By Debbie Gregory.
A Vietnam War helicopter pilot recently selected to receive the Medal of Honor said Thursday he didn’t hesitate to volunteer leading an airborne rescue mission that saved the lives of dozens of troops despite the prospect of coming under intense enemy fire.
Retired Army Lt. Colonel Charles S. Kettles, 86, will be awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony on July 18, 2016. Kettles will receive the honor for conspicuous gallantry during an ambush in Vietnam.
The retired officer was an Army major and a flight commander who led a platoon of UH-1D “Huey” helicopters providing support to a 101st Airborne unit ambushed near Duc Pho in the Republic of Vietnam on May 15, 1967.
A battalion of North Vietnamese soldiers pinned down American troops there, and Kettles volunteered to lead an extraction effort.
“There wasn’t any decision to be made. We simply were going to go and pick them up,” Charles Kettles told reporters inside a Michigan National Guard building in his hometown of Ypsilanti.
Kettles returned with more reinforcements and to carry off the dead and wounded, making four trips to the hot landing zone. The last trip to rescue the last remaining soldiers was made with only his helicopter.
“The helicopter was already overweight and it flew like a two-ton truck, but we were able to get up in the air and get everyone to safety.”
Kettles was credited with saving 40 troops on the ground that day, along with four of his own crew. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.
Lawmakers in Kettles’ home state of Michigan sought not only to upgrade his award, but also congressional action to waive the statute of limitation that bars the medal from being awarded after five years.
The Medal of Honor is the highest award bestowed upon U.S. troops. Kettles will be the 260th recipient from the Vietnam War, and only its 54th living recipient, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.