Charles S Kettles
Charles was born on the 9th of January, 1930 in Ypsilanti, Michigan and his father was a Canadian Royal Air Force pilot during World War 1 and a US Army Air Transport Command pilot during World War 2. Charles went to school in nearby Dearborn and while in high school, he would fly in the Ford Motor Company Flight Department simulator. After graduating from the Edison Institute High School, Charles began attending Michigan State Normal College, which is now Eastern Michigan University, and he studied engineering. In 1951, he was drafted into the US Army and went to basic training at Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky. After basic, Charles went to Fort Knox for his Officer Candidate School and would earn his commission as an armor officer on the 28th of February, 1953. Later that year, he graduated from the Army Aviation School and went on to duty tours in Korea, Japan, and Thailand.
After these tours, Charles came home and opened up a Ford dealership in Dewitt, Michigan with his brother and he remained in the Army Reserve with the 4th Battalion of the 20th Field Artillery. In 1963 the US was in need of pilots for the Vietnam War and since he was fixed-wing-qualified, Charles volunteered for active duty and attended Helicopter Transition Training at Fort Wolters in Texas. He was in France in 1965 and it was here that he was trained to fly the UH-1D, also known as the Huey. The following year, Charles was assigned as a flight commander with the 176th Assault Helicopter Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion in Fort Benning, Georgia, and they deployed to Vietnam from February to November of 1967. It was his actions on the 15th of May, that would not only save the lives of 44 troops, but also earn him the Medal of Honor. The citation reads:
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-1D 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. During the extraction, Major Kettles was informed by the last helicopter that all personnel were onboard, and departed the landing zone accordingly. Army gunships supporting the evacuation also departed the area. Once airborne, Major Kettles was advised that eight troops had 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 aircraft 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 time 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 superior flying skills, the last group of soldiers and his crew would never have made it off the battlefield. Major Kettles' selfless acts 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.
Charles originally received the Distinguished Service Cross for these actions in 1968 and he then served in a second tour from October of 1969 through October of 1970 and after Vietnam, Charles served as an aviation team chief at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and also as a readiness coordinator for the Army Reserve. After 27 years, he retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel and returned to school to complete his bachelor's degree at Or Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. Charles went on to earn a master's degree in commercial construction at Eastern Michigan University and also developed the Aviation Management Program at the College of Technology. He taught here as well until he went to work for Chrysler Pentastar Aviation until he retired in 1993.
A special act of Congress was passed in 2012 in order to extend the time limit for awarding the Medal of Honor, specifically to Charles and on the 18th of July, 2016, Charles received an upgrade of his Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor from President Obama in a ceremony at the White House. Charles S Kettles currently lives in his hometown of Ypsilanti, Michigan with his wife Ann: “It lasted well into the evening hours at which time the battalion commander requested emergency extraction of what remained, which was 44 men. That was successful. But what will remain of upmost importance above all else is those names do not appear on the wall down the street.”