Army pilot who saved 44 men is hailed a hero, says he was just ‘flying the mission’

COLUMBUS (WCMH)–Following a special act of Congress, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Charles Kettles was awarded the Medal of Honor this summer by President Barack Obama.

This came nearly 50 years after he was originally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in battle in Vietnam back in 1967.

Colonel Kettles was a guest speaker at the Defense Logistics Agency in Columbus on Wednesday.

Back in 1967, Kettles volunteered to lead a flight of 6 UH-1D “Huey” helicopters to carry reinforcements to an embattled force and evacuate the wounded.

“The end result was the emergency extraction of the remaining 44 men,” he said. “And what’s most important there is that their names, is a result of the team effort, do not exist on the (Vietnam Memorial) wall in DC or anywhere else.”

Kettles had to fly that mission 6 times that day.

“Pretty obvious what had to be done. So, I guess people call it brave, call it hero or whatever. Just flying the mission.”

Dewey Smith, then a sergeant, was a squad leader on the ground.

“We actually thought Colonel Kettles would abort and not try to land,” he said. “He was coming in so fast, he probably bounced the helicopter 100-125 feet.”

Smith was one of the 8 soldiers left on the battlefield. He was the last one on board.

“As we were loading the helicopter, mortar rounds went off in front and blew the windshields out, the nose bubbles, a couple guys on the right side of the chopper were wounded,” he said.

Kettles saved 44 soldiers that day. He and Smith were able to reminisce around an old Huey near the Reserve Center.

“I don’t know about this hero business. But if that suits them, so be it,” Kettles said.

At dinner after the Medal of Honor ceremony, Smith pointed to his 12 family members attending and told Kettles he was responsible for all of them.

“I can’t think of anything but a hero,” Smith said. “The man was cool, calm, he was professional.” provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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