Lieutenant Colonel Charles Kettles

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born

1930

hometown

Ypsilanti, Michigan

enlistment date

Oct. 18, 1951

Date of Commission

Feb. 28, 1953

unit

176th Assault Helicopter Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Task Force Oregon

deployments

Korea, 1954, Japan, 1955, Thailand, 1956, France, 1964-1966, Republic of Vietnam, 1967 and 1969

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles S. Kettles was born in Ypsilanti, Mich., Jan. 9, 1930. The son of a World War I Royal Air Force (Canadian) and World War II Air Transport Command (U.S. Army Air Corps) pilot, Kettles had aviation in his blood. While attending the Edison Institute High School in Dearborn, Michigan, Kettles honed his love of flying on the Ford Motor Company Flight Department simulator.

Following high school graduation, Kettles enrolled in Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University), where he studied engineering. Two years later, Kettles was drafted to the Army at age 21. Upon completion of basic training at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, Kettles attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and earned his commission as an armor officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, Feb. 28, 1953. Kettles graduated from the Army Aviation School in 1953, before serving active duty tours in Korea, Japan and Thailand.

Kettles returned in 1956 and established a Ford Dealership in Dewitt, Michigan, with his brother, and continued his service with the Army Reserve as a member of the 4th Battalion, 20th Field Artillery.

He answered the call to serve again in 1963, when the United States was engaged in the Vietnam War and needed pilots. Fixed-wing-qualified, Kettles volunteered for Active Duty. He attended Helicopter Transition Training at Fort Wolters, Texas in 1964. During a tour in France the following year, Kettles was cross-trained to fly the famed UH-1D “Huey.”

Kettles reported to Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1966 to join a new helicopter unit. He was assigned as a flight commander with the 176th Assault Helicopter Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, and deployed to Vietnam from February through November 1967. His second tour of duty in Vietnam lasted from October 1969, through October 1970.

U.S. Army Lt. Charles Kettles at the controls of an Army L-19 aircraft, 1954. (Photo courtesy of Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles)

U.S. Army Lt. Charles Kettles at the controls of an Army L-19 aircraft, 1954. (Photo courtesy of Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles)

Lt. Gen. L. J. Lincoln awards the Distinguished Service Cross to U.S. Army Maj. Charles Kettles, Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, 1968. (Photo courtesy of Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles)

Lt. Gen. L. J. Lincoln awards the Distinguished Service Cross to U.S. Army Maj. Charles Kettles, Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, 1968. (Photo courtesy of Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles)

In 1970, Kettles went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he served as an aviation team chief and readiness coordinator supporting the Army Reserve. He remained in San Antonio until his retirement from the Army in 1978.

Kettles completed his bachelor’s degree at Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas, and earned his master’s degree at Eastern Michigan University, College of Technology, in commercial construction. He went on to develop the Aviation Management Program at the College of Technology and taught both disciplines. He later worked for Chrysler Pentastar Aviation until his retirement in 1993. Kettles currently resides in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with his wife Ann.

Kettles’ awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with Numeral “27”, the Army Commendation Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster, the National Defense Service Medal with one bronze service star, the Korean Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with one silver service star and one bronze service star, the Korea Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with bronze hourglass device, the Master Aviator Badge, Marksman Badge with carbine bar, the Valorous Unit Citation, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with bronze star, the United Nations Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with “60” Device, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with palm device.

U.S. Army Maj. Charles Kettles (left), standing beside his heavily damaged "Huey" helicopter on return from the May 15, 1967 emergency extraction rescue operation.

U.S. Army Maj. Charles Kettles (left), standing beside his heavily damaged "Huey" helicopter on return from the May 15, 1967 emergency extraction rescue operation.

The Battle

May 15, 1967 | Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam | Song Tra Cau riverbed

During the early morning hours of May 15, 1967, personnel of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, were ambushed in the Song Tra Cau riverbed by an estimated battalion-sized force of the North Vietnamese army with numerous automatic weapons, machine guns, mortars and recoilless rifles. The enemy force fired from a fortified complex of deeply embedded tunnels and bunkers, and was shielded from suppressive fire. Upon learning that the 1st Brigade had suffered casualties during an intense firefight with the enemy, then-Maj. Charles S. Kettles, volunteered to lead a flight of six UH-1D helicopters to carry reinforcements to the embattled force and to evacuate wounded personnel. As the flight approached the landing zone, it came under heavy enemy attack. Deadly fire was received from multiple directions and Soldiers were hit and killed before they could leave the arriving lift helicopters.

