Charles Coolidge, Oldest Medal of Honor Recipient, Dies at Age 99

H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Charles Coolidge.

The U.S. has lost its oldest Medal of Honor recipient. Charles Coolidge has passed away at the age of 99. He died April 6, 2021, at the Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee.


Out of 473 Medal of Honor recipients who received the award for actions during World War II, there is now only one still living, Marine Cpl. Hershel “Woody” Williams, who was presented his award for his actions at Iwo Jima.

Charles Coolidge, ca. 1945
Charles Coolidge, circa 1945. (Photo Credit: Congressional Medal of Honor Society)

Coolidge was born in Tennessee in 1921. He worked as a bookbinder at the business his father started, Chattanooga Printing & Engraving.

When the war started, Coolidge joined the Army. He trained in Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina before deploying for the European front in the spring of 1943.

He was in the first American division to invade Europe in the war. He was part of the failed attempt to cross the Rapido River and fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944.

In May of 1944, he was part of the division that opened up Rome for the 5th Army to invade. He received the Silver Star for his actions in that battle.

Heroism in France

His division was then pulled from Italy and sent to Southern France where they advanced on the Siegfried Line — the German defensive line guarded by thousands of bunkers and pillboxes.

During a four-day battle near the French village of Belmont-sur-Buttant, he performed the actions that won him the Medal of Honor.

Coolidge was leading a section of heavy machine guns with support from a platoon from Company K. They were moving to cover the right flank in support of the 3rd Battalion.

In the woods, Coolidge and a sergeant were scouting positions when they stumbled on a large force of enemy infantry, possibly an entire company.

Coolidge tried to bluff in spite of the vast numbers in favor of the Germans. He called for them to surrender. They countered his offer by opening fire.

Since there was no officer present, Coolidge assumed command and led his troops to direct their fire at the enemy. Many of the soldiers in his group were experiencing enemy fire for the first time, but Coolidge moved up and down the line to offer encouragement, calm the men’s nerves, and direct their fire.

They managed to repel that first attack, but the German’s returned the next day. They continued wave after wave of attacks, but the Americans kept holding them at bay.

On the fourth day, the Germans attacked with support from two tanks. Coolidge calmly took a bazooka and moved to within 25 yards of the tanks. Unfortunately for Coolidge, the bazooka failed to fire.

So Coolidge rounded up all the hand grenades he could and crawled forward throwing one after another and inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans.

When it was clear that the Americans could not hold out against the superior numbers and firepower of the Germans, Coolidge called for an orderly withdrawal. Coolidge himself did not leave the position until he was certain all his men had withdrawn.

Later life and awards

When the war ended, Coolidge went home, married, and started a family. He worked for the Veterans Administration for a while after the war and then returned to his family’s business where he worked until he retired at the age of 95.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Coolidge received the Bronze Star and the Silver Star. In 2006, France awarded him their Legion of Honor, their highest honor. The Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga was named after him. A highway and a park have also been named after him.

He was one of 12 Medal of Honor recipients to appear on the cover of the U.S. Postal Service’s Medal of Honor stamp sheet. In March 2021, he received the 2021 George Marshall Award by the State Funeral for World War II Veterans.


Vietnam Vets to Biden: Firebase Kate Hero Deserves Medal of Honor

H/T The Washington Free Beacon.

There is no doubt that Captain Bill ‘Hawk’ Albracht deserves the Medal of Honor.

Captain Bill ‘Hawk’ Albracht saved more than 150 allied soldiers in daring escape

Special forces soldier Bill Albracht with a South Vietnamese soldier (Credit:

In October 1969, Army Captain Bill “Hawk” Albracht found himself posted at a base in Vietnamese jungle widely considered to be a backwater to the war. Surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers, strapped for ammo and water, and with no hope of rescue, Albracht and his team of more than 150 American and South Vietnamese soldiers stared down communist forces armed to the teeth—with a slim chance of survival.

“My heart sunk,” Albracht said recalling a message from command saying there would be no reinforcements. “I knew right then: We’ve got to get out of here, and we have to do it ourselves.”

After multiple days of brutal firefights with North Vietnamese soldiers, Albracht led an exhausted gang of American artillery troops and pro-American Vietnamese tribesmen to safety in the dead of night. In the process, the U.S. Army crew lost only one man in battle and only one more missing in action. Twenty-four Americans under Albracht’s command would live to fight another day.

The heroic actions of that week led to multiple commendations for Albracht, a Silver Star and Purple Heart not least among them. Now his peers and friends want their captain to receive the highest honor.

First Lieutenant John Kerr, who also served at Firebase Kate, told the Washington Free Beacon that Albracht’s heroism merits every honor in the book.

