Fort Campbell Complex Memorialized for Opelika Man
July 11, 2013
Colonel Scott Brower, commander of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), is joined by Mrs. Melissa Gentsch, daughter of retired Army Col. Robert Howard, following the dedication of the 5th SFG (A) headquarters building in honor of Col. Howard July 3rd, 2013, at Fort Campbell, KY. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Barbara Ospina)
Written by Maj. Brandon Bissell
5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Public Affairs
Fort Campbell, KY – Bob Howard grew up in
Opelika, Alabama, in a house on a hill accessed by a single road. At the bottom
of the hill living in two houses on either side of the road were two families,
each with several boys that were both older and bigger than him.
Howard was a smart boy. He knew the odds were not in his favor if he challenged
the boys, so every day on his way home from school he would devise a different
plan to get past the boys and up the hill to his home without getting into
On one particular day, Bob received a new pair of shoes. They
were not brand new, but they were new to him. He desperately wanted to hold
onto them for as long as he could. Realizing the challenge he faced getting
past the boys, Bob decided to make a run for it as fast as he could straight up
the hill. In better shape than the other boys, Bob made it to his home with his
shoes still on his feet.
the front of his house, he was met by his grandmother, a tough-as-nails,
no-nonsense woman, who asked him, “What are you running from? What in the world
are you doing?”
explained to his grandmother about the boys and why he was running. His grandmother
looked him dead in the eyes and said, “Boy, don’t you ever run from anything
again. Next time you walk up that hill and look those boys straight in the
next day Bob was walking home. As he arrived at the two houses at the bottom of
the hill, he took a deep breath and remembered what his grandmother told him.
Holding his head high, he walked between the two houses until he came
face-to-face with the crowd of boys.
this day no one knows exactly what happened between the bottom and the top of
that hill, but according to Bob when he arrived at his house he was beaten a
bit and his clothes were torn, but he had a smirk on his face and his shoes on
is a perfect illustration of the way retired Army Col. Robert L. Howard lived
his life and it was a fitting story shared with those in attendance at the
dedication ceremony of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) headquarters
building named in his honor July 3rd by his daughter Mrs. Melissa Gentsch.
served his country for more than 50 years, spending 36 years on active duty in
the U.S. Army and the remainder working for the Department of Veteran’s
Affairs. During his career he participated in two movies, The Longest Day and
The Green Berets, both featuring John Wayne. He died in 2009 from pancreatic
“It is safe to say that most Americans, especially Soldiers,
know the name Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. Soldier of World War II,”
stated Col. Scott Brower, commander of the 5th SFG (A), during the dedication
ceremony. “I think it is just as safe to say that not as many Americans or
Soldiers know the name Bob Howard and that is truly unfortunate.”
is the most decorated Soldier to have served in the Vietnam War. He was
nominated for the Medal of Honor on three separate occasions for three separate
acts over the span of 13 months; ultimately receiving the award at the White
House from President Richard M. Nixon in 1971 for his actions corresponding to
the third nomination.
addition to the Medal of Honor, Howard was awarded the Distinguished Service
Cross, the Nation’s second highest award for valor, the Silver Star, the third
highest award, and numerous lesser valorous decorations including eight Purple
Hearts in recognition of the 14 times he was wounded over the span of 55 months
he served in combat.
December 1968, Col. Howard (then a Sergeant 1st Class), was a Special Forces
Platoon Sergeant for an American-Vietnamese platoon when his acts of gallantry
merited the Medal of Honor. Howard was part of a mission to rescue a missing
American Soldier in enemy controlled territory in Cambodia.
leaving its helicopter landing zone, the platoon was attacked by an enemy
element estimated to be the size of two companies. Howard, along with his
platoon leader, was wounded during the initial engagement. He was weaponless
and unable to walk.
hesitating Howard dragged the wounded officer to the platoon area and
immediately rallied the platoon into an organized defense force. With complete
disregard for his own safety, Howard crawled from position to position,
administering first aid and directing fire on the encircling enemy.
three and a half hours, what was left of Howard’s small force fought off a
determined enemy attack, ultimately allowing helicopters to land and rescue the
remainder of the force. That day only six of the 37 members of his platoon
survived the battle. If not for Colonel Howard, there most likely would have
been no survivors.
Regarding his actions that led to the awarding of the Medal
of Honor, Howard years later would state, “I had a job to do, which was
leadership.” He did just that. He led.
was not seeking glory. He was not seeking recognition. He was doing what needed
to be done,” stated Brower. “He faced a determined enemy. He faced his own
fears. He ran to the aid of others at the risk of his own life. He did what
needed to be done.”
the end of the day Howard was doing what his grandmother told him to do that afternoon
at the top of the hill in Opelika, Alabama, “Boy, don’t you ever run from
anything again. Next time you walk up that hill and look those boys straight in
are easy words to say, but not easy to act on. It says a tremendous amount about
Howard’s character and courage.
closed his remarks by reflecting on the importance of honoring Howard and his
family on this day.
the Soldiers in the formation Brower remarked, “We now have the opportunity to
repay him for all that he has done for us. While we recognize him by placing
his name and likeness on the building, we repay him by how we conduct ourselves
each and every day. We honor him by striving to live up to the example that he
set for us over the course of his career. While we are associated with this
Group, we are associated with Colonel Howard. We will not take that
on what this memorialization would mean to her father, Mrs. Gentsch closed by
adding, “I know what my father would want me to say today. He would ask that
when you walk by this building do not think of him, but of what he embodied – a
true Soldier, a Soldier who always put God and his country above all else.”
dedication plaque, which hangs immediately outside the entrance to Howard Hall,
serves as a constant reminder to all Green Berets who pass through its doors of
what duty, service, and sacrifice truly mean.