Nearly 50 years after Lt. Col. Charles Kettles swooped in while flying a bullet-riddled helicopter and saved the lives of dozens of soldiers during the Vietnam War, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to the retired soldier in a ceremony at the White House on Monday.
Kettles, who served as a helicopter commander in the Army during the Vietnam War, received the nation’s highest military honor for his valor in combat operations in May 1967. He is credited with saving the lives of more than 40 soldiers during an ambush in the Song Tra Cau riverbed.
Those soldiers called Kettles, then 37, “papa”. And he told NBC News that he considered them like his children, “great kids”.
“They needed guidance,” he said.
And on that fateful day they also needed help. The firefight was heavy and his fellow soldiers suffered casualties. So he volunteered to lead a helicopter flight back to the battlefield to help rescue injured personnel and carry reinforcements.
“Kettles refused to depart until all reinforcements and supplies were off-loaded and wounded personnel were loaded on the helicopters to capacity,” according to a profile on the Army website. “Kettles led them out of the battle area and back to the staging area to pick up additional reinforcements.”
One of the soldiers who was rescued said “Major Kettles became our John Wayne.”
“With all due respect to John Wayne,” the president said. “John Wayne couldn’t do what Chuck Kettles did.”
Kettles steered his chopper through enemy fire, even as a mortar round shattered the windshield and shrapnel tore through the cockpit. He skidded in to save the soldiers left behind.
The helicopter, loaded down by all of the extra weight, struggled to take off.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Christina Coleburn