Robert Howard: One of the most decorated American soldiers in history

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Robert L. Howard - Most decorated soldier in US Military history
Robert L. Howard (Right) - Most decorated soldier in US Military history

Robert Howard was a highly decorated American soldier with a long and distinguished career in the military. He was known as a silent warrior, dedicated to serving his country without seeking any recognition or reward. In the history of the United States Military, there have been many heroes, but Robert Howard stands out as particularly exceptional. He was a U.S. Army soldier and recipient of the Medal of Honor. He is widely considered one of the most decorated active-duty soldiers to have ever served in the military.

Introduction

Robert Howard was a United States Army Special Forces (SF) member who served in the Vietnam War. Over the course of his active-duty service, he rose from the rank of private to colonel. He spent 36 years on active duty and was wounded 14 times during his 54 months of combat.

Robert Howard: The most decorated American soldier in history
Robert Howard: The most decorated American soldier in history (Photo: X.Y.)

Military service

Robert L. Howard was born on July 11, 1939, in Opelika, Alabama. While still in high school, he enlisted in the Army in 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. He saw his first combat in the Vietnam War. He served in various assignments, including the 1/327th Airborne Infantry, 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group, and the now legendary MACV-SOG.

MACV-SOG

During his time in Vietnam, Howard also served as a staff sergeant in the highly classified Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), considered a forerunner of modern U.S. Army Special Forces (S.F.). For his actions over a 13-month period from 1967 to 1968, while serving with MACV-SOG, Howard was recommended for the Medal of Honor on three occasions for three separate actions in which he risked his life to save others.

His bravery in action and selfless devotion to the well-being of his men, even at the risk of his own life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflected great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army. However, due to the covert and top-secret nature of the operations in which Howard participated, the first two nominations were downgraded to a Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross.

Vietnam-era MACV-SOG is a forerunner of the modern U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets)
Vietnam-era MACV-SOG is a forerunner of the modern U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) (Photo: History)

Robert Howard served as a sergeant first class in the SOG. He risked his life during a rescue mission in Cambodia on December 30, 1968, while serving as second in command of a platoon-sized Hatchet Force searching for missing American soldier Robert Scherdin. For this mission, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He learned of the award over a two-way radio while under enemy fire and immediately after being wounded, which resulted in one of his eight Purple Hearts.

During his 54 months of service in the Vietnam War, Howard was wounded 14 times, mostly as a member of MACV-SOG. For his distinguished service, he received a direct appointment from Master Sergeant to First Lieutenant in December 1969.

Military achievements and education

Robert Howard graduated from Ranger School class 7-73 in May 1973 and served as a company commander in the 2nd Ranger Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington. From 1977 to 1978, he served as a Mountain Ranger Training instructor. He later served as officer-in-charge of Special Forces training at Camp Mackall, near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and later commanded the Mountain Ranger Training Camp at Dahlonega, Georgia.

He graduated from the National War College in the Class of 1987-1988 and received two master’s degrees during his Army career, from 1956 to 1992. He retired as a colonel in 1992 and is considered one of the modern era’s most highly decorated American soldiers.

Post-military life

After retiring from the military, Howard lived in Texas and spent much of his free time working with veterans. He also took periodic trips to Iraq to visit active-duty troops. He died of pancreatic cancer at a Waco, Texas hospital on December 23, 2009, and was survived by four children and five grandchildren. His funeral was held at Arlington National Cemetery on February 22, 2010.

Robert L. Howard rest in peace at Arlington cemetery
Robert Howard rest in peace at Arlington cemetery (Photo: Arlington)

Awards and Recommendations

Robert Howard was awarded the Medal of Honor, eight Purple Hearts, a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, and four Bronze Stars for his service. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times over a 13-month period. Still, the first two nominations were downgraded to lesser medals for actions performed in Cambodia, where the U.S. was fighting covertly. After his third nomination, Howard was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on December 30, 1968.

Robert Howard retired from the U.S. Army after 36 years of service as a full colonel and is considered the most highly decorated service member on active duty and the most decorated American soldier in U.S. military history.

