Randy Howard’s a soldier and a survivor. He’s been shot in the head by a Vietnamese sniper. Bayoneted in the gut. Flesh ripped by grenade shrapnel.
He went to Vietnam as an Army Airborne Ranger for 13 months in 1966 and 1967. He went home for five months and was called back, this time for the Tet Offensive in early 1968. It was the bayonet that got him discharged for good.
“So I got five Purple Hearts,” Howard said. “I believe my training really saved me. These guys that were draftees, they didn’t last too long. But we were trained to fight behind enemy lines. Well, we weren’t behind them, we were surrounded by them.”
Howard, 70, heads the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which counts 200 Purple Heart recipients from Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana as its members. The military decoration is given to those wounded or killed while serving. Nearly 2 million Purple Hearts have been awarded since 1928.
On Tuesday morning, Howard and some of his fellow veterans will gather to welcome a 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor truck on its way from Washington, D.C., to Dallas on an 8,500-mile trek to raise awareness about wounded veterans. After a brief stop in Spokane, the truck is heading west, driven by a rotating cast of amputee veterans.
On Aug. 13 in Dallas, the truck will be given to Marine Sgt. Marshall Kennedy, who lost both his legs and sustained severe damage to his left arm after stepping on an improvised explosive device on his fourth tour in Afghanistan in 2011.
Howard’s life has been shadowed by his time in war. Besides the fighting, he was sprayed with Agent Orange, leading to systemic heart disease and five bypasses. Still, he said he’s proud to be among those who served.
“All of my uncles were in the service. Father. Brother,” he said.
The ceremony to welcome the Purple Heart Truck Run begins at 9 a.m. at the Purple Heart monument on the southeast side of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, 720 W. Mallon Ave.
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