Unsung War Hero Gets Recognition

Robert Howard was the toughest, bravest cat in the jungle, but he deserved a better war than Vietnam. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times for three separate operations behind enemy lines.

But, as CBS News correspondent David Martin reports, when President Nixon finally awarded him the nation's highest honor, the ceremony was actually delayed by anti-war protests. He was a war hero at a time when Americans didn't believe in either the war or its heroes. He was wounded 14 times and has no business being alive.

"Here I come face-to-face with a platoon of enemy soldiers and so I'm standing with my weapon like this, and they fire directly at me and I fell backwards like this, and I didn't get killed," Howard explained.

That was just the beginning of the fire fight for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. It ended when, out of ammunition, he called in a 2,000-pound bomb.

"I said 'I want you to put it right on our position'," Howard said. "It blew us and the enemy up. Next thing I know, we're still alive."

He's still picking shrapnel out of his body.

"I got a piece that's coming out of my side on this side this morning," he said. "It bothers me."

Howard says he doesn't think he'll ever get it all out.

America loves war heroes. There was Sgt. York in WWI, Audie Murphy in WWII. But in Vietnam, there were only scapegoats. Except there's Robert Howard, who single-handedly captured 44 enemy soldiers and brought them back alive for questioning.

"I carried a damn enemy soldier for nine days because he was important and other people were trying to kill him," Howard said.

He did five combat tours in Vietnam and is about to pay his fifth visit to the troops in Iraq.

"I teach them how to survive on the battlefield," he said. "I teach them how to weigh courage and fear. You can balance that."

He can walk through the streets of Manhattan without anyone knowing who he is or what he's done. Until today, when President Obama found out who Robert Howard is. Together, they and the 37 other Medal of Honor winners from WWII, Korea and Vietnam laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Robert Howard is an unknown hero no longer.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.