“Bill deserves all the credit and the upgrade of his medals that are possible. He was responsible for saving 24 American lives, that’s all there is to it,” Kerr said. “He took charge and put himself in harm’s way time and time again.”

Special forces soldier Bill Albracht with a South Vietnamese soldier (Credit:

It was by no means clear that Albracht and his fellow Americans would come out of Firebase Kate unscathed. Many of the captain’s peers had only been stationed at the base—which was poorly defended and in a location vulnerable to attack—for about a month. Though Albracht was trained as a special forces officer, his comrades belonged to an artillery grouping, meaning they had little experience in the direct line of fire. Albracht himself was only 21 years old at the time, and on his first command assignment. To make matters worse, by the time the North Vietnamese attacked, the base’s artillery equipment was all but out of commission.

The policy of Vietnamization also complicated the safety of those at Firebase Kate. Adopted by President Richard Nixon in the waning days of the Vietnam War, Vietnamization meant the anti-communist South Vietnamese would take the primary role in fighting and American troops would return to a support role. The policy halted American commanders from sending supporting troops to the firebase. So did antiaircraft weapons from North Vietnamese forces.

“The bottom line was that we were stuck there on this little hilltop along the Cambodian border, and there was no way out,” Kerr said. “We were just sitting ducks.”

It was in this desperate hour that Albracht took charge. Even after suffering a wound and receiving heavy fire from the North Vietnamese, the captain rallied his troops for an exit strategy. After coordinating via radio with air support and commanding officers, Albracht decided his band of survivors would make their escape under cover of nightfall. In a single-file line, he and the Vietnamese tribesmen trekked miles to rendezvous with the “MIKE Force,” American special operators tasked with retrieving the men posted at Firebase Kate. As Albracht and his crew inched closer to freedom, they at one point only stood 12 feet away from a patrol of North Vietnamese troops.

“I called the MIKE Force on the radio to say, ‘I hear you coming; I’m on your immediate left,'” Albracht said. “They told me they weren’t out; it was the enemy. If the [enemy] made any degree of movement to the left, they would have come right up on us, and we would have been in a pitched battle we would have very much lost. But they moved right on by.”

In the aftermath of the escape, Firebase Kate was destroyed. After retrieval by U.S. forces, Albracht did not return home. Instead he re-upped and joined the same corps that found him and his soldiers—the MIKE Force. Albracht was wounded again months later, which eventually marked the end of his frontline service in Vietnam.

Firebase Kate in the aftermath of the escape (Credit:

Besides Kerr, several other veterans and advocates champion Albracht’s bid for a Medal of Honor. The written testimony of two other officers—Col. John Beckenhauer and Lt. Gen. Michael Tucker—praises Albracht for his extraordinary heroism in orchestrating the escape from Firebase Kate. The Vietnam Veterans of America also drafted a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recommending Albracht for the nation’s highest award for servicemen.

“Never have I witnessed a more heroic feat than what he pulled off getting those men off that firebase that night alive,” Beckenhauer, a member of the Army aviation team supporting Albracht’s mission, wrote in his testimony.

“The fact that any of them got off that base, walked through enemy lines in the pitch black dark, and got out to safety with all but one, was nothing short of miraculous. What a testament to the American soldier and to Hawk’s leadership. A braver man doing anything that crazy and living to tell about it would be hard to find…. One day I hope to meet him under better circumstances.”

Albracht receiving a plaque for his heroics at Firebase Kate (Credit:

Albracht served his country in a different way after Vietnam. Over the course of five presidencies, the Vietnam veteran served as a Secret Service agent, protecting U.S. presidents and foreign dignitaries. He said his experience as a special operator in Vietnam prepared him for the challenge of such a high-stakes position.

The Vietnam veteran later coauthored a book about his experience at Firebase Kate, which was also adapted into a documentary—efforts Albracht said are meant to honor the sacrifice of his comrades in arms. For Albracht, the ultimate lesson of his experience was the team effort and sacrifice it took to return himself and 24 other Americans home safely.

“I needed to be at Kate, and therefore by divine providence, or whatever you want to call it, I performed correctly and I did my job to the best of my ability,” Albracht said. “And we got out. It wasn’t just me; everybody did their job.”

The Army declined to comment on Albracht’s appeal for a Medal of Honor.

President Clears Way to Present Medal of Honor to Alwyn Cashe for His Heroic Actions

H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Sgt Alwyn Cashe, A true hero in every sense of the word.

President Donald Trump has signed a bipartisan bill which clears the way for US Army Sgt Alwyn Cashe to posthumously receive the nation’s highest military honor.


Cashe had previously been awarded the Silver Star for Valor. Many US veterans believed that Cashe’s actions deserved the Medal of Honor since they occurred after being attacked in Iraq. This qualified the incident as active combat and made it eligible for the Medal of Honor.

