President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War veteran on Monday for his courageous actions that saved the lives of forty soldiers nearly fifty years ago.
Retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles is credited with saving the lives of fifty soldiers during the Vietnam War where he served as a helicopter commander for the 176th Aviation Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division near Duc Pho.
Obama said Charles Kettles acts of bravery and courage is a creed that all people should take up and not just soldiers.
“It should be a creed for all of us,” Obama said at the White House ceremony. “This is a country that’s never finished in its mission to improve, to do better, to learn from our history, to work to form a more perfect union. And at a time when, let’s face it, we’ve had a couple of tough weeks, for us to remember that goodness and decency of the American people and the way we can all look out for each other, even when times are tough, even when the odds are against us, what a wonderful inspiration.”
On May, 15, 1967, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division were ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army. 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.
Kettles made several trips bringing in reinforcements and bringing back wounded personnel as his helicopter and personnel were taking heavy fire.
After making his final trip along with six other helicopters to pick up the remaining 40 troops, he was notified that eight of them were pinned down and were not able to get on the final evacuation.
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 weighing 600 pounds too much, he was able to get off the ground and make it back safely.
“In spite of the severe damage to his helicopter, Kettles once more skillfully guided his heavily damaged aircraft to safety,” the Army said. “Without his courageous actions and superior flying skills, the last group of soldiers and his crew would never have made it off the battlefield.”
The Army also said he exhibited “complete disregard for his own safety.”
The Veterans History Project formed a campaign to upgrade Kettles’ Distinguished Service Cross for the Medal of Honor. The Pentagon agreed that his actions were worthy of the Medal of Honor. After that, Congress passed legislation waiving a time limitation for receiving the award.
“There were some 74 pilots and crew members involved in this whole mission that day. So it’s not just me,” Kettles said in a U.S. Army video giving credit to the people that helped him in the mission.