National Medal of Honor Day is a day dedicated to all recipients of the Medal of Honor. It is a day to recognize and honor those brave individuals who went above and beyond the call of duty and risked their lives to protect our country. To celebrate, we asked none other than John Auger of Michigan’s Own Military and Space Heroes Museum to share just one of the thousands of stories that go along with a Medal of Honor.
Michigan’s Military and Space Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth, MI, is home to the world’s largest public display of Medals of Honor. Of Michigan’s 110 Medal of Honor recipients, the museum has displays for 31 of them including 24 original, named Medals of Honor. Along with the 31 Medal of Honor recipients there are approximately 120 other displays of Michigan veterans and astronauts. Each display tells the personal story of a Michigan man or woman who answered their country’s call to service. The museum has about 750 displays/stories that get rotated through the galleries.
Among these displays is the amazing story of Lt. Col. Charles Kettles who is our nation’s most recent Medal of Honor recipient. It is therefore fitting that we tell a little of his story for March 25th, National Medal of Honor Day.
Colonel Kettles was inducted into the U.S. Army on October 18, 1951. On February 28, 1953, he graduated from Officer Candidate School as an Artillery Officer. He went on to Flight School in May of 1962 and then went into helicopter training. Colonel Kettles’ first tour in Vietnam was as a Command and Staff Officer flying with the 176th Aviation Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division. His second tour was as Commander, 121st AHC and the Command Aircraft Company from October of 1969 to November 1970.
It was on May 15, 1967, that then Major Kettles distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions while serving as aircraft commander of a helicopter supporting infantry operations near Duc Pho. An airborne infantry unit had come under heavy enemy attack and had suffered casualties. Major Kettles immediately volunteered to carry reinforcements to the embattled force and evacuate their wounded from the battle site. Although friendly artillery had pounded the hostile positions, the enemy was well entrenched and fighting fiercely.
Major Kettles led a flight of helicopters into the landing zone through a savage barrage. Small arms and automatic weapons fire raked the landing zone and inflicted heavy damage to the ships, but Major Kettles refused to leave the ground until all of the craft were loaded to capacity. He then let them out of the battle area.
He later returned to the battlefield with more reinforcements and landed in the midst of a rain mortar and automatic weapons fire, which wounded his gunner and ruptured his fuel tank. After loading more wounded aboard, he nursed the crippled aircraft back to his base. He then secured another ship and led a flight of six helicopters to extract the infantry unit. All but eight men had been loaded when Major Kettles directed the flight to take off.
Completely disregarding his safety, he maneuvered his lone craft through a savage enemy fusillade to where the remainder of the infantrymen waited. Mortar fire blasted out his windshield, but he remained on the ground until the men were aboard. The enemy concentrated massive firepower on his helicopter and another mortar round badly damaged his tail boom, but he once more skillfully guided his heavily damaged ship to safety.
For this act of exceptional heroism, Major Kettles was awarded the Medal of Honor on July 18, 2016.
To further honor Charles, MMSHM is hosting the “Spirit of Michigan’s Own” event on April 29, 2017 at the Horizons Conference Center in Saginaw, MI. One thousand people are expected to be in attendance that evening to help us Honor, Respect, and Remember Charles Kettles and Stan Bozich (the museum’s founder). Tickets are still available. To donate to the event or the museum, or to learn more about it, please contact the museum staff at (989) 652-8005, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you visit the museum Saturday, March 25, 2017, in honor of National Medal of Honor Day, Michigan’s Own Military & Space Heroes Museum is offering $1 off admission to anyone who mentions this post.
Guest Blogger: John Auger was born and raised in Bay City, MI. and graduated from Olivet College, Olivet, MI in 1997 with BA’s in History and Social Anthropology. John also has his Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation from Eastern Michigan University. John has been working at Michigan’s Military and Space Heroes Museum since September 2014 . He considers himself a lifelong history buff and has enjoyed Civil War reenacting since the age of fifteen. Since 2013, he has also been involved with WW2 Living History and proudly portrays a Screaming Eagle of the 101st Airborne Division.