The story gained popularity when NFL player and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva wore Cashe’s name on the back of his helmet during the first game of the season this year. An estimated 10.8 million viewers saw that game and learned about Cashe’s actions.

US Representatives Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla), Michael Waltz (R-Fla) and Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex) introduced the bill authorizing the Medal of Honor for Cashe just two days after that game. The bill unanimously passed the Senate last month and was given to the president for his signature last week.

The Medal of Honor is the US’s highest and most-prestigious military decoration.
The Medal of Honor is the US’s highest and most-prestigious military decoration.

With the president’s signature now on the bill, the Department of Defense is now cleared to formally recommend that the president award the Medal of Honor to Cashe. The president is the only one authorized to present the award.

In 2005, Cashe rescued several men from a burning vehicle in Iraq after it had been attacked by an explosive device. Cashe repeatedly entered the burning vehicle to pull his men to safety despite receiving second and third degree burns over three-quarters of his body.

According to Leo Shane III, witnesses described Alwyn Cashe returning time and time again to the burning vehicle even his own uniform was burning and his body armor was melting from the heat.

Villanueva said that his decision to honor Cashe was a personal one because of the effort among veterans to get Cashe the Medal of Honor. He said that the team’s head coach, Mike Tomlin, had approved of his decision.

But the decision caused some controversy. When the NFL announced that players would be allowed to wear the name of someone who was the victim of police brutality or a phrase that was associated with the protest movement regarding such brutality the Pittsburgh Steelers team web site published a story that the entire team would be wearing the name of Antwon Rose, Jr. Villanueva was the only player wearing a different name on his helmet.

Alwyn Cashe. Image credit: US Army
Alwyn Cashe. Image credit: US Army

Rose was killed by a Pittsburgh police officer while running away on foot. He had been in a vehicle that was involved in a drive-by shooting just minutes before he was killed. Many saw the incident as another example of police officers using excessive force against a black man. The officer who killed Rose, Michael Rosfield, shot Rose three times in the back. Rosfield was cleared of wrongdoing by a jury.

Rose’s mother was initially critical of Villanueva’s decision to wear a different name. She has since deleted the social media post in which she criticized the Steeler player for not wearing her son’s name on his helmet as the rest of his team was doing.

Villanueva is the starting left tackle for the Steelers. He is in his sixth season in the NFL.

He was 35 years old when he died after his heroic actions.

41 Year Old Medal of Honor Recipient, was Laid to Rest at Arlington

H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer.

Medal of Honor recipient and former Army Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer passed away in May 2020 at the age of 41. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.


Shurer received the Medal of Honor for his actions in treating wounded soldiers while braving “withering enemy fire.” He was presented the award by President Donald Trump on October 1, 2018, in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

Shurer was originally scheduled to receive the Silver Star for his actions but a military-wide medals review led to the upgrade.

The Battle of Shok Valley occurred on April 6, 2008. Two Special Forces detachments set out to attack a mountain fortress in the Shok Valley along with over 100 Afghan commandos. The mission was to kill or capture Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. He was the leader of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin – a militia group that had taken control of the valley decades earlier.

Members of Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, 3rd Special Forces Group in the remote Shok Valley of Afghanistan.
Members of Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, 3rd Special Forces Group in the remote Shok Valley of Afghanistan.

A surprise attack was planned but was scrapped when a suitable landing spot could not be located. The commandos were dropped in a nearby river and had to climb to the castle from there. This gave the militia time to prepare an ambush from higher ground.

It wasn’t long before the Special Forces units found themselves surrounded and being fired on from all directions.

Ronald Shurer
Ronald Shurer

Everyone on the team was injured in the fighting. The interpreter was killed almost immediately when the shooting began. With reports of reinforcements arriving for the insurgents, the team knew they needed to retreat.

The team then retreated back down the mountain still under enemy fire. They managed to hold the extraction zone until they could be evacuated by helicopter.

In the end, two team members were killed and nine received serious wounds. It is estimated that 100 of the enemy fighters were killed in the battle.

In an interview about the actions that led to him receiving the Medal of Honor, Shurer spent more talking about his team members than himself.

At his funeral, his colleagues spoke about his selfless giving. During the battle at Shok Valley, Sgt. Maj. Matt Williams said he saw Shurer repeatedly expose himself to enemy fire in order to treat wounded soldiers. He lowered several down the hill, using his own body to shield them from fire. A bullet passed through his helmet and lodged in his arm while he did this.

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Matthew O. Williams also received the Medal of Honor from his actions during the battle.
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Matthew O. Williams also received the Medal of Honor from his actions during the battle.

Once Shurer had tended to the wounded, he “regained control of his commando squad and rejoined the fight,” according to the citation he received for the Medal of Honor.

