The White House announced Tuesday that a Vietnam war veteran pilot will receive the medal of honor for his courageous acts during the Vietnam war.
Then-Major and now retired Lt. Colonel Charles S. Kettles is being honored for saving 44 lives during a battle on May 15, 1967 while serving as a helicopter commander in the 176th Aviation Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division near Duc Pho.
Early that morning, personnel from the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division were ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army in a river valley. Kettles lead a flight of six UH-1D helicopters to the zone and carried reinforcements. He also was tasked with evacuating as many wounded personnel as possible.
They made their way into the zone taking heavy fire and many of the helicopters were severely damaged. Some soldiers died attempting to make their way onto the helicopters. Kettles made several trips bringing in reinforcements and bringing back wounded personnel.
Kettles along with six other evacuation helicopters made one final trip to pick up the remaining 40 troops on the ground. He and his team picked up the remaining troops on the ground until he was notified that eight more were stranded and could not make it to the evacuation helicopters.
Without gunship, artillery, or tactical aircraft, Kettles made his way back to the eight troops and picked them up. He took on heavy small arms fire and a mortar that damaged a main rotor blade, the tail boom and the two main windshields. Despite the aircraft being roughly 600 pounds too heavy with the additional troops on board, Kettles managed to get the aircraft to take off despite his copilot not being able to manage it.
“That’s the bottom line,” Kettles told Army.mil. “Those Soldiers went home to their families. Their names aren’t carved in stone on a wall in D.C. No medal can compare with that.”
Kettles will be honored in a ceremony at the White House scheduled for July 18. He has previously received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew more than 600 missions during two hours in Vietnam and received 27 air medals.