By late 1968, Howard had already been recommended for the Medal of Honor on two separate occasions when, on the afternoon of December 28, his unit was ordered to rescue a wounded Green Beret. As the choppers carrying his platoon of American and Vietnamese Special Forces tried to land, the enemy opened fire. It took two hours for Howard and his men to clear the landing zone and get all the troops in. By dusk, as they were moving forward to a hill where they thought the wounded Green Beret might be hiding, a force of about 250 North Vietnamese suddenly attacked.
Howard and his lieutenant were at the head of the platoon when a claymore mine went off nearby. Howard was knocked unconscious; when he came to, he thought he was blind, until he realized that the blood from wounds on his face had gotten into his eyes.
His hands were mangled by shrapnel, which had also destroyed his weapon. He could hear his lieutenant groaning in pain a few yards away, and he was almost overcome by a sickening odor: An enemy soldier with a Soviet flamethrower was burning the bodies of Howard’s comrades killed in the attack.
Deciding to blow himself up rather than be incinerated, too, Howard struggled to get a grenade off his web belt, then fumbled with the pin. The soldier with the flamethrower watched him for a moment, then walked away. Howard threw the grenade after him,
then crawled to his lieutenant and tried to pull him down the hill into a ravine where the surviving Americans and South Vietnamese had taken refuge.
When he got the officer down to a large tree root, where another GI had taken shelter, he screamed at the soldier to hand over his weapon. The soldier tossed him his .45 pistol, then opened fire himself with his rifle, killing three enemy soldiers who were trying to capture Howard and his lieutenant.
At that moment an NVA round struck Howard’s ammunition pouch, blowing him several feet down the hill. Still clutching the .45, he crawled back to the lieutenant, shooting several North Vietnamese along the way, and finally dragged him down to the ravine.
Howard took charge of the remaining Special Forces troops, then called in U.S. air strikes. For the next two days the North Vietnamese probed his position. On the morning of December 31, U.S. helicopters were finally able to stage an evacuation.