Vietnam veteran Charles Kettles to be awarded Medal of Honor
By ALEX HORTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 21, 2016
SAN ANTONIO — Retired Army Lt. Colonel Charles S. Kettles, 86, will be awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony next month for conspicuous gallantry during an ambush in Vietnam, the White House said Tuesday.
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, according to a White House news release.
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, according to an Army website.
The practice of one aircraft flying alone is rare and dangerous in combat because it draws concentrated enemy fire, making it difficult for a solo crew to navigate, spot and engage enemies on its way to an objective. The AH-64 Apache helicopter, which is part of the Army’s modern arsenal, typically flies in pairs for support.
“We were already 15 feet in the air, but we decided to go back and get the others,” Kettles told The Detroit News last year. “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, according to The Detroit News.
A push from lawmakers in Kettles’ home state of Michigan sought not only to upgrade his award, but waive the statue of limitation that bars the medal from being awarded after five years, The Detroit News reported. Congressional action was needed to waive the restriction.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter agreed Kettles’ actions merited the award, and a bill passed last December and signed by President Barack Obama led to the award’s approval, according to USA Today.
The president will award Kettles with the Medal of Honor in a ceremony on July 18.
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. The last service member to receive the award was Chief Edward C. Byers, Jr, a Navy SEAL involved in a hostage rescue in Afghanistan in 2012. He received the award in February.