On July 16, 2016, nearly 50 years after his actions while serving as a flight commander within the 176th Aviation Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion (Airmobile) (Light), American Division in Vietnam, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles S. Kettles received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Drafted at age 21, he became a helicopter pilot.
On May 15, 1967, he volunteered to lead a small group of six UH-1D helicopters into intense enemy fire to provide reinforcement and medical extract to an ambushed unit. Under direct fire from multiple direction, Lt. Col. Kettles led two trips into the hot zone to deliver more reinforcements and extract the wounded. Later in the day, immediate extract for 40-50 soldiers was requested, and taking point Lt. Col. Kettles went back a third time. As the choppers and gunships took off for the last time, Lt. Col. Kettles learned that eight soldiers remained behind due to the intense enemy fire. Passing lead to another helicopter, he turned back without a gunship immediately taking heavy fire and sustaining damage. Employing skill and determination he was able to extract all eight and return to base. His actions, and that of his teammates, saved 44 lives.
“We got the 44 out. None of those names appear on the wall in Washington. There’s nothing more important than that.”
Retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles