President Obama Presents the Medal of Honor

President Obama Presents the Medal of Honor


Male Speaker: Let us Pray. Lord, God, source of all
that is good and just. Be with us now and let us
begin this ceremony in gratitude. For this opportunity to
recognize and honor your gifts of courage and
selfless service witnessed to us in these heroic acts
of Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Kettles. Let his courage remind us
today and tomorrow of the great human dignity that
possesses an indomitable spirit to serve and
protect those most in need. We ask now that Lieutenant
Colonel Kettle’s actions we honor provide hope and
inspiration for those who face the perils of terror
and danger as they serve their brothers
and sisters. Lord bless this ceremony,
the acts we honor that they may strengthen the
values that we hold dear in this nation, and our
military, and our families and our way of life. And we ask all of this
in your Holy name. Amen. The President: Good
morning, everybody. Please have a seat. Welcome to the
White House. Of all the privileges
of this office, none is greater than serving as
the Commander-in-Chief of the finest military that
the world has ever known. And of all the military
decorations that our nation can bestow, we have
none higher than the Medal of Honor. As many who know him have
said, nobody deserves it more than Charles Kettles
of Ypsilanti, Michigan. Many believe that —
except for Chuck. (laughter) As he says, this “seems
like a hell of a fuss over something that
happened 50 years ago.” (laughter) Even now, all these years
later, Chuck is still defined by the humility
that shaped him as a soldier. At 86 years old, he still
looks sharp as a tack in that uniform. I pointed out he obviously
has not gained any weight. (laughter) And his life is as
American as they come. He’s the son of
an immigrant. His father signed up to
fly for the United States the day after Pearl Harbor
and filled his five boys with a deep sense of
duty to their country. For a time, he even served
in the Army Reserve — for a time, even as he served
in the Army Reserve, Chuck ran a Ford dealership
with his brother. And to families who drove
a new car off that lot, he’s the salesman who
helped put an American icon in their driveway. To the aviation students
at Eastern Michigan University, Chuck is the
professor who taught them about the wonder of flight
in the country that invented it. To the constituents
he served as a rare Republican in his
hometown’s mostly Democratic city council,
Chuck is the public servant who made sure that
their voices were heard. And to Ann, his beautiful
bride, who grew up literally as the girl next
door, Chuck is a devoted husband. Next March they will
celebrate their 40th anniversary. So happy early
anniversary. (applause) So in a lot of ways,
Chuck Kettles is America. And 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. We are honored to be
joined not only by Ann, but also eight of Chuck
and Ann’s 10 children, and three of their
grandchildren. It’s the Kettles family
reunion here in the White House. (laughter) brothers-in-arms from
Vietnam and some of Chuck’s newest comrades,
members of the Medal of Honor Society. May 15, 1967, started
as a hot Monday morning. Soldiers from the 101st
Airborne were battling hundreds of heavily armed
North Vietnamese in a rural riverbed. Our men were outnumbered. They needed support fast
— helicopters to get the wounded out and bring more
soldiers into the fight. Chuck Kettles
was a helo pilot. And just as he’d
volunteered for active duty, on this morning he
volunteered his Hueys — even though he
knew the danger. They called this place
“Chump Valley” for a reason: Above the riverbed
rose a 1,500-foot-tall hill, and the enemy was
dug into an extensive series of tunnels and
bunkers — the ideal spot for an ambush. But Chuck jumped into the
cockpit and took off. Around 9 a.m., his company
of Hueys approached the landing zone
and looked down. They should have seen a
stand of green trees; instead, they saw a solid
wall of green enemy tracers coming
right at them. None of them had ever
seen fire that intense. Soldiers in the helos were
hit and killed before they could even leap off. But under withering fire,
Chuck landed his chopper and kept it there,
exposed, so the wounded could get on and so that
he could fly them back to base. A second time, Chuck went
back into the valley. He dropped off more
soldiers and supplies, picked up more wounded. Once more, machine-gun
bullets and mortar rounds came screaming after them. As he took off a second
time, rounds pierced the arm and leg of Chuck’s
door gunner, Roland Scheck. Chuck’s Huey was hit. Fuel was pouring
out as he flew away. But Chuck had wounded men
aboard and decided to take his chances. He landed, found another
