Vietnam veteran recognized for valor
Retired Maj. Gen. Lou Hennies, former commander and long-time friend of Charles "Butch" Grafton, recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, speaks during a graduation ceremony April 4 after presenting Grafton with the award.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 11, 2013) -- A former Fort Rucker Aviator received the Distinguished Flying Cross more than 40 years after his heroic acts during the Vietnam War.

Charles H. "Butch" Grafton, a former Chief Warrant Officer 2, received the prestigious award during a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum April 4, but earned the recognition by going above and beyond the call of duty 42 years ago, according to Col. Shawn Prickett, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence director of training and doctrine.

"Grafton's personal, professional flying skill, and personal dedication to his fellow man is credited with saving the life of [a] wounded man," said Prickett during the ceremony.

"Today, we honored a genuine American hero," said retired Maj. Gen. Lou Hennies, award presenter and Grafton's former commander. "Butch was a remarkable Aviator and Soldier who was flying a pretty tough mission. They got into a lot of trouble, but he really pulled the fat out of the fire."

Grafton was drafted into the Army in 1970, unlike Soldiers of today who are volunteers, said Prickett. In his time as an Army Aviator, he flew more than 10,000 flight hours with 1,000 of them during the Vietnam War.

On April 10, 1971, during a mission in Vietnam, Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry came in contact with enemy forces and sustained casualties requiring immediate emergency evacuation, Prickett explained to the audience. Evacuation helicopters were requested, but due to the amount of enemy activity in the area, the extraction could not be made for several minutes.

"At this point, Grafton courageously volunteered his ship to enter the contact area and make the emergency extraction," he said. "As he maneuvered in, his ship came under heavy automatic weapons fire and his ship was badly damaged."

This didn't stop Grafton, however, and he continued on with his mission and remained in control of his aircraft, despite his crew chief being wounded by enemy fire, until the critically wounded individual was onboard.

"That aircraft go shot up very badly and a crewman got shot up too, but Butch continued the mission," said Hennies. "And after he took care of the guy, he brought himself and the rest of his crewmembers home. When Butch went out [on a mission], you knew it was going to be done right."

Grafton said at that time, he had no time to think, but only to act.

"When things are happening, you don't think -- it's about the training. The job just did itself -- that's the way the Army trains," he said. "That award doesn't belong to just me. It belongs to every one of those pilots who trained me here at Fort Rucker and all of the aircraft commanders that I flew with in Vietnam."

Although it took 42 years to officially and publically receive the award, Grafton said he was happy to finally receive it, but it was his former commander and good friend, Hennies, who said the recognition was necessary.

"It's important to do this because when people do something like [the things he did], they deserve that recognition publicly," he said. "We're here today to prove that it's never too late or too long to make a wrong right."

After serving his time in the war, he returned to Fort Rucker in 1980 as a contract flight instructor, which he's been doing now for 33 years.

"Heroics happen by circumstance, and you're either going to do the right thing our you're not going to do it, and he rose up to [the challenge]," said Hennies. "I joke with [Grafton] and I always say that he came into the Army as a beach bum, but 17 months later, he left Vietnam as a highly decorated Aviator."

Page last updated Thu April 11th, 2013 at 00:00