Vietnam Pilot Receiving Medal of Honor

Vietnam Pilot Receiving Medal of Honor

An Army Medal of Honor.
Photo by: U.S. Army

Former Capt. Larry Taylor, a helicopter pilot who repeatedly braved enemy fire to rescue troops trapped on the ground during a fierce battle in Vietnam, will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions, the White House announced Sept. 1.

President Joe Biden is expected to present Taylor with the award Sept. 5 during a ceremony at the White House.  A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Taylor is being recognized with the nation’s highest award for valor more than 55 years after his courageous actions in Vietnam.

On June 18, 1968, then-1st Lt. Taylor was a team leader of a helicopter light-fire team deployed to support a long-range reconnaissance patrol near the hamlet of Ap Go Cong, Vietnam, according to the White House. The team was surrounded by an enemy force, and Taylor and his wingman flew to help.

They found the team “in the middle of a rice paddy larger than a football stadium, surrounded by a reinforced company of North Vietnamese,” Taylor told Freedom Sings USA, a Chattanooga-based nonprofit that pairs professional songwriters with veterans, service members and their families to help tell their stories through song.

“I heard the plink of enemy bullets as they found their mark on my Cobra and returned in kind,” Taylor said, according to Freedom Sings. “No one shot at me twice. No one ever shot at a Cobra twice. Miniguns ripped the air with a stream of lead and rockets smashed the ground with explosive death, but the enemy refused to surrender with their prey so close.”

Taylor radioed the patrol team and asked the four soldiers to mark their location with flares, according to the White House. Using the illumination as a reference point, he and his wingman strafed the enemy with miniguns and aerial rockets. “Braving intense ground fire, the two Cobra gunships continued to make low-level attack runs for the next 45 minutes,” according to the White House.

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 directed his wingman to fire his remaining minigun rounds along the eastern flank of the patrol team and return to base camp. Taylor then fired his own minigun along the team’s western flank, using his Cobra’s landing lights to draw the enemy’s attention while the patrol team moved to a nearby extraction point.

“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.

“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.

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.

During his deployment, 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, 44 Air Medals and four Distinguished Flying Crosses, according to a tribute by his alma mater, the University of Tennessee.

He always knew he wanted to serve in the military, Taylor told Freedom Sings. “My granddaddy fought in the Civil War, my great uncle in World War I and my dad and uncles in World War II,” Taylor told Freedom Sings. “I didn't have to be drafted to fight in Vietnam. It was the honor of my life.”