The Medal of Honor is the military’s highest award, and President Obama presented the prestigious medal on Monday to retired Army Let. Col. Charles Kettles, a veteran who saved the lives of 40 soldiers during the Vietnam War in May of 1967. The award ceremony was held at the White House, and Obama congratulated Kettles on his bravery and courageous action in wartime.
“So the Army’s warrior ethos is based on a simple principle: A soldier never leaves his comrades behind. Chuck Kettles honored that creed –- not with a single act of heroism, but over and over and over,” Obama said in a speech.
Almost 50 years ago in a rural riverbed, known as “Chump Valley” near Duc Pho in South Vietnam, Kettles was acting as the commander of the 176th Aviation Company. His mission was to bring reinforcements and evacuate wounded soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division after they were outnumbered and outgunned by North Vietnamese troops.
His platoon of Huey helicopters faced heavy enemy fire when they landed, but Kettles survived and landed his helicopter so that wounded soldiers could board. Once he had flown them to safety, he went back to take another load of wounded troops out of the deadly and hostile situation, and drop off four more men and supplies. That night, Kettles returned a third time to the extremely dangerous area, this time with six helicopters to airlift more soldiers to safety.
44 men came home because Chuck Kettles believed that we leave no man behind. That’s America at our best. https://t.co/UymO2AaRHg
— President Obama (@POTUS) July 18, 2016
Eight men were left behind, and Kettles decided to fly back again in an effort to rescue the men. With a crew of five, Kettles’ helicopter was the only target for enemy fire, and was hit several times. That didn’t stop him from taking off with all eight men, well over the weight capacity, and with a severely damaged aircraft.
Despite the well-deserved honor of being celebrated as a hero, Kettle remained humble in a video statement released by the Army (see above), saying that “I didn’t do it by myself. There were some 74 pilots and crew members involved in this whole mission that day. So it’s not just me.”
Obama thanked Kettles for his service to the country and his bravery in the face of insurmountable odds, saying, “To the dozens of American soldiers that he saved in Vietnam half a century ago, Chuck is the reason they lived and came home and had children and grandchildren. Entire family trees, made possible by the actions of this one man.”
Finally, Obama went on to describe Kettle not only as an inspiration in Vietnam, but also to all of us now.
“And that’s one more reason this story is quintessentially American: Looking out for one another; the belief that nobody should be left behind. This shouldn’t just be a creed for our soldiers –- it should be a creed for all of us. 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 the goodness and decency of the American people, and the way that we can all look out for each other, even when times are tough, even when the odds are against us — what a wonderful inspiration. What a great gift for us to be able to celebrate something like this.”
You can watch the full remarks and ceremony in the video below; and for more details on the heroic deeds of Charles Kettle, head over to the official U.S. Department of Defense website by clicking here.