helicopter, and flew Roland to the
field hospital. By now it was
near evening. Back in the riverbed, 44
American soldiers were still pinned down. The air was thick with
gunpowder; it smelled of burning metal. And then they heard a
faint sound, and as the sun started to set, they
saw something rise over the horizon: six American
helicopters — as one of them said, “as
beautiful as could be.” For a third time, Chuck
and his unit headed into that hell on Earth. Death or injury was all
but certain, a fellow pilot said later, and “a
lesser person would not return.” Once again, the enemy
unloaded everything they had on Chuck as he landed
— small arms, automatic weapons, rocket-propelled
grenades. Soldiers ran to
the helicopters. When Chuck was told all
were accounted for, he took off. And then, midair, his
radio told him something else: eight men had
not made it aboard. They had been providing
cover for the others. Those eight soldiers had
run for the choppers, but could only watch as
they floated away. “We all figured we were
done for,” they said. Chuck came to the
same conclusion. “If we left them for 10
minutes,” he said, “they’d be POWs or dead.” A soldier who was there
said “that day, Major Kettles became
our John Wayne.” With all due respect to
John Wayne, he couldn’t do what Chuck Kettles did. He broke off from
formation, took a steep, sharp, descending turn
back toward the valley — this time with no aerial
or artillery support — a lone helicopter
heading back in. Chuck’s Huey was the only
target for the enemy to attack — and they did. Tracers lit up
the sky once more. Chuck became — Chuck came
in so hot that his chopper bounced for several
hundred feet before coming to a stop. As soon as he landed, a
mortar round shattered his windshield. Another hit the
main rotor blade. Shrapnel tore through the
cockpit and Chuck’s chair. And still, those eight
soldiers started to sprint to the Huey, running
through the firestorm, chased by bullets. Chuck’s helo, now badly
damaged, was carrying 13 souls and was 600
pounds over limit. It felt, he said,
like flying a two-and-a-half-ton truck. (laughter) He couldn’t hover long
enough to take off. But cool customer that he
is, he says he saw his shattered windshield and
thought, “that’s pretty good air conditioning.” (laughter) The cabin filled with
black smoke as Chuck hopped and skipped the
helo across the ground to pick up enough speed
for takeoff — like a jackrabbit, he said,
bouncing across the riverbed. The instant he got
airborne, another mortar ripped into the tail, the
Huey fishtailed violently, and a soldier was thrown
out of the helicopter, hanging onto a skid as
Chuck flew them to safety. I couldn’t make this up. (laughter) This is like a
bad “Rambo” movie. (laughter) Right? You’re listening to this,
you can’t believe it. 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. And because of that
heroism, 44 American soldiers made it
out that day — 44. We are honored today to be
joined by some of them: Chuck’s door gunner who
was hit, Roland Scheck; the last soldier Chuck
rescued that day, the one who figured he was done
for, Dewey Smith; and a number of soldiers, our
Vietnam veterans, who fought in that battle. Gentlemen, I would ask you
to either stand if you can, or wave, so that we
can thank you for your service. (applause) Now, Chuck’s heroism was
recognized at the time by the Army’s second-highest
award for gallantry — the Distinguished
Service Cross. But Bill Vollano decided
Chuck deserved an upgrade. Bill is a retired social
worker who went to Chuck’s house to interview him for
a veterans history project sponsored by the
local Rotary Club. Ann overheard the
interview from the other room and reminded Chuck to
tell Bill the story I’ve just told all of you. This is something Chuck
and I have in common — we do what our wives
tell us to do. (laughter) Chuck told the story,
and with his trademark humility, finished it by
saying it was “a piece of cake.” (laughter) Bill, hearing the story,
knew it was something more, and he started a
five-year mission, along with Chuck’s son Mike, a
retired Navy pilot, to award Chuck the
Medal of Honor. Bill and Mike are here, as
is Congresswoman Debbie Dingell who, along with
her legendary husband, John Dingell, went above
and beyond to pass a law to make sure that even
all these years later, we could fully recognize
Chuck Kettles’ heroism, as we do today. So we thank them for their
outstanding efforts. 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. It might take time, but
having failed to give our veterans who fought in
Vietnam the full measure of thanks and respect
that they had earned, we acknowledged that our
failure to do so was a shame. We resolve that it will
never happen again. It can take time, but
old adversaries can find peace. Thanks to the leadership
