President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor today to a Vietnam War veteran credited in leading a perilous rescue operation half a century ago. Obama called Lt. Col. Charles Kettles an inspiration, especially after ” a couple of tough weeks.”
Characterizing a “quintessentially American story,” Obama said Kettles honored the Army’s creed the day he volunteered to lead a helicopter mission to an airborne division that had come under heavy fire in the Duc Pho region. Obama said Kettles happened into a scene reminiscent of a “bad Rambo movie” and acted with courage and skill.
“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,” said Obama during the White House ceremony which can be seen below:
Kettles returned to the site twice that day in May 1967 even after his squadron came under mortar and RPG fire, and broke formation and returned to the mission site without artillery or tactical support upon learning eight soldiers thought to be accounted for had been left behind.
Obama pointed to the apparent selflessness in Kettles’ actions not simply as an example of bravery in wartime, but a bright spot in a country he’s addressed most recently in wake of tragedies including the two separate ambushes of police officers by gunmen in recent weeks.
“For us to remember the goodness and decency of the American people in a 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,” said Obama.
In attendance were members of Kettles’ family, including his wife and eight of his ten children, as well as a number of the 44 men whose lives Kettles is credited with saving as well the gunner who accompanied Kettles in his helicopter and been injured during their mission.
Obama cited a statement from rescued soldier who called Kettles “our John Wayne,” and the president noted Kettles’ humility in receiving the medal.
“Of course, Chuck says this attention is ‘a lot of hubbub, but I’ll survive.’ ” Obama joked describing the “hubbub” as “richly and roundly” deserved. “Chuck, you’ve survived much worse than this ceremony.”