Shurer left the military in 2009 and joined the Secret Service. He eventually became part of the counter-assault team assigned to protect the president at the White House.

In 2017, Shurer was diagnosed with lung cancer. He continued to report for work at the White House when his treatments allowed.

Shurer in Afghanistan around 2006.
Shurer in Afghanistan around 2006.

His priest, Father Bob Cilinski, was invited to the ceremony when Shurer received the Medal of Honor. He said that he had known Shurer for a couple of years before that and had never heard about the battle. He said that he asked Shurer how he found the strength to do what he did in that moment. Shurer replied that he prayed, “Dear God, watch over Miranda (his wife) and my family and give me the strength to help others.”

According to his wife and all who knew him, he lived exactly that way – helping others before thinking of himself.

Secret Service Director James Murray said that Shurer dedicated his life to his country and that he was a valued member of the Secret Service. He said that Shurer’s “impact, memory, and legacy will live with us forever.”

Trump Announces Medal of Honor for Sgt’s Actions in Bloodiest Battle of Iraq War: ‘He Just Took Over’

H/T Western Journal.

 Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, Hand Salute.          

In a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia became the first living individual to be awarded a Medal of Honor for the Iraq War.

When you look at his actions, he’s certainly deserving.

According to Fox News, Bellavia was a squad leader during the Battle of Fallujah when he saved the lives of his entire squad during Operation Phantom Fury.

President Trump described what happened as he awarded Bellavia the nation’s highest honor on Tuesday.

“In November of 2004, after nearly a year of intense enemy combat in Iraq, David led his squad into battle to liberate the city of Fallujah and anti-Iraqi forces,” Trump said.

“That was a tough place. This operation was the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War.”

U.S. Army


Happening Now: @POTUS will present Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, @FightingFirst, with the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions taken, November 2004, during , during a ceremony at the @WhiteHouse. 

Staff Sgt. David Bellavia receives Medal of Honor

U.S. Army @USArmy

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“For three days straight, David and his men kicked down doors, searched houses, and destroyed enemy weapons, never knowing where they would find a terrorist lurking next. And there were plenty of them.

“The third day of battle was November 10th, David’s 29th birthday. That night, his squad was tasked with clearing 12 houses occupied by insurgents. A very dangerous operation. They entered house after house, and secured nine of the buildings.”

The 10th house, however, was where the problem was. That’s where, according to a White House statement, “his platoon became pinned down.”

Bellavia “quickly exchanged an M16 rifle for an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, entered the house where his squad was trapped, and engaged insurgents, providing cover fire so that he and his fellow soldiers could exit safely. A Bradley Fighting Vehicle arrived to help suppress the enemy, but it could not fire directly into the house.

“Then-Staff Sgt. Bellavia re-entered the house, armed with an M16, and assaulted insurgents who were firing rocket-propelled grenades.”

“Knowing that he would face almost certain death, David decided to go back inside the house and make sure that not a single terrorist escaped alive, or escaped in any way,” the president said Tuesday.

“He quickly encountered an insurgent who was about to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at his squad.  David once again jumped into danger and killed him before he had a chance to launch that grenade.

“Next, two more insurgents came out of hiding and fired at David. He returned fire, killing them both. Then, a third assailant burst out of a wardrobe …  and opened fire. David shot and wounded the man, but he escaped up the stairs. Racing after him, David engaged in hand-to-hand combat and killed him too.”

As the president put it succinctly: “He just took over. David took over.”

“Bleeding and badly wounded, David single-handedly defeated the forces who attacked his unit and would have killed them all had it not been for the bravery of David,” Trump said.

It’s the kind of patriotism that’s enough to bring a tear to your eye.

Bellavia was joined at the ceremony by 12 of the men from his platoon and family members from five who didn’t survive.

That number alone should be a reminder that the Iraq War was a grueling slog through a brutal counter-insurgency. Men and women like Bellavia fought bravely for their country. Some of them didn’t make it back. Others came back with permanent scars, both physical and psychological.

Yes, this is one of the most conspicuous acts of bravery during that conflict. It was hardly the only one. When we celebrate heroes like Bellavia, let’s not forget the others.

God bless them, and God bless the United States of America.

Nation’s oldest Medal of Honor recipient, who fell on German grenade, dies at 98

H/T Fox News.

R.I.P. Robert Maxwell.

Robert Maxwell, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for selflessly throwing himself on an exploding German hand grenade — saving the lives of a battalion commander and several other soldiers in World War II — has died in Bend, Oregon. He was 98.

At the time of his death, announced Monday by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Maxwell was the oldest living recipient of the nation’s highest military honor.

