When a Lion Dies by Kelly Crigger

Updated: January 11, 2010


“How you doing today, Major?” an old guy in civie clothes says to me one afternoon in Afghanistan. I wasn’t surprised by the greeting as much as where it happened-in the JOC. My JOC. I was the JOC chief and some old guy had just invaded it like he was Josey Wales and even greeted me politely. Cheers to that, but my only thought was, “who let this guy in here?” Before I could utter as such, a small crest on his shirt that I immediately recognized as the Medal of Honor stopped me in my tracks.

Holy fuck, was about all I could get my mind to think before he shook my hand. “I’m good, Sir. How are you?” I replied, suddenly humbled.

His name was Robert Howard and he was about the studliest son of a bitch you’ll ever hear about. I call him a son of a bitch with the full reverence of a fellow soldier in complete awe of his accomplishments and because I know that’s what he would have wanted. He was the epitome of a grunt, selfless and patriotic, bereft of ego, and made of something few people (myself included) will ever know. He was a last vestige from the days of wooden ships and iron men and it wasn’t until his death a few weeks ago that I discovered he was the highest decorated soldier since WWII. Besides his MOH, he had two DSC’s, eight purple hearts, five tours of Vietnam, and a tossed salad of bravery that would make the real 300 Spartans at Thermopylae bow in deference. He was Vietnam’s answer to Audie Murphy, a man who displayed undaunted courage as frequently as the rest of us catch a cold.

Yet when cancer finally dragged him down like a pack of hyenas swarming an injured lion, he was relegated to the back pages of most newspapers, subjugated to the more important headlines of the day, like which of Tiger Woods’ new mistresses came out of the closet.

Are you fucking kidding me?

It’s no secret that entertainers are the apple of America’s eyes. It’s a necessary evil of being a secure, rich, strong country with nary an enemy on the horizon of the two oceans that protect us. We’re comfy and lazy and would rather hear about the balloon boy and Simon Cowell’s reduced role in the upcoming season of American Idol than pay respects to a man who was killing zips in the jungle while we were learning the phrase, “mommy…poop!”

As much as I’d like to throw contemptuous bags of shit at the walls of the New York Times, it’s really our own fault. Americans want to be entertained and we place those who provide our entertainment on a pedestal to be scrutinized on the same level as our elected leaders (which begs the question, why would you want that life?). When asked, the typical American teenager will list Brett Favre, Johnny Depp, and 50 Cent as their heroes instead of true leaders like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, or (God forbid) their own fathers.

I want to be angry that we worship actors (people who simply pretend to be someone else) instead of our brave warriors. But I can’t blame people who don’t have a care in the world when men like Colonel Robert Howard created it for them. I can only hope they get a healthy dose of perspective (preferably from their responsible parents) and realize America’s most precious asset is not Angelina Jolie in her Beverly Hills mansion, but Sergeant Angel Jiminez in his fighting position in Balad.

Brian Williams of NBC News says Howard leaves behind a grateful nation. Bullshit. Michael Jackson left behind a grateful nation full of weepy fans. Robert Howard left behind a small, yet very appreciative group of people who understood who he was and were proud to meet him, even if it was in a tent in Afghanistan on the eve of his passing. Rest in peace, Sir.

Read more about Colonel Robert Howard here.




  1. Bill Jeans

    January 12, 2010 at 9:07 am

    DEAD ON! This country as a whole does not have a clue what a hero is. What it ISN’T is some fatuous ass of a musician or actor who has bravely struggled through rehab for the fourth time, or a multi-generational welfare mother signing up for an entitlement for her fifth fatherless offspring.
    Men like Col. Howard are ever in short supply, but thank God that we have the ones we do get.

  2. Brian

    January 12, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Will hoist a pint to him tonight.

  3. Tim LeDonne

    January 12, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Well said Ranger Buddy. Here’s to COL Howard!

  4. mindy1

    January 12, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    AMEN-so true

  5. Eric Hawes

    January 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Such a powerful article, and it’s truly sad that this HERO wasn’t featured on all News channels. Instead we got exactly what Major Crigger stated-America’s fakes making headline news. God Bless you Mr. Howard, and your family too! Thank you for MY Freedom! My wife and kids live in a society like we do because of men and women like yourself. Rest Brother, Rest!

  6. Sgt. L

    January 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Truly a powerful story. Along with this story, think about all the soldiers who weren’t given their respects in the media when Michael Jackson died. I wish the members of society would really take a step back and question there existence in this world. Some just simply don’t give a shit, that the blanket of Freedom is provided by Heroes like this, but then when a couple of SEALs rough up a terrorist, who is responsible for defacing the pride of 4 Americans, the matter in which they provide that very blanket is questioned! For all those that have served and died in combat/from combat, your death will not go in vein.


  7. Curt

    January 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    God rest him. Kelly, thank you for telling us about Col. Howard. A toast!

  8. Jeremiah

    January 12, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Well put. I definitely agree with that last paragraph.

  9. Waz

    January 12, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Right on brothers. There’s an old saying; “PACIFISTS PROSPER BECAUSE BRAVE MEN FIGHT AND DIE”. We’ve lost our way big time. It’s the Bizzaro world where miscreants are worshipped and the Howards of the world are unknown. God bless Colonel Howard. I hope he’s drawing up a warning order with Shutgart and Gordon to lead us out of this nightmare. With help from St. Michael of course.

  10. N. Sanchez

    January 14, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Well said. Tonight my buddies and I will raise a pint in his honor.

  11. delawarefive

    January 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    My buddy, 1LT Brian Bradshaw stepped on a pressure plate and died here in Afghanistan the same day MIchael Jackson died.
    Needless to say, I didn’t feel anything when I heard Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett had died…
    Just the loss of a true American.

  12. Jim

    January 22, 2010 at 12:45 am

    Col Howard was a true stud. The man was nominated for the CMH 3 times during his 13 month tour. His passing should have been the lead story on every major news station, but sadly it was not.

  13. D.Comp

    February 10, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Be careful those of you who visit his website. I checked out the link and signed the guest book and the next think I know I’m getting spam from some B#$^& in indonesia who says that this guy has 7.5 mil that needs a cash amount to “be released” into “your name”. Pisses me off that a hero’s honor cannot be maintained.

  14. Sully

    June 12, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Spot on Kelly. The true heroes silently pass with only their brethern and family to take notice. Maybe that is the true Warrior’s lot. Regardless, men like Robert Howard deserve more attention and respect than any one of these pansy Hollywood types we continue to cling to.

  15. The Sarge

    September 7, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Shame on me for waiting so long to read this…very good piece, thank you!

Get notified of new Rhino Den articles and videos as they come out, Also, find out before anyone else about new product launches and huge discounts from RangerUp.com, the proud parent of the Rhino Den.

  • Videos (The Damn Few and more!)
  • Military-inspired articles
  • MMA (and Tim Kennedy) coverage
Close this window

Join the Rhino Den / Ranger Up Nation

Read previous post:
Rangerpalooza 2

Rangerpalooza. It's back. Enter for your chance to win FREE Ranger Up gear...