Vietnam War Huey pilot Charles Kettles awarded Medal of Honor for saving 40 soldiers

President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor July 18 to a Vietnam War-era Army pilot credited with braving intense enemy fire to save as many as 40 soldiers during an ambush in 1967.

Charles Kettles, at the time an Army major and flight commander in the 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) (Light), 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division, led a platoon of UH-1D Huey transport helicopters to resupply soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, during an ambush by a battalion-sized enemy force near Duc Pho. After leading several trips to the hot landing zone and evacuating the wounded, he returned, without additional aerial support, to rescue a squad-sized element of stranded soldiers pinned down by enemy fire, the White House says.

Obama will bestow the nation’s highest military honor to Kettles during a White House ceremony. Watch a live stream of the 1120 EDT ceremony here.

“Small arms and automatic weapons fire continued to rake the landing zone, inflicting heavy damage to the helicopters. However, Kettles refused to depart until all reinforcements and supplies were off-loaded and wounded personnel were loaded on the helicopters to capacity,” the Army said in an official account of his actions. “Kettles then returned to the battlefield, with full knowledge of the intense enemy fire awaiting his arrival. Bringing reinforcements, he landed in the midst of enemy mortar and automatic weapons fire that seriously wounded his gunner and severely damaged his aircraft. Upon departing, Kettles was advised by another helicopter crew that he had fuel streaming out of his aircraft. Despite the risk posed by the leaking fuel, he nursed the damaged aircraft back to base.”

The satellite image of the Song Tra Cau riverbed, near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam. The graphic overlay depicts then-Maj. Charles Kettles flight path during the emergency extraction, May 15, 1967, as part of Operation Malheur.

The satellite image of the Song Tra Cau riverbed, near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam. The graphic overlay depicts then-Maj. Charles Kettles flight path during the emergency extraction, May 15, 1967, as part of Operation Malheur.

Born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on Jan. 9, 1930, Kettles left the Army in 1956 to start a car dealership with his brother, then returned to the ranks in 1963 as the Vietnam war began to heat up. He served two tours in Vietnam and retired from the Army in 1978 as a Lt. Colonel.

According to the Detroit News, the Veterans History Project launched a formal campaign to elevate Kettles’ Distinguished Service Cross to a Medal of Honor, with Congress waving the time limit to consider the Army aviator for the MOH.

Kettles earned a host of awards during his career, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster, an Air Medal with Numeral “27” and the Army Commendation Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster, the Army says.

 

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