“He was a very humble, quiet person,” close friend Dick Tobiason told the Bend Bulletin. “He smiled whenever he talked about veterans, the flag, country, and patriotism. He loved being an American.” Tobiason said his friend died of natural causes.

Robert Maxwell in his official Army photo.

Robert Maxwell in his official Army photo. (Congressional Medal of Honor Society.)

Maxwell was a 24-year-old communication platoon lineman in 1944 when he dived onto the grenade, using an Army blanket as protection.

His split-second act of heroism left him with permanent injuries.

Maxwell and six to eight other members of his platoon were jammed in a small courtyard defending a battalion observation post in a house near Besancon, France, when the Germans launched a heavy attack.

A low wall protected them against machine-gun fire but the Germans worked their way to within 10 yards of the group and began hurling grenades, according to the Associated Press.

Robert Maxwell's Medal of Honor is fastened by Mary Spilde, president of Lane Community College, at a ceremony dedicating the Maxwell Student Veteran Center in his in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Paul Carter)

Robert Maxwell’s Medal of Honor is fastened by Mary Spilde, president of Lane Community College, at a ceremony dedicating the Maxwell Student Veteran Center in his in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Paul Carter)

“I could hear it fall right near my feet,” Maxwell said long afterward in an interview with a local cable TV station, The New York Times reported Monday. “I didn’t know for sure where it was. This was between 1 and 2 in the morning. I groped to find it and throw it back, but I knew it was too late to do that. I was already crouched down, but I did have my blanket, shoved it down on my chest and dropped where I was.”

The grenade explosion knocked Maxwell unconscious, tore away part of one foot and peppered his head and left arm with shrapnel, the paper reported.

One of those in the courtyard was Cyril McColl who told Collier’s magazine in 1945 that, while the other soldiers were knocked off their feet, they got up without a scratch, according to the Times.

“We started to pick him up and beat it, but he made us leave him and keep on fighting,” McColl said. “Only when the battalion commander and his staff had moved out of the house would he let us hustle him back to an aid station.”

Another who was there was retired Maj. Gen. Lloyd Ramsey.

“Bob, I’d like to say thank you a million times for all you did for us,” Ramsey told Maxwell when they were reunited in 2010, the Roanoke Times reported. “You’re a true soldier.”

“I didn’t think about any of that at the time,” Maxwell replied.

“I’m sure you didn’t,” said Ramsey.

Maxwell was also awarded two Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star while serving as a communication specialist with the 7th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

Gen. Lloyd Ramsey, right, reunites with Robert Maxwell, left, at the Brandon Oaks Assistant Living Center in Roanoke, Va. The two had not seen each other since Maxwell threw his body on to a grenade during WWII, saving the lives of Ramsey and several others. (AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Matt Chittum)

Gen. Lloyd Ramsey, right, reunites with Robert Maxwell, left, at the Brandon Oaks Assistant Living Center in Roanoke, Va. The two had not seen each other since Maxwell threw his body on to a grenade during WWII, saving the lives of Ramsey and several others. (AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Matt Chittum)

Maxwell was a longtime auto shop teacher in Bend with four daughters, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, the Bulletin reported.

Just three Medal of Honor recipients from World War II are still living.

The oldest Medal of Honor recipient is now 97-year-old Charles Coolidge of Tennessee, the Bulletin reported.

Vietnam War Pilot Received MOH 5 Decades Later

H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Lieutenant Colonel January 9, 1930 – January 21, 2019.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter provides remarks at the Medal of Honor Hall of Heroes induction ceremony for Lt. Col. Charles Kettles (U.S. Army retired) in the Pentagon Auditorium on July 19, 2016.(DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen) CC BY 2.0

He led a group of six helicopters into the fighting zone. The battle was still going on and the area was subject to heavy fire.

It could be said that war seems to bring out the best and worst of human nature. And among the atrocities, you can always find stories of those who put others first and risked their lives to help their comrades. Once such person was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Kettles.

Early Career

Kettles was born in Michigan, USA on January 9th, 1930. His father, Grant Kettles, had been an aviator who had seen action in both world wars. So, it was not much of a surprise that the younger Kettles would be drawn to a similar career. When he was 21, he was drafted into the Army.

After completing his basic training, Kettles attended Officer Candidate School and then served overseas. He decided not to opt for a full-time military career but instead went into business and set up a Ford dealership in Michigan. He did, however, remain a member of the Reserves.

Charles Kettles stands in front of a 121st Aviation Company UH-1H Huey helicopter during his second tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969.

He returned to the armed forces in 1963. This time he volunteered for active duty in response to a call for more helicopter pilots to train and serve in Vietnam, where the war which had been going on since 1955 was escalating.

On completing his training, Kettles became a skilled helicopter pilot, learning to fly the UH 1H Iroquois – or “Huey” as it was known.

Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) UH-1H lands during a combat mission in Southeast Asia in 1970

By 1966 Kettles had reached the position of flight commander with the 176th Assault Helicopter Company. With this company, he served in Vietnam from February to November 1967.

It was during this time that Kettles showed the bravery that would only many years later result in his receiving the Medal of Honor.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. (Ret.) 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.

Rescue Mission

On May 15th, 1967, the 101st Airborne Division came under attack by North Vietnamese forces. Following an ambush near the Song Tra Cau River, many of the American soldiers were injured. Kettles was called upon to take supplies to them.

He led a group of six helicopters into the fighting zone. The battle was still going on and the area was subject to heavy fire. Other members of the team wanted to drop whatever they could as quickly as possible and get out.

Men of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, fire from old Viet Cong trenches

They suffered badly because of the enemy fire. Four of the helicopter pilots were injured and one lost his life before he even got out of his helicopter.

But Kettles wanted to finish the job they had started. Despite the danger all around him, he kept working until all the supplies had been unloaded. He also returned shortly afterwards with further provisions and reinforcements.

Kettles’ work for the day wasn’t finished yet. Next came a request to attempt to evacuate all the wounded soldiers from the scene of the battle. There were 40 soldiers, as well as four members of the helicopter team who had not been able to return to the base because of the damage done to their machines in the earlier flight.

A rifle squad from the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry exiting from a UH-1D.

This time Kettles took command of a team of six rescue helicopters and went back to rescue the wounded men. They accomplished this all while flying through enemy fire. His Huey was hit and still, he managed to fly the helicopter back to the base.

The rest of the team had left in their gunships when Kettles then received the news that eight soldiers had not been able to make it to the helicopters during the previous evacuation. Kettles realized that he was the only one who could carry out the mission.

He must have known that as a sole flyer in enemy territory he would be more vulnerable than ever to enemy fire.

UH-1Ds airlift members of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment from the Filhol Rubber Plantation area to a staging area in 1966.

Without hesitation Kettles set off, for the fourth time that day. He was determined that every soldier would be rescued.

As he flew in, his Huey was hit by a mortar which caused serious damage to its tail, main rotor, and windshields. Yet somehow, he managed to keep going. Despite all the obstacles Kettles was able to pick up the remaining soldiers and take them back to the base.

Bell UH-1 helicopter / Iroquois Huey in Vietnam

This was not only an act of exceptional bravery, but it also demonstrated his remarkable flying skills. It must have taken all his skills to keep the damaged helicopter under control and in the air under such difficult circumstances.

In 1968 he received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. This is the second highest military honor awarded for gallantry.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. (Ret.) Charles Kettles speaks after receiving 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. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand

Kettles undertook a second tour of duty in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. From 1970 to 1978 Kettles was at Fort Sam Houston, Texas where he was the aviation team chief supporting the Army Reserve.

He remained there until 1978 when he retired from the Army. After leaving the Army his interest in aviation continued, but only from the ground. He returned to college and studied commercial construction, and worked for a number of aviation companies as well as developing and teaching courses in aviation management and technology.

President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to Kettles on July 18, 2016.

Late recognition

It was not until 2006 that the story of his bravery became more widely known. Now long since retired, Charles Kettles took part in a veterans’ history project. In the course of an interview, he told the story of the evacuation mission decades before.

The story got back to the Congressional Delegation of Michigan, which took up the cause of recognizing Kettles’ heroism with the Medal of Honor.


A special act of Congress was passed to overrule the normal time limitation on the award, and the Department of Defense put forward a recommendation that Kettles’ Distinguished Service Cross be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

In 2016 Kettles attended a ceremony in which President Obama presented him with the Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

At the ceremony, Obama compared Kettles to John Wayne, but the retired pilot modestly acknowledged the support of his colleagues rather than take all the credit. He had also received many other honors previously, including the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Kettles passed away earlier this year at the age of eighty-nine.



The Korean War MOH Recipient Who Didn’t Want His Medal But Eisenhower Gave it to Him

H/T War History OnLine.

You can call Private 1st Class Ernest E. West a reluctant hero.

United States Army Medal of Honor recipient Ernest West at a Veterans’ Day ceremony at Fort Knox, Kentucky
Once more, he was able to take out three of them with his rifle, but a grenade exploded in front of him which sent shrapnel flying into his left eye and arms.


A hero of the Korean War, Private 1st Class Ernest E. West, was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravely risking his own life to save an American officer and two American troopers who had been injured as well as single-handedly fighting off multiple attackers and losing an eye in the process.

Despite being awarded America’s highest honor for his valor, the modest West initially didn’t want the medal, saying that he wasn’t special and was only doing his duty.

