Howard inspired by his brother to help veterans
by David Atchison
Steve Howard is there almost every day with his dog Cash, volunteering and offering a hand to veterans in a facility that is named after his brother, the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in Pell City.

“I love coming up here,” Howard said as he petted Cash, a mixed pug-nosed dog who doesn’t meet a stranger.

This week, the 65-year-old veteran talked about how he came to Pell City and about his brother, an American hero.

“I love talking about Robert,” he said.

Howard himself served in Vietnam with his brother and is a two-time recipient of the Purple Heart. He also received the Bronze Star.

“I served one year, nine months and 13 days there (Vietnam),” he said. “I will always remember the afternoon we (his squadron) left.”

Howard enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966, about 10 years after his older brother enlisted.

“I told my parents, ‘I’m going to be with Robert,’” he said.

Howard was a combat communication specialist; his brother was in the Army’s Special Forces.

Howard said he admired his brother, who was wounded 14 times in a three-and-half-year period during five tours in Vietnam.

“He was a wonderful influence,” he said.

Howard said his brother was smart, athletic and could have done anything with his life.

“But he was exactly who he wanted to be,” Howard said.

Robert Howard was one of the most decorated modern-day soldiers, a true patriot who was commissioned in 1969 from master sergeant to first lieutenant on the battlefield.

In 1971, then President Richard M. Nixon awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to Robert Howard, the highest military honor bestowed on an individual for acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. The medal was awarded for his heroic actions on the battlefield in 1968.

Howard stood behind his brother, along with other family members, as Nixon presented him with the honor.

Howard said his brother was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor twice before he received it.

“He was great at what he did,” Howard said. “He did what had to be done.”

Howard said his brother was so good at what he did, the enemy put a bounty out for him.

“The North Vietnamese government put a $1 million bounty on Robert’s head,” he said.

Howard said the reason they put the bounty on his brother was because he snuck behind enemy lines into Hanoi and brought out a prisoner of war.

“He was a real Rambo,” Howard said.

He said his brother, who earned four college degrees, would never boast about his military heroics or achievements.

“He was the most humble human being you would ever meet,” Howard said. “I asked him one day why he was so humble and he said, ‘Because I carry God in my pocket.’”

Pell City Realtor Lawrence Fields, who helped Howard find a home in Pell City, was working at the Talladega Superspeedway in the late 1970s and early '80s and escorted the Congressional Medal of Honor winner during a race weekend.

“He was a guest of the Speedway,” Fields said. “It was unbelievable. I’m thrilled we got the opportunity to escort him. He was a super nice guy and very humble.

“Then you read about what he did, it’s just unbelievable,” Field said. “When you win the Medal of Honor, you have done something great. He was a great American.”

Fields said he was also proud that the new Veterans Home in Pell City was named after the war hero, who was born and raised in Opelika.

Howard said his brother served 36 years in the Army, and another 14 years with the Veterans Administration.

He said his brother cared about others more than himself, and that’s what made him a real hero.

Howard said his brother risked his life numerous times on the battlefield to save others.

He recalled a mutual friend of his brother’s notifying him that the Veterans Administration was considering naming the new veterans home in Pell City after his brother, who died of cancer on Dec. 23, 2009.

“I had a joy that was unbelievable,” he said. “I can’t describe it.”

It was after that he started thinking about relocating to Pell City.

“I was so excited,” he said.

Howard left his friends and church in Prattville and moved to Pell City.

“I did a lot of praying about it,” he said.

Howard said visiting and helping veterans is one way to adjust to the loss of his brother.

“I will always miss him,” said Howard, who is a retired plant quality control manager. “This is how I’m adjusting, and some day I could be here.”

Howard said his brother would love that he is investing time trying to help others and building special relationships with people and veterans at the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home.

He actually called his brother “Bob.”

“Bob told me, ‘I try to be the best I can be at what I do, and I try to leave good examples,’” Howard said.

He said his brother led by example and if he did something, he did it the right way.

“Like Bob said, ‘Do something good,’” Howard said. “I will do whatever I can to help here.”

© 2013