87 Year Old Vietnam Vet Helicopter Pilot Awarded Medal of Honor 50 Years Later

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President Barack Obama has awarded the Medal of Honor to Retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles, an Army helicopter pilot who served in the Vietnam war. Kettles is credited with saving the lives of 40 soldiers.

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Obama presented the military’s highest award to Kettles, who is now 86, and called Kettles “a wonderful inspiration.”

The president said Kettle’s example “shouldn’t just be a creed for our soldiers, it should be a creed for all of us.”

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“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,” Obama said. “And at a time when, let’s face it, we’ve had a couple of tough weeks, for us to remember that goodness and decency of the American people and the way we can all look out for each other, even when times are tough, even when the odds are against us, what a wonderful inspiration.”

Kettles did not appear to relish the spotlight. After, when talking with the gathered reporters, he shifted the emphasis to the other s involved in the rescue, saying “the only thing that really matters” were the men he helped save–many of whom had gathered at the White House for the ceremony.

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An Obama tweet on Monday read, “44 men came home because Chuck Kettles believed that we leave no man behind. That’s America at our best.”

The story of Kettles heroism is duly impressive.

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Kettles was a Huey helicopter commander. When a brigade became cornered by the Vietcong¬† on May 15, 1967, Kettles volunteered to fly in reinforcements. As he flew in more troops, he’d fly out the wounded–all while taking fire. Late in that same day, he learned that another helicopter had gone down and that 40 soldiers and four of his crew were stranded.¬† So he flew back.

Once airborne, Kettles learned eight other soldiers had not made it to the landing zone. Even though his helicopter was shot up, he turned back for the soldiers.

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Kettles showed a “complete disregard for his own safety” during the mission,” an Army statement said. “Without his courageous actions and superior flying skills, the last group of soldiers and his crew would never have made it off the battlefield.”

“I didn’t do it by myself,” Kettles says humbly in a video produced by the U.S. Army. “There were some 74 pilots and crew members involved in this whole mission that day. So it’s not just me.”

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Here’s him telling his own story.

If you’d like to see the ceremony, watch the video below.