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Detroit Free Press: Ypsilanti man could get Medal of Honor under new bill

Members of Michigan delegation propose legislation to clear path for receiving highest military award

WASHINGTON — An 85-year-old Ypsilanti man who flew helicopters during the Vietnam War could receive the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, under legislation proposed by several members of Michigan’s congressional delegation on Friday.

Some 47 years ago, Army Maj. Charles Kettles was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in May 1967 in the Song Tra Cau riverbed in Vietnam that saved the lives of more than 40 military personnel. More recently, supporters began a campaign to upgrade that to the Medal of Honor.

Writing to U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, this summer, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that while Kettles’ actions entitled him to the Medal of Honor, by law, the medal can only be awarded within five years of the valorous act for which it is being awarded, unless Congress waives the time limit.

If the legislation, which was introduced Friday by Dingell as well by U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both D-Mich., passes, the president would still have the final decision whether to grant Kettles the Medal of Honor.

“Maj. Kettles went above and beyond the call of duty and saved a significant number of American lives,” said Dingell. “This legislation will ensure that 48 years after his service, his contributions to our country are properly honored.”

On May 15, 1967, Kettles, a helicopter commander supporting infantry operations near Duc Pho, led three separate flights into hostile territory against a well-entrenched enemy after an airborne infantry unit came under heavy attack.

Leading several helicopters on the first flight through a barrage of small arms and automatic weapons fire, he landed and refused to leave the area until the helicopters were loaded to capacity before departing. He then returned for two more flights, during which he had his windshield blasted out and the tail of his aircraft badly damaged, but managed to evacuate the remaining infantry.

He is credited with saving the lives of 40 soldiers and four of his own crew members.

“Under heavy enemy fire, Maj. Kettles selflessly put his life on the line to save his fellow service members,” said Peters, a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “(His) actions exemplified the valor, grit, and honor that makes our military the best in the world.“

“Decades ago, Michigan’s own Maj. Kettles courageously went back into enemy territory to save the lives of 44 of his fellow servicemen,” added Stabenow. “This bill will … recognize the true selflessness and bravery of his actions in Vietnam.”