Story by Capt. David Murphy, SOCKOR, 16 April 2021.
U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, South Korea – Special Operations Command Korea leadership held a dedication ceremony officially naming their special operations headquarters campus after Medal of Honor recipient, U.S. Army Col. Robert L. Howard, April 16, 2021, at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, South Korea.
Officially, the facility will now be called the Colonel Robert L. Howard Special Operations Campus. Howard was chosen for his heroic efforts earning him the MoH, by way of his contributions to the special operations forces community as a Green Beret and through his role as the second SOCKOR commander from 1989-1990.
“It’s truly an honor to be able to dedicate our campus in recognition of such a well-regarded and heroic individual and SOF member,” said Brig. Gen. Otto K. Liller, SOCKOR commander. “His courage, dedication, and selfless service all combine and give focus to the kind of person we want all SOCKOR members to aspire to be more like.”
This ceremony included a prerecorded message from Howard’s daughter, Melissa Gentsch, who, due to COVID travel restrictions, watched the event via livestream. Gentsch highlighted her father’s bravery and commitment to the men he led while in war.
“This dedication would have meant a lot to my father,” said Gentsch, “he only had fond memories of his time in Korea. My father never asked anyone to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself. He knew that real strength came from within. So when you step foot onto these grounds, I ask that you not think of my father but what my father stood for, being humble, being strong enough to put others before yourself, to always show honor and respect to your fellow man and, most importantly, to persevere and to never ever give up.”
In attendance at the ceremony included several United States Forces Korea component commanders, leadership from the Republic of Korea Special Warfare Command, and the USFK Commander Gen. Robert B. Abrams with his senior enlisted leader Command Sgt. Maj. Walter A. Tagalicud. During the speech Liller highlighted an anecdote that directly connected Abrams’ father, U.S. Army Gen. Creighton Abrams, to then Master Sgt. Howard.
During the Vietnam War, Creighton was the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam commander and was the one to issue the order to pick up Howard from a fire fight after it was learned he’d been chosen to receive the MoH.
“It’s a small world,” said Command Master Chief Stephen White, SOCKOR senior enlisted leader, “but a testament to the strong ties that bind all service members with one another.”
A special plaque made to honor Howard by identifying the campus in his name was unveiled during the ceremony by Gen. Robert B. Abrams, USFK commanding general, Brig. Gen. Otto K. Liller, Special Operations Command Korea commanding general, Command Sergeant Major Walter A. Tagalicud, U.S. Forces Korea senior enlisted leader, and Command Master Chief Petty Officer Stephen D. White, SOCKOR senior enlisted leader.
Leadership from SOCKOR and USFK also cut the ribbon during the ceremony on the SOCKOR rock which identifies the unit to visitors and displays in distinguished unit insignia. The rock was designed to follow in the traditional art of stacked rocks known as suseok, which is popular in Korea and has origins going back more than 3,000 years.
“This project was a massive undertaking but I’m proud of my team for pulling it all together and helping to provide an outward facing identity for SOCKOR to all who visit here,” Liller said.
History of Col. Howard
Howard grew up in Opelika, Ala., and enlisted in the Army in 1956 at the age of 17. He received a direct appointment from Master Sergeant to First Lieutenant in December 1969. Howard retired as a Colonel in 1992. In retirement Howard continued to stay involved in military affairs, visiting deployed troops and those injured in combat, until his death.
Howard had various Military assignments during his career including duty with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions; 2nd Ranger Battalion; 3rd, 5th, and 6th Special Forces groups; 5th Infantry Division; 7th Corps, and the XVIII Airborne Corps. In Vietnam, he served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and spent most of his tours in the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG), which was an unconventional force whose members were assigned to deep-penetration reconnaissance and interdiction missions.
During his 54 months of combat duty in Vietnam, Howard was wounded 14 times and was awarded 8 Purple Heart Medals, four Bronze Stars, and was nominated for the Medal of Honor three different times. The first two nominations were downgraded to a Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross due to the covert nature of the operations in which Howard participated. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1971 for the rescue of a seriously wounded platoon leader who was under enemy fire.
Howard died on December 23, 2009. He was survived by four children and five grandchildren. His funeral was held in the Arlington National Cemetery on February 22, 2010.
Medal of Honor Citation
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to FIRST LIEUTENANT ROBERT L. HOWARD UNITED STATES ARMY for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. 1st Lt. Howard (then SFC), distinguished himself while serving as platoon sergeant of an American-Vietnamese platoon which was on a mission to rescue a missing American soldier in enemy controlled territory in the Republic of Vietnam.
The platoon had left its helicopter landing zone and was moving out on its mission when it was attacked by an estimated 2-company force. During the initial engagement, 1st Lt. Howard was wounded and his weapon destroyed by a grenade explosion. 1st Lt. Howard saw his platoon leader had been wounded seriously and was exposed to fire. Although unable to walk, and weaponless, 1st Lt. Howard unhesitatingly crawled through a hail of fire to retrieve his wounded leader. As 1st Lt. Howard was administering first aid and removing the officer’s equipment, an enemy bullet struck 1 of the ammunition pouches on the lieutenant’s belt, detonating several magazines of ammunition. 1st Lt. Howard momentarily sought cover and then realizing that he must rejoin the platoon, which had been disorganized by the enemy attack, he again began dragging the seriously wounded officer toward the platoon area.
Through his outstanding example of indomitable courage and bravery, 1st Lt. Howard was able to rally the platoon into an organized defense force. With complete disregard for his safety, 1st Lt. Howard crawled from position to position, administering first aid to the wounded, giving encouragement to the defenders and directing their fire on the encircling enemy. For 3 1/2 hours 1st Lt. Howard’s small force and supporting aircraft successfully repulsed enemy attacks and finally were in sufficient control to permit the landing of rescue helicopters. 1st Lt. Howard personally supervised the loading of his men and did not leave the bullet-swept landing zone until all were aboard safely.
1st Lt. Howard’s gallantry in action, his complete devotion to the welfare of his men at the risk of his life were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
Photo: The United Nations Command Honor Guard march on the U.S. and Republic of Korea colors during the U.S. Army Colonel Robert L. Howard Campus Dedication Ceremony outside the SOCKOR headquarters building on Camp Humphreys, South Korea, April 16, 2021. Howard was chosen to have the campus named after him because of his tie to SOCKOR as its second commander, serving in the role from July 1989 to June 1990, his heroic acts in Vietnam, which earned him the Medal of Honor, his lifelong commitment to the military, his association to special operations forces and his role as a Green Beret. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Anthony A. Enomoto)
Story: This article by Capt. David Murphy of Special Operations Command Korea (SOCKOR) was originally published on April 16, 2021 by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service and is in the public domain.