Personal awards

  • Medal of Honor
  • Distinguished Service Cross with oak leaf cluster
  • Silver Star
  • Legion of Merit with 3 oak leaf clusters
  • Bronze Star with “V” device & 3 oak leaf clusters
  • Purple Heart with 7 oak leaf clusters
  • Bronze oak leaf cluster
  • Bronze oak leaf cluster
  • Meritorious Service Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters
  • Bronze oak leaf cluster
  • Bronze oak leaf cluster
  • Bronze oak leaf cluster
  • Air Medal with “V” device & award numerals 3
  • Joint Service Commendation
  • Silver oak leaf cluster
  • Bronze oak leaf cluster
  • Army Commendation Medal with “V” device & 6 oak leaf clusters
  • Joint Service Achievement Medal
  • Army Achievement Medal

Unit awards

  • Bronze oak leaf cluster
  • Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster
  • Meritorious Unit Commendation
  • Navy Unit Commendation
  • Service awards
  • Good Conduct Medal with 4 Good Conduct Loops
  • Campaign & Service awards
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with 3 service stars
  • Vietnam Service Medal with 3 service stars

Service & Training awards

  • Army Overseas Service Ribbon
  • Armed Forces Reserve Medal
  • Bronze oak leaf cluster
  • Bronze oak leaf cluster
  • NCO Professional Development Ribbon with award numeral “2”
  • Army Service Ribbon

Badges and tabs

  • Special Forces Tab
  • Ranger Tab
  • Combat Infantryman Badge
  • Expert Infantryman Badge
  • Aircrew Badge
  • U.S. Army Airborne master parachutist
  • Master Parachutist Badge
  • Air Assault Badge
  • Pathfinder Badge
  • Expert Marksmanship Badge

Foreign Awards & Decorations

  • Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star (Corps), Silver Star (Division) and Bronze Star (Regiment/Brigade)
  • Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal, 1st Class
  • Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Medal, 1st Class
  • Republic of Vietnam Wound Medal
  • Republic of Vietnam Staff Service Medal, 2nd Class
  • Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960 bar
  • Republic of Korea Order of National Security Merit (Sam-Il Medal)
  • Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry Unit Citation with Palm
  • Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation with Palm

Individual & Unit awards

  • Bronze star
  • Silver star
  • Gold star

Badges

  • French Parachutist Badge
  • Republic of Vietnam Master Parachute Badge
  • Republic of Vietnam Ranger Badge
  • Thai Master Parachute Wings
  • Korean Master Parachute Badge
  • Thai Balloonist Badge

22 COMMENTS

  1. It’s interesting to know about the rewards that one can receive on some occasions because of risking their lives for others. I guess it would also mean a lot to have military pins on your uniform. My admiration for the soldiers, no matter their nation, is high because of their selflessness. So it would be nice to collect some of their pins in recognition of them.

  2. Col. Hackworth was the most decorated, however there are those that applied to Guinness and those that received every medal in the Army like Maj. Murphy. Col. Scott on the other hand was nominated for every medal but due to a death in the high command didn’t receive it although Pres. Kennedy considered him worthy after he gave to him an honorary green beret on his visit to Fort Bragg and the establishment of the Special Warfare Center later commanded by my friend Gen. Kingston his classmate.

  3. I respect all who served during both world wars and throughout the draft, which includes Vietnam. Drafted you had no choice. Now we have people volunteering to invade other countries. We have no right to invade other countries. Do you think other countries militaries have the right to invade us? WWII was our last legitimate war. After that was our government interfering in other countries business in a way that would not be tolerated by us. But because Vietnam was still during the draft I respected them. This makes us one of the biggest terrorists nations in the world. Trying to force other countries to do as our government orders them.

  4. Don:

    April 10, 2022

    If Bob thinks a dictatorship is preferable, he should try living in one. Of course Russia and China have nuclear weapons and have to be dealt with differently. Interesting how so many people keep coming to, or try to come, to the U.S. Anyway, congratulations and “Thank You” to Colonel Robert Howard and all others who have fought in combat. I have never done so and received only a Good Conduct Ribbon for my four years in the military.

  5. To even think that simpletons idolize ball players, actors, music stars and “YouTube influencers” while this man is and will never be known. We are warped people.

  6. I served with Bob in France (61-62) early in our military careers. He was a Sp-4 and I, a PFC. He was a good man, honorable, dedicated to being the best person and soldier he could be.
    We had a chance to have coffee at his office at Ft Benning in (74-75). Still the same Bob. Honorable, straightforward, trustworthy and loyal. He never forgot family or friends.
    Condolences to his family and friends.
    R I P OLD FRIEND!

  7. stand all other up against Howard they will come up short, look how many times Howard was nomated for the metal of Honer not once but three times to me that makes the moas decrated sholert of all times

  8. A great American who truly embodies the attributes of honor, courage and self-sacrifice. In these troubling times of national disunity, we need hero’s such as Col. Howard to remind us all of the gift it is to be an American.

  9. SOG was not a “forerunner” of Special Forces and get someone knowledgeable to review the listing of awards and decorations – can be listed much better.

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