Ernest West knew what brotherhood meant long before he joined the military. As an orphan, he was raised alongside 125 other orphan boys at the Methodist Children’s Home in Versailles, Kentucky. While these boys weren’t his blood relatives, West developed a strong bond with them and referred to them as his brothers.

In 1952, he had turned 20 and was drafted into the United States Army. After six weeks of intense basic training, he was shipped off to Korea to fight.

Fighting with the 14th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, Private 1st Class West saw action almost as soon as he arrived on the peninsula at the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.

U.S. Army infantrymen of the 27th Infantry Regiment, near Heartbreak Ridge, take advantage of cover and concealment in tunnel positions, 40 yards from the KPA PVA on 10 August 1952

The constant attacks from enemy troops at Heartbreak Ridge weren’t the only thing West and the other American infantrymen had to worry about while stationed in the trenches and bunkers there. The Korean winter was beginning to settle in, and with it came bitter cold. The temperature sometimes dropped as low as -4°F (-20°C).

West accompanied night patrols and raids on enemy trenches, and it was after one of these that he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Heartbreak Ridge in Korea as seen from the north.

On October 12, 1952, his commanding officer asked for volunteers to accompany him on a mission to locate and destroy an enemy outpost on a hill near Sataeri. West volunteered for the mission along with eight other men.

West was on point for the mission. When they neared the objective, he noticed a group of North Korean soldiers waiting on the top of the hill to attack them. He signaled to his commanding officer that they were walking into an ambush, but by then it was too late; hand grenades were already tumbling down the hillside toward them.

Map of the Punchbowl, Heartbreak Ridge and Bloody Ridge

A grenade rolled through the gap between West’s feet, only to explode a few yards behind him, severely injuring the lieutenant in charge of the patrol. The element of surprise was gone, and the North Korean troops opened fire at them.

Since the lieutenant had been knocked unconscious by the grenade, West took control of the group. Realizing that they were outnumbered and outgunned, he ordered the men to fall back.

A 4.2-inch mortar crew, 45th U.S. Infantry Division, fires on Communist positions, Korea.

When they got back to a position of safety, West realized that a few men hadn’t made it back. He told the others to wait where they were and headed straight back out to find the missing troops. First, he reached the lieutenant who was unable to walk, so West picked him up and carried him over his shoulder.

As he transported the officer back to safety, they were ambushed by three North Korean troops. West didn’t hesitate and shot all three in quick succession with his rifle as they charged at him. He then continued his rescue mission back to the other men, despite being under heavy fire.


After reaching the safe zone he realized that more men were still missing, so without any thought for his own safety, he headed straight back out again to rescue them.

He retrieved another two injured soldiers and was again ambushed by three North Korean soldiers with rifles and grenades. Once more, he was able to take out three of them with his rifle, but a grenade exploded in front of him which sent shrapnel flying into his left eye and arms.

Even with such grievous injuries, West fought off the attackers and got his comrades back to safety. In fact, it was only after he left the battle zone that he noticed how badly injured he was.

Ernest E. West, US Army, Korean War MOH recipient.

He was evacuated to Japan where a doctor examined him and sent him back to the US. The eye was then removed on discovering that it was too badly damaged to save. After his wounds healed, he continued serving in the US Army.

He was discharged in 1953 and returned to Kentucky to work for the C & O Railroad–despite them initially refusing to re-employ him on the basis of his missing eye. The Veteran’s Association managed to convince the railroad company to rehire West.

At that point, nobody (least of all West) knew that he would be awarded the highest medal the US had to offer.

United States Army Medal of Honor recipient Ernest West at a Veterans’ Day ceremony at Fort Knox, Kentucky

In 1954, it was announced that he would receive the Medal of Honor. West initially couldn’t believe it, saying that he didn’t want the medal and had only done his duty. He believed that every man who had served alongside him deserved a medal since he regarded them all as his brothers and thought they would have done the same for him.

US President Eisenhower awarded the Medal of Honor to West in 1954. Afterward, the veteran continued to pursue a simple life and never felt he was disabled by the loss of his left eye.

He also felt no bitterness toward the North Koreans and Chinese troops that he had fought against during the Korean War, believing that every soldier simply did their duty.

Ernest E. West now lives in Russell, Kentucky and enjoys attending veterans’ parades. He is one of five living Medal of Honor recipients of the Korean War.

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Irish Troops & The Medal of Honor

H/T War History OnLine.

 An estimated 2,021 of those Medals of Honor have gone to Irish American recipients.           

McCloughan was awarded the Medal of Honor for distinguished actions as a combat medic assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, during the Vietnam War near Don Que, Vietnam, from May 13 to 15, 1969. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand)

19 men have so far been awarded the medal twice, and of these, five were born in Ireland.

