Thank you, General George, for that vivid account of Captain Taylor's heroism. And thank you, Secretary Austin, for being with us today. It has been such a privilege for all of us at the Army and across the Department of Defense to help share this remarkable story with the American people over the past few days. Captain Taylor, it is an honor to be here with you and so many friends and family members.
I am also so happy to have your wife Toni, in the audience today to celebrate this occasion. It's been wonderful for all of us to see her supporting you and cheering you on this week, just as she has done enthusiastically for the last 52 years.
Some of Captain Taylor's fellow veterans are here too, including Sergeant David Hill, whose life he saved, and Staff Sergeant Mike Holden, who has remained one of Captain Taylor's closest friends since a chance encounter at a Vietnam Vets reunion.
The Army prides itself on bringing out the best in its people. Every day, our Soldiers have the chance to demonstrate their commitment to a higher cause and help keep the Army rolling along in defense of our nation. But not all of them will find themselves in combat, and among those, even fewer will ever face a decision to risk their own life to save the lives of their fellow Soldiers.
The names of those Soldiers who stared down death in service of something larger than themselves are inscribed on the wall of the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes and at the Memorial Garden of the new National Museum of the United States Army. This morning, we are honored to add another name to both of those walls of honor and remembrance. The name of a person whose actions, as General George described them, bring to life one of our most crucial Army values: selfless service.
Medals of Honor are rare. The acts they memorialize are uncommon. But those who have known Captain Larry Taylor throughout his life know that for him, selflessness is part of who he is. So today, while we honor a single, courageous act, I want to speak about Captain Taylor's lifetime of commitment to this core Army value.
The idea of service was instilled in Larry Taylor from his earliest days. His great-uncle fought in World War I. His dad was in the Navy and fought in World War II. One of his uncles stormed Omaha Beach, setting the stage for America's liberation of Europe. And another uncle, an airman, flew B24s in Germany.
As Larry Taylor came of age in Eastern Tennessee, he knew that the military offered him a path to serve something larger than himself. As soon as he graduated from college, he rushed to an Army recruiter. The Vietnam War was escalating, and the draft was in full effect. But as Captain Taylor later put it, "I didn't have to be drafted to fight in Vietnam. It was the honor of my life."
Captain Taylor signed his commission as an Armor officer but quickly realized that helicopters were where he needed to be. So, after qualifying as an Army aviator, he headed to Vietnam, flying the Army's brand-new Cobra helicopter. As a helicopter pilot, he flew well over 2,000 combat missions, came under enemy fire 340 times, and was forced down on five different occasions. And not once did he falter when a call for help sputtered through his radio.
Time and time again during his Army service, Captain Taylor put others before himself and got the job done. As we honor his actions on June 18, 1968, I ask all of you to consider the remarkable selflessness that Captain Taylor demonstrated on that fateful night. In his own words: "I had seen people captured and tortured. And there was no doubt in my mind. I just had to create a diversion...and go in and get [the men on the ground]." He did not miss a beat, even in the face of his most extreme test. And we know this was not the only day in Vietnam when his dogged determination to leave no man behind saved lives.
Captain Taylor served in the Army for three more years after his deployment to Vietnam was over. And even after he left the service, he would continue to put others before himself. So you might not be surprised to learn that after returning to Tennessee, he taught at Tennessee’s School for the Deaf. He was also active in supporting his local chapter of Vietnam Vets of America.
And many years after taking over his father's sheet metal company, Larry chose to give parts of it away when the time came to retire: Shop space, building materials, and machinery – all of it went to the Boy Scouts of America, Habitat for Humanity, and the town’s railroad museum.
In the years after Vietnam, Captain Taylor and his wife Toni were putting down deeper roots in the Chattanooga area, and as they did, a movement was gaining momentum to upgrade his Silver Star to a higher and more rarely awarded honor. At the center of this effort were David Hill, one of the four soldiers saved on June 18, and others, like Mike Holden and General B.B. Bell, who were not present on that fateful night. They worked tirelessly to share the story of Captain Taylor's heroism. And their own selfless efforts drew more people – members of Congress, artists, musicians – to this cause.
Captain Taylor inspired them, and he inspires us – reminding us that we are all bound together by our common humanity and often, we depend on others in tough situations. People can be quick these days, it seems, to put their own needs and interests ahead of others, but Larry Taylor reminds us what genuine service looks like.
Captain Taylor: To this day, your legacy continues to reverberate within the US Army and motivate Americans from all walks of life. Your dedication to service, shown in this single act that we honor today, has inspired so many. You did not dedicate your life to these values because you wanted or expected any praise.
From Chattanooga to Vietnam and back again, and during each of your individual battles – including the one you are fighting now – you have kept a smile on your face. You have reminded us that, when facing any problem, "there is always a solution – and to never give up." You have even said that, if transported back in time and given the chance, you would go back to Vietnam tomorrow and save those men all over again.
Through it all, Captain Taylor, you have put others first. Today, we put you first. We recognize and honor your selfless act, and we applaud the countless selfless choices you have made. Thank you again, Captain Taylor, for your selfless service.