Medal of Honor Aviator, Vietnam Hero Dies

Medal of Honor Aviator, Vietnam Hero Dies

Former Capt. Larry Taylor
Photo by: Congressional Medal of Honor Society

Former Capt. Larry Taylor, who received the Medal of Honor for leading a harrowing rescue of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, died Jan. 28. He was 81.

Taylor, an Army aviator, received the nation’s highest award for valor during a Sept. 5 ceremony at the White House, more than 55 years after his heroic actions.

In June 1968 near Ap Go Cong, Vietnam, Taylor, flying an AH-1 Cobra gunship, repeatedly braved enemy fire to rescue a four-man long-range reconnaissance patrol team that was surrounded by a much larger enemy force.

A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Taylor was a first lieutenant and a team leader of a helicopter light-fire team with D Troop (Air), 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division on June 18, 1968.

“It was pitch black, no moon, no stars, no light beyond the glow of Lt. Taylor’s cockpit controls, when he heard a whisper coming through his radio, ‘We’re surrounded,’ ” President Joe Biden said during the Medal of Honor ceremony.

The four-man team had set out earlier in the day on a reconnaissance mission, but “in the dark, the men had found themselves in the middle of a Viet Cong stronghold,” surrounded by nearly 100 enemy soldiers, Biden said.

Taylor and his wingman raced toward team and radioed them to mark their location with flares. “The flare went up, and the fight was on,” Biden said. Enemy fire lit up the night, and the Cobras flew “dangerously low” for nearly half an hour, he said.

Using the illumination as a reference point, Taylor and his wingman strafed the enemy with miniguns and aerial rockets. “Then Lt. Taylor heard a sound that only meant one thing—his helo was hit,” Biden said. “And it was hit again and again and again.”

At that point, Army standards said he could have left the fight, Biden said. “But Lt. Taylor had his own sacred standards. You never leave a man on the ground,” he said.

With both helicopters nearly out of ammunition and the enemy still closing in, Taylor learned that a plan to rescue the soldiers with a UH-1 Huey helicopter had been canceled because it was deemed too dangerous. “Running low on fuel, with the patrol team nearly out of ammunition, Taylor decided to extract the team using his two-man Cobra helicopter, a feat that had never been accomplished or even attempted,” according to the White House.

“Taylor landed his Cobra under heavy enemy fire and with complete disregard for his personal safety,” according to the White House. The team climbed aboard, grabbing on to rocket pods and skids, and Taylor flew them to safety.

Taylor said he was just doing his job, according to Stars and Stripes. “I knew that if I did not go down and get them, they would not make it.”

A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Taylor was commissioned in 1966. He qualified as an Army aviator a year later, serving in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot from August 1967 to August 1968, according to the White House.

Taylor flew more than 2,000 combat missions and was awarded 61 combat decorations, including the Silver Star for his actions to save the patrol team, 43 Air Medals, a Bronze Star and two Distinguished Flying Crosses, according to the Army.

“I’d flown thousands of missions in Vietnam and saved countless lives, but none had meant so much to me as the four I’d saved that night,” Taylor said, according to Freedom Sings USA, a Chattanooga-based nonprofit that works with veterans.