Fred K. Mahaffey was a distinguished veteran of the U.S. Army who eventually rose to the rank of four-star general. It was during his time as a battalion commander in Vietnam that he, on at least three separate occasions in five months, risked his life to save his men. He received a Silver Star for each action.
Mahaffey was the commander of the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. On Jan. 26, 1969, his units were engaged in the Ding Tuong Province. He ordered his command and control helicopter to begin conducting low passes over the battlefield so he could survey the action and coordinate support between his men.
Then he had the helicopter drop him off, and he began leading the fight from the ground. Throughout the night, he came under intense fire four times but stayed at the front to rally and direct his forces.
A few months later on Apr. 29, the 2nd Battalion was conducting a reconnaissance in force mission in Long An. One of the infantry companies found a larger enemy element and engaged in a firefight. Mahaffey once again ordered his helicopter to the battlefield.
When he arrived, he began flying circles over the battlefield and selected targets for artillery fire despite the fact that he was under severe anti-aircraft fire. After the company had surrounded the enemy, Mahaffey had the helicopter land so that he could help his men eliminate the Vietnamese element.
Between May 12 and 13, Mahaffey completed his hat trick. Again, his forces were conducting a reconnaissance in force when they encountered a large enemy element. Mahaffey called in both artillery and air strikes from the bird and made constant adjustments to the fire missions to maximize their effects.
He then joined the forces on the ground and kept calling in missions, some as close as 35 meters from his own position. He stayed on the battlefield and coordinated the support fires until his men were able to destroy the enemy element completely.
For these three engagements, Mahaffey received three Silver Stars, but that’s not the full extent of his heroics in Vietnam.
He also received two Distinguished Flying Crosses. One was for his actions leading from the sky throughout the Vietnam deployment.
The other Distinguished Flying Cross resulted from actions taken on Apr. 6, 1969, when he saw two enemy soldiers maneuvering near his men. He ordered the bird to conduct low passes while he fired on the soldiers with his M-16, killing them both. He then landed, recovered their weapons and documents, and took off again.