From Patton's Breakthrough to Howard's Heroics

This Week in American Military History 

Dec. 26, 1944:  Elements of the U.S. 4th Armored Division – the spearhead of Gen. George S. Patton Jr.’s Third Army – break the German Army’s siege of Bastogne relieving the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division.


The grateful but proud Airborne soldiers insist they are only being “relieved,” not “rescued.”

Dec. 30-31, 1968:  U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Sergeant First Class Robert L. Howard is operating deep in the South Vietnamese backcountry (some sources say Cambodia) when suddenly his 40-man hatchet platoon is attacked by a force of some 250 North Vietnamese soldiers.

As the attack unfolds, Howard and his lieutenant are struck by an exploding claymore. Howard is knocked unconscious. He comes to, but with blood in his eyes, he initially believes he has been blinded. Momentarily he can see, but he quickly realizes his body is riddled with shrapnel, his weapon is destroyed, and the enemy is all around him.

Howard manages to toss a grenade at an enemy soldier who is burning the bodies of Howard’s dead comrades with a flamethrower. Howard then crawls under heavy fire to his wounded lieutenant, and drags the officer toward a position of relative safety. Howard survives a second blast when his lieutenant’s ammunition pouch is struck and detonates. Despite his shredded hands, Howard manages to shoot several enemy soldiers with a pistol. He is then shot in the foot and no longer able to walk. Nevertheless, he organizes what’s left of the platoon into a defensive position, then crawls from one man to the next, tending to the wounded and dying, shouting encouragement to the living and fighting, and directing airstrikes on the attacking enemy. Though surrounded, Howard successfully repels attack-after-attack, saves his platoon, and ultimately receives the Medal of Honor.


Retired as a colonel in 1992, Howard is the only soldier to be nominated three times for the Medal of Honor for three separate actions over a period of just over a year.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: The great Col. Bob Howard passed away, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009.
In addition to visiting American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere throughout 2009, he frequently found time to email, often thanking us for our weekly military history updates.]

Jan. 1, 1962:  U.S. Navy SEAL Teams “One” and “Two” are established.

Born of the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams, America’s SEALs (an acronym for the three realms – SEa, Air, Land – in which SEALs operate) have evolved over the past 48 years to become some of the most respected and feared commandos in the world. Though most of their work is classified, SEALs are involved in almost every operational aspect of the global war on terror.

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