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A Warrior Passes in Texas

Retired Army Col. Robert L. Howard, a Medal of Honor recipient for combat action in Vietnam in 1968 and one of the America's most highly decorated Soldiers, died Dec. 23 in Waco, Texas.

The 70-year-old Howard died in a hospice in Waco, according to a report in the San Antonio Express News today. The paper, quoting a longtime friend of Howard's, retired Sgt. Maj. Benito Guerrero, said Howard had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Howard began his Army career as an enlisted man. During one 13-month tour in Vietnam he was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times, but in the first instance the award was downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross. Several biographies say that downgrade, as well as another -- to the Silver Star -- was to avoid the problem of noting in the Medal of Honor citation specifics of the combat operations, which were covert.

But one nomination did result in the awarding of the MoH. It was presented to him by President Richard Nixon during a White House ceremony in 1971.

Howard was a sergeant first class assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in December 1968 when his unit came under heavy enemy fire while on a mission to rescue a missing U.S. Soldier. Howard was wounded -- unable to walk -- and his own weapon was destroyed by a grenade blast, according to his Medal of Honor citation, but seeing his platoon leader wounded and exposed to fire Howard crawled forward under fire to pull the lieutenant back. While administering first aid to the lieutenant an enemy round hit one of the officer's ammo pouches and detonated several magazines. Howard continued to drag the officer back to the rest of the platoon, which he rallied for an organized defense. He crawled from position to position, rendering first aid  to the wounded and directing fire on the surrounding enemy force that was estimated to include two companies. For more than three hours, according to the citation, his platoon, aided by air support, repulsed enemy attacks until it was possible for helicopters to extract the Soldiers. Howard was the last man to board the aircraft.

Howard was born on July 11, 1939 in Opelika, Ala. He entered the Army in 1956, still only 17, and retired as a colonel in 1992.

He was wounded 14 times during a total of 54 months of combat duty in Vietnam and was awarded eight Purple Hearts, according to his obituary.

Howard is survived by his children, Denicia Howard of Florida; Melissa Gentsch and husband, Asst. Chief of Police Frank Gentsch of Waco; Rosslyn Howard of California; Robert Howard Jr. and wife, Tori, of California; and his grandchildren, Victoria Batey and husband, Luke, of Denton, Texas, Holley Gentsch of Waco; Trey Howard of California; and Isabella Gentsch of Waco.

Howard will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, though specific details have yet to be announced.

 
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