Jets dropped napalm and bombs on the enemy machine guns on the ridges overlooking the landing zone, with minimal effect. Small arms and automatic weapons fire continued to rake the landing zone, inflicting heavy damage to the helicopters. However, Kettles refused to depart until all reinforcements and supplies were off-loaded and wounded personnel were loaded on the helicopters to capacity. Kettles led them out of the battle area and back to the staging area to pick up additional reinforcements.

Kettles then returned to the battlefield, with full knowledge of the intense enemy fire awaiting his arrival. Bringing reinforcements, he landed in the midst of enemy mortar and automatic weapons fire that seriously wounded his gunner and severely damaged his aircraft. Upon departing, Kettles was advised by another helicopter crew that he had fuel streaming out of his aircraft. Despite the risk posed by the leaking fuel, he nursed the damaged aircraft back to base.

EMERGENCY EXTRACTION

The satellite image of the Song Tra Cau riverbed, near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam.  The graphic overlay depicts then-Maj. Charles Kettles flight path during the emergency extraction, May 15, 1967, as part of Operation Malheur.

The satellite image of the Song Tra Cau riverbed, near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam. The graphic overlay depicts then-Maj. Charles Kettles flight path during the emergency extraction, May 15, 1967, as part of Operation Malheur.

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Later that day, the infantry battalion commander requested immediate, emergency extraction of the remaining 40 troops, and four members of Kettles’ unit who were stranded when their helicopter was destroyed by enemy fire. With only one flyable UH-1 helicopter remaining, Kettles volunteered to return to the deadly landing zone for a third time, leading a flight of six evacuation helicopters, five of which were from the 161st Aviation Company. During the extraction, Kettles was informed by the last helicopter that all personnel were onboard, and departed the landing zone accordingly. Army gunships supporting the evacuation also departed the area.

“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

Once airborne, Kettles was advised that eight troops had been unable to reach the evacuation helicopters due to the intense enemy fire. With complete disregard for his own safety, Kettles passed the lead to another helicopter and returned to the landing zone to rescue the remaining troops. Without gunship, artillery, or tactical aircraft support, the enemy concentrated all firepower on his lone aircraft, which was immediately damaged by a mortar round that damaged the tail boom, a main rotor blade, shattered both front windshields and the chin bubble and was further raked by small arms and machine gun fire.

Despite the intense enemy fire, Kettles maintained control of the aircraft and situation, allowing time for the remaining eight Soldiers to board the aircraft. In spite of the severe damage to his helicopter, Kettles once more skillfully guided his heavily damaged aircraft to safety. Without his courageous actions and superior flying skills, the last group of Soldiers and his crew would never have made it off the battlefield.

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles is awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 18, 2016, for actions during a battle near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, on May 15, 1967. Then-Maj. Kettles, assigned to 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, was credited with evacuating dozens of Soldiers in a UH-1D Huey helicopter under intense enemy fire. Photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand

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Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles is awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 18, 2016, for actions during a battle near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, on May 15, 1967. Then-Maj. Kettles, assigned to 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, was credited with evacuating dozens of Soldiers in a UH-1D Huey helicopter under intense enemy fire. Photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand

President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles for conspicuous gallantry, in the East Room of the White House, July 18, 2016. Then-Maj. Kettles distinguished himself in combat operations near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam, on May 15, 1967 and is credited with saving the lives of 40 Soldiers and four of his own crew members. White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

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President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles for conspicuous gallantry, in the East Room of the White House, July 18, 2016. Then-Maj. Kettles distinguished himself in combat operations near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam, on May 15, 1967 and is credited with saving the lives of 40 Soldiers and four of his own crew members. White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles is awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 18, 2016, for actions during a battle near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, on May 15, 1967. Then-Maj. Kettles, assigned to 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, was credited with evacuating dozens of Soldiers in a UH-1D Huey helicopter under intense enemy fire. Photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand

Show Caption +

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles is awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 18, 2016, for actions during a battle near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, on May 15, 1967. Then-Maj. Kettles, assigned to 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, was credited with evacuating dozens of Soldiers in a UH-1D Huey helicopter under intense enemy fire. Photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand

Retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles speaks to the audience during his induction ceremony to the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., July 19, 2016, for actions during a battle near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, May 15, 1967.

