President Barack Obama awarded retired Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles, a UH-1 helicopter commander, the Medal of Honor on Monday. He is credited with saving the lives of 40 soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Kettles led helicopter flights carrying reinforcements to U.S. soldiers and evacuated the wounded after they were ambushed in combat operations near Duc Pho in May 1967.
Kettles repeatedly returned his UH-1 to a landing zone under heavy fire. During the last evacuation run, Kettles was advised that eight soldiers who were providing cover for others had been unable to reach the helicopters. He returned without benefit of artillery or tactical aircraft support. His return would be both heroic and daring.
“The gunships had gone back home from lack of fuel and ammunition, artillery shut down for same reason … and the Air Force had gone back home,” Kettles said. “I don’t think it took any thought, there were eight troops down there that didn’t want to be there.”
On his last run mortar rounds shattered the windshield and damaged the main rotor blade. Small arms and machine gun fire also raked the helicopter. Badly damaged, and now 600 pounds overweight from carrying 13 people, Kettles hopped and skipped the craft across the ground to pick up enough speed for takeoff.
Obama said the instant the helicopter became airborne another mortar round hit the tail, causing it to fishtail violently and knocking a solider overboard. That soldier managed to hold onto a skid as Kettles flew them all to safety.
Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Kettles focused on the other men involved in the rescue and said, “The only thing that really matters” are the lives that were saved.
The Medal of Honor is the nations highest award for valor in action against an enemy force. It is presented to the recipient by the President in the name of Congress.
You can read the full article by Kevin Freking here
Top Photo credit: Charles Kettles poses in front of a 121st Aviation Company UH-1H during his second Vietnam tour of duty in 1969. (Photo: U.S. Army)