thought he was blind, until he realized that the blood from wounds on his face had gotten into his eyes. His hands were mangled by shrapnel, which had also destroyed his weapon. He could hear his lieutenant groaning in pain a few yards away, and he was almost overcome by a sickening odor: An enemy soldier with a Soviet flamethrower was burning the bodies of Howard’s comrades killed in the attack. Deciding to blow himself up rather than be incinerated, too, Howard struggled to get a grenade off his web belt, then fumbled with the pin. The soldier with the flamethrower watched him for a moment, then walked away. Howard threw the grenade after him, then crawled to his lieutenant and tried to pull him down the hill into a ravine where the surviving Americans and South Vietnamese had taken refuge. When he got the officer down to a large tree root, where another GI had taken shelter, he screamed at the soldier to hand over his weapon. The soldier tossed him his .45 pistol, then opened fire himself with his rifle, killing three enemy soldiers who were trying to capture Howard and his lieutenant. At that moment an NVA round struck Howard’s ammunition pouch, blowing him several feet down the hill. Still clutching the .45, he crawled back to the lieutenant, shooting several North Vietnamese along the way, and finally dragged him down to the ravine. Howard took charge of the remaining Special Forces troops, then called in U.S. air strikes. For the next two days the North Vietnamese probed his position. On the morning of December 31, U.S. helicopters were finally able to stage an evacuation. Two years later, in February 1971, Howard was a captain in charge of a Special Forces company under assault by the enemy when he got a call on a field telephone from General William Westmoreland. “We’re in pretty bad shape here,” Howard said, thinking the general had called to find out his situation. “Yeah, I know,” Westmoreland replied, “but we’re going to bring you out and give you the Medal of Honor.” Robert Howard received the medal from President Richard Nixon on March 2, 1971. He retired at the rank of colonel in 1992.