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Retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles speaks to the audience during his induction ceremony to the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., July 19, 2016, for actions during a battle near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, May 15, 1967.

Retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles is inducted to the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., July 19, 2016, for actions during a battle near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, May 15, 1967.

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Retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles is inducted to the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., July 19, 2016, for actions during a battle near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, May 15, 1967.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey present a framed Medal of Honor citation to retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles during the Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., July 19, 2016, for actions during a battle near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, on May 15, 1967. Photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand

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Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey present a framed Medal of Honor citation to retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles during the Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., July 19, 2016, for actions during a battle near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, on May 15, 1967. Photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand

“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.”

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

White House Medal of Honor Ceremony, July 18, 2016

"I didn't do it by myself"

Retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles dedicates the Medal of Honor to his teammates

"I didn't do it by myself"

Retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles dedicates the Medal of Honor to his teammates

176th Aviation Company

Minutemen | Assault Helicopter Company | Vietnam War, 1967-1971

176th Aviation Company

176th Aviation Company

Read Unit History

The 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) deployed to the Republic of Vietnam on Feb. 20, 1967, to provide aviation support to units of the Free World Military Forces and the Republic of Vietnam Forces in the Corps Tactical Zone.

In May 1967, the 176th received orders to provide aviation support to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, as part of a provisional division-sized unit called Task Force Oregon. The company stayed with this command, until August 1967, when it transitioned its support to other Americal Division elements.

During its service throughout Vietnam, the 176th Aviation Company earned campaign credit for its participation in the Counteroffensive, Phase II; Counteroffensive, Phase III; Tet Counteroffensive; Counteroffensive, Phase IV; Counteroffensive, Phase V; Counteroffensive, Phase VI; Tet 69/Counteroffensive; Summer-Fall 1969; Winter-Spring 1970; Sanctuary Counteroffensive; Counteroffensive, Phase VII; and Consolidation I campaigns.

The 176th Aviation Company was inactivated, Nov. 10, 1971, thereby terminating its official Vietnam service.

176th Aviation Company

176th Aviation Company

Read Unit History

101st Airborne Soldiers move away from the landing zone after being dropped off by a 176th Aviation Company Huey helicopter during Operation Wheeler, 1967. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Vietnam War Photograph Collection)

101st Airborne Soldiers move away from the landing zone after being dropped off by a 176th Aviation Company Huey helicopter during Operation Wheeler, 1967. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Vietnam War Photograph Collection)

176th Aviation Company Huey Helicopters drop off 101st Airborne Soldiers during Operation Wheeler, 1967. Operation Wheeler took place shortly after Operation Malheur I, which then-Maj. Charles Kettles took part in. (Photos courtesy of U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Vietnam War Photograph Collection)

176th Aviation Company Huey helicopter drops off 101st Airborne Soldiers despite bad weather during Operation Wheeler, 1967. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Vietnam War Photograph Collection)

176th Aviation Company Huey Helicopters drop off 101st Airborne Soldiers during Operation Wheeler, 1967. Operation Wheeler took place shortly after Operation Malheur I, which then-Maj. Charles Kettles took part in. (Photos courtesy of U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Vietnam War Photograph Collection)

U.S. Army Maj. Charles Kettles, posing in front of a 121st Aviation Company UH-1H, during his second Vietnam tour of duty, 1969.

U.S. Army Maj. Charles Kettles, posing in front of a 121st Aviation Company UH-1H, during his second Vietnam tour of duty, 1969.