of so many Vietnam vets who had the courage to
rebuild ties, I was able to go to Vietnam recently
and see a people as enthusiastic about America
as probably any place in the world — crowds
lining the streets. And we were able to say
that, on a whole lot of issues, Vietnam and the
United States are now partners. Here at home, it might
take time, but we have to remember everyone on our
team — just like Chuck Kettles. Sometimes we have to turn
around, and head back, and help those who
need a lift. Chuck says the most
gratifying part of this whole story is that
Dewey’s name, and Roland’s name, and the names of
the 42 other Americans he saved are not etched in
the solemn, granite wall not far from here that
memorializes the fallen in the Vietnam War. Instead, it will be Chuck
Kettles’ name forever etched on the walls that
communities have built from Southern California
to South Carolina in honor of those who have earned
the Medal of Honor. Of course, Chuck says all
this attention is “a lot of hubbub, but
I’ll survive.” (laughter) Chuck, you’ve survived
much worse than this ceremony. (laughter) And on behalf of the
American people, let me say that this hubbub
is richly and roundly deserved. As the military aide
prepares to read the citation, please join me
in saluting this proud American soldier and
veteran who reminds us all of the true meaning of
service — Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Kettles. (applause) MILITARY AIDE: The
President of the United States of America,
authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863,
has awarded, in the name of Congress, the Medal of
Honor to Major Charles S. Kettles, United
States Army. Major Charles S. Kettles distinguished
himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity
while serving as flight commander, 176th
Aviation Company, (Airmobile) (Light) , 14th Combat Aviation
Battalion, Americal Division near Duc Pho,
Republic of Vietnam. On 15 May, 1967, Major
Kettles, upon learning that an airborne infantry
unit had suffered casualties during an
intense firefight with the enemy, immediately
volunteered to lead a flight of six UH-1 Delta
helicopters to carry reinforcements to the
embattled force and to evacuate wounded
personnel. Enemy small arms,
automatic weapons, and mortar fire raked the
landing zone, inflicting heavy damage to
the helicopters. However, Major Kettles
refused to depart until all helicopters were
loaded to capacity. He then returned to the
battlefield with full knowledge of the intense
enemy fire awaiting his arrival, to bring more
reinforcements, landing in the midst of enemy mortar
and automatic weapons fire that seriously wounded
his gunner and severely damaged his aircraft. Upon departing, Major
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. Later that day, the
Infantry Battalion Commander requested
immediate emergency extraction of the
remaining 40 troops, including four members of
Major Kettles’ unit who were stranded when their
helicopter was destroyed by enemy fire. With only one flyable UH-1
helicopter remaining, Major 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. by the last helicopter
that all personnel were onboard, and departed the
landing zone accordingly. Army gunships, supporting
the evacuation, also departed the areas. Once airborne, Major
Kettles was advised that eight troops has been
unable to reach the evacuation helicopters due
to the intense enemy fire. With complete disregard
for his own safety, Major Kettles passed the lead
to another helicopter and returned to the landing
zone to rescue the remaining troops. Without gunship,
artillery, or tactical air support, the enemy
concentrated all firepower on his lone aircraft,
which was immediately damaged by a mortar round
that shattered both front windshields and the chin
bubble, and was further raked by small arms
and machine gun fire. Despite the intense enemy
fire, Major Kettles maintained control of the
aircraft and situation, allowing for the remaining
eight soldiers to board the aircraft. In spite of the severe
damage to his helicopter, Major Kettles once more
skillfully guided his heavily damaged
aircraft to safety. Without his courageous
actions and the superior flying skills, the last
group of soldier and his crew would never have made
it off the battle field. Major Kettles’ selfless
act of repeated valor and determination are in
keeping with the highest traditions of military
service and reflect great credit upon himself and
the United States Army. (The Medal of Honor
is presented.) (A prayer is given.) The President: Ladies an
gentlemen, that concludes the ceremony. But we have a reception. I hear the food
here is pretty good. (laughter) Let’s give one more round
of applause to Mr. Chuck Kettles. (applause)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *