44 years after risking life for comrades, helicopter pilot gets his Silver Star
BALTIMORE — It was the kind of mission that Warrant Officer George Carlton Bloodworth flew daily in Vietnam. But on Sept. 20, 1969, it went badly wrong.
Bloodworth was piloting the second of two scout helicopters on a reconnaissance mission over the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam, speeding 100 feet off the ground, when the lead helicopter was shot down. As he circled back to search for its two-man crew, his own helicopter was shot down, and he was hit by ground fire.
Still, he found the downed crew and helped lead the wounded pilot, the pilot's crew chief and his own crew chief through withering fire to safety.
For his actions that day, Bloodworth was awarded the Silver Star, the military's third-highest decoration for valor. But he never received the medal. Until Thursday.
Surrounded by family — two sons, a daughter and their families — Bloodworth, now 75, finally got his Silver Star. It was pinned onto his blazer by Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Clark, commander of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, during a brief ceremony at the Rockville office of Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat.
"Warrant Officer Bloodworth's heroism and extraordinary devotion to duty resulted in saving three of his comrades from certain death or capture," Van Hollen read from the 1970 award citation. "His actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit and the United States Army."
Bloodworth's daughter, Brigitte Shoff, had seen the citation in her father's house, and asked about the award. "I said, 'My gosh, Dad. You never got your medal?' "
He doesn't really know why not.
"Things were very chaotic in the latter years of Vietnam," the career soldier said Thursday. "And you transfer several times, and then I retired."
Shoff, who lives in Silver Spring, contacted the congressman's office. Van Hollen has co-sponsored legislation to help veterans whose records have been lost get the decorations they have earned, though Bloodworth's records were never lost.
Van Hollen's staff contacted the Army about getting the medal. The ceremony was timed to coincide with a holiday visit by Bloodworth, who lives near Atlanta.
On the ground, Bloodworth was shot in the back and the arm. On Thursday, he described wading 200 yards through the chest-high water of a rice paddy and providing covering fire to allow his three comrades to reach a rescue helicopter — and suggested it was nothing special.
"There were many over there that did a lot more than I did," said the soft-spoken Georgian, who served two tours in Vietnam. "And there are men and women still doing that today."
Seriously wounded, Bloodworth was taken to a field hospital, then on to Saigon, out to Japan and finally to Hawaii. The medal never caught up to him.
Bloodworth said he harbored no hard feelings. But he was glad to finally get the medal.
"This is something that I'll remember forever," he said.