Army Veteran receives Medal of Honor for heroic actions in Vietnam



“This seems like a hell of a fuss over something that happened 50 years ago,” Army Veteran Charles Kettles told the president before today’s White House event.

That “fuss” he’s referring to is being awarded of the Medal of Honor.

Kettles originally received a Distinguished Service Medal for his courageous actions on May 15, 1967, but today he was awarded the Medal of Honor, joining a small but distinguished group of recipients.

His award citation:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded, in the name of Congress, the Medal of Honor to Major Charles S. Kettles, United States Army.  Major Charles S. Kettles distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving as flight commander, 176th Aviation Company, (Airmobile) (Light), 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam.

On 15 May, 1967, Major Kettles, upon learning that an airborne infantry unit had suffered casualties during an intense firefight with the enemy, immediately volunteered to lead a flight of six UH-1 Delta helicopters to carry reinforcements to the embattled force and to evacuate wounded personnel.  Enemy small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire raked the landing zone, inflicting heavy damage to the helicopters.  However, Major Kettles refused to depart until all helicopters were loaded to capacity.

He then returned to the battlefield with full knowledge of the intense enemy fire awaiting his arrival, to bring more reinforcements, landing in the midst of enemy mortar and automatic weapons fire that seriously wounded his gunner and severely damaged his aircraft.  Upon departing, Major 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.

Later that day, the Infantry Battalion Commander requested immediate emergency extraction of the remaining 40 troops, including four members of Major Kettles’ unit who were stranded when their helicopter was destroyed by enemy fire.  With only one flyable UH-1 helicopter remaining, Major Kettles volunteered to return to the deadly landing zone for a third time, leading a flight of six evacuation helicopters, five of which were from the 161st Aviation Company.

During the extraction, Major Kettles was informed by the last helicopter that all personnel were onboard, and departed the landing zone accordingly.  Army gunships, supporting the evacuation, also departed the areas.  Once airborne, Major Kettles was advised that eight troops has been unable to reach the evacuation helicopters due to the intense enemy fire.  With complete disregard for his own safety, Major Kettles passed the lead to another helicopter and returned to the landing zone to rescue the remaining troops.  Without gunship, artillery, or tactical air support, the enemy concentrated all firepower on his lone aircraft, which was immediately damaged by a mortar round that shattered both front windshields and the chin bubble, and was further raked by small arms and machine gun fire.

Despite the intense enemy fire, Major Kettles maintained control of the aircraft and situation, allowing for the remaining eight soldiers to board the aircraft.  In spite of the severe damage to his helicopter, Major Kettles once more skillfully guided his heavily damaged aircraft to safety.  Without his courageous actions and the superior flying skills, the last group of soldier and his crew would never have made it off the battle field.

Major Kettles’ selfless act of repeated valor and determination are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.

Kettle’s heroic actions are reflective of his character and dedication to his fellow soldier. His heroism is also joined by selfless humility. “I didn’t do it by myself,” Kettles said in an interview with Army officials. “I’m just leading the pack, making the decisions. Those behind me were obliged to follow. And they did. They did their job above and beyond. So, the medal is not mine, it’s theirs.”

 

Author

Timothy Lawson

Timothy Lawson has been a member of VA’s Digital Media Engagement team since April 2016 and is the host of VA’s official podcast, Borne the Battle. He graduated from American University’s School of Communications in 2016 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Tim is a Marine Corps Veteran having served as a Marine Security Guard posted at embassies in Algeria, Russia, and Peru.

Comments

  1. Ann    

    This is a magnificent story and an inspiring one. Hard to imagine having the courage this man did.
    How did he do it? I wish I could interview him to see what thoughts went through his head.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Ann

  2. Peter Garland    

    Once again, modest and modesty, not humble and humility. With those words you show your inappropriate condescension.

    US’nAye

  3. Peter Garland    

    Bravo but for Chrissakes, if you even read Comments, stop using the words humble or humility to describe the actions of our heroic soldiers. The proper words are modest and modesty. Learn the difference and stop making an ass out of yourself.

    US’nAye

  4. Michael Reidy    

    Major Kettles, God Bless you and your men. You are our living example of true selfless service and what a hero is.
    50 yrs ago and we finally correctly weighed your sacrafice. Lets just all be happy your here today with us.

    Thank you. We love you Sir!

    – Michael L Reidy
    USN USArmy

  5. Ron Chapman    

    I salute Major Kettles for his selfless bravery and courage. There are many unnamed men such as he who we will never hear about. You only hear about the Vietnam Veterans who are demeaned and disparaged as I once was as a Vietnam Veteran at the University of Houston in the ’70’s. I was never a hero nor did I suffer any wound as a result of my service. I sincerely hope that Major Kettles quality of life will improve. I salute him!

  6. Keith J Whitmore    

    One of ours is awarded the MOH. Congradulations, sir.

  7. Paul Geiler    

    Congratulations on the long over due recognition of the courage displayed by Major Kettles.
    May God continue to Bless you !!

  8. Larry Peterson USN    

    Eight lives saved at the obvious disregard for his own life? I’ve herd of men being awarded the MoH or less. He should have gotten that medal in 1967. Congratulations Major Kettles. **Salute**

  9. DAVID REITTER    

    Something strange about giving someone the highest award fifty years , later.

    The whole pack should have gotten an Medal of Honor if the story is correct according
    to the Major.

  10. Pastor RW Burke    

    Sir, you are a true hero. My father drove a landing craft during world war 2 during the envations and he told me he met true heroes. He said they were men with certain qualities, Integrity, Humility, Courage, Faith, Caring, and brotherly love for there brothers in arms. I also met a few in my days in the Navy and in life, and you sir are a walking role model of what a soldier and a Man should be. God bless you and thank you.

  11. Pastor Robert Burke    

    Sir, you are a true hero. My father drove a landing craft during world war 2 during the envations and he told me he met true heroes. He said they were men with certain qualities, Integrity, Humility, Courage, Faith, Caring, and brotherly love for there brothers in arms. I also met a few in my days in the Navy and in life, and you sir are a walking role model of what a soldier and a Man should be. God bless you and thank you.

  12. soldier417@yahoo.com    

    Hooah! sir never leave a man behind and welcome home

  13. PETER Rodney Perez    

    #How old is former Major Charles Kettles??
    I could Not find his age, in the story about him.
    I am a 71 year Old War-Nam Veteran,who served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968.*

  14. James Gilchrist    

    Well deserved, Major Kettles! You dared to venture where few men have gone. Pilots like you are the reason many of us Vietnam vets came home alive. You truly are a hero!

    Jim Gilchrist (USMC Vietnam veteran), Founder and President, The Minuteman Project
    -a multiethnic immigration law enforcement advocacy group-

  15. Jim Pruett    

    What a shame that it took so long to be recognized for his actions. I have met many Medal of Honor recipients from the Vietnam era and many were also several years to be recognized. .

Comments are closed.