On July 31, 2017, during a concise but poignant White House ceremony, President Donald Trump hosted the first Medal of Honor presentation of his administration. It was in this event that the most recent Irish American to receive America’s most prestigious military decoration emerged.

“I know I speak for everyone here when I say we are in awe of your actions and your bravery,” the President said, referring to the recipient, who stood stoically just a few feet from him

James C. McCloughan, aged 73 and a retired high school teacher, received the Medal of Honor for “acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty” as an Army medic 48 years earlier near Tam Ky and Nui Yon Hill during the Vietnam War.

During the 48 hour period of close combat, then-23 year old McCloughan repeatedly jumped into the rain of gunfire to save his comrades, getting injured on numerous occasions, and ignoring direct orders to stop going into the Kill Zone.

McCloughan in front of the 22nd Replacement Bn Snack Bar in 1969

With his recognition and award, McCloughan did not become simply the latest Irish American to receive the Medal. His award also drew attention to one of the fascinating facts about the Medal of Honor: a disproportionate number of its recipients have Irish roots.

The most distinguished military honor of the United States of America, created during the Civil War and first awarded in 1863, the Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,525 times to date. Indeed, this is a rather minute percentage of the millions of people that have served the US in combat, and it illustrates how sparingly the Medal of Honor gets awarded.

Acting Secretary of the U.S. Army Robert M. Speer presents a citation to former Spc. 5 James C. McCloughan during the Medal of Honor Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand)

Out of this pint-sized percentage, an estimated 2,021 of those Medals of Honor have gone to Irish American recipients.

That’s a staggering 57 percent.

Although the award is only meant for personnel of the US Armed Forces, US citizenship is not always a prerequisite to serving in the US military. As a result, thirty-three countries are represented in over 500 foreign-born recipients of the Medal of Honor. This may not come so much as a surprise, but out of these foreign-born recipients, 257 are Irish-born, representing about half of the people in this category.

Even better, 19 men have so far won the medal twice, and of these, five were born in Ireland: Henry Hogan, John Laverty, John Cooper, John King, and Patrick Mullen. Also among these 19 double medal recipients are three Irish Americans: Daniel Daly, John McCloy, and John Joseph Kelly.

McCloughan receiving the Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump on 31 July 2017

The first Irish American to receive the Medal of Honor was Private Michael Madden for his heroism during the Civil War. He swam with a wounded comrade, while under heavy enemy fire, to successfully take the injured soldier across to a branch of the Potomac to the safety of the Union lines.

Undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable Irish recipients of the Medal of Honor is Michael Dougherty of Falcarragh in County Donegal, Ireland, who fought in the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry of the Union Army during the Civil War. 

He received the Medal of Honor for leading a charge against a hidden Confederate detachment at Jefferson, Virginia, foiling what would have led to the flanking of the Union forces, and preventing a potential loss of about 2,500 lives.

President Donald J. Trump presents the Medal of Honor to Specialist Five James C. McCloughan.July 31, 2017 (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

Dougherty was captured along with 126 others from his unit. He spent 23 months in prison, ultimately arriving at the dreaded Andersonville POW camp in Georgia. Dougherty was the sole survivor from his unit, but he was reduced to a mere skeleton, “more dead than alive.”

He managed to get aboard the steamship Sultana which had over 2,000 people aboard, six times its acceptable capacity. As the ship dragged on across the Mississippi, its boilers exploded and the ship was ripped apart, with its passengers getting flung into the river. Only 900 managed to survive the incident, and among these was Dougherty, who somehow managed to swim to a small island before help came.

James C. McCloughan, the recipient of the Medal of Honor, poses for a portrait with the medal in the Army portrait studio at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Monica King)

Amazed by his impeccable story of bravery and survival, John J. Concannon referred to him as “Super Survivor” Michael Dougherty in his article for the website The Wild Geese.

Whether it is inherently Irish traits or just coincidence that explains why the Medal of Honor list is dominated by Irish blood, this fact has become something in which the Irish can’t help but revel. In a bid to explain why the Irish have dominated the Medal of Honor list, James McCloughan made reference to Irish history and culture.

A plaque bears former U.S. Army Spc. 5 James C. McCloughan’s name during his Medal of Honor Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand)

“If you go back to the culture of the Irish you know we’ve been fighting each other and fighting the Scottish and so on and so forth for years and years and years,” he said.

According to him, his own family has a military history that dates all the way back to the Picts, who lived in Scotland in the early medieval period.

“You learn to stick up for your rights and the rights of others,” said the Vietnam War veteran. “When you go into the service, maybe you are thinking about serving your country but I’m going to tell you what once you get there you [are] just worried about surviving and then helping as many of your brothers survive as possible.”