Biden to award Medal of Honor to Vietnam pilot for heroic rescue: ‘Never been accomplished or even attempted’
President Biden will award the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for valor, to a Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot whose rescue efforts include willfully flying into heavy enemy fire to save four members of a reconnaissance team about to be overrun with just seconds to spare.
On Tuesday, Biden is expected to recognize retired Capt. Larry Taylor, of Tennessee, at the White House for his valor and bravery on display during a specific rescue mission in June 1968 that included a feat ‘that had never been accomplished or even attempted,’ the White House announced.
Taylor flew hundreds of combat missions in UH-1 ‘Huey’ helicopters and Cobra helicopters during a year’s deployment in Vietnam and proudly told The Associated Press, ‘We never lost a man.’
‘You just do whatever is expedient and do whatever to save the lives of the people you’re trying to rescue,’ Taylor added during an interview.
Taylor’s Medal of Honor will be awarded at the White House for the ‘conspicuous gallantry’ he showed on the night of June 18, 1968 while successfully executing a rescue mission that was initially canceled as it stood no chance of survival — before Taylor defied the odds.
On that night, the Army became aware a long-range reconnaissance patrol near the Saigon River had been discovered by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops and came under intense ground fire.
Then-1st Lt. Taylor, who was serving as a team leader of a helicopter light-fire team, flew to the extraction site in his Cobra attack helicopter and radioed the patrol team. Both helicopters also fired upon the enemy with mini-guns and rockets.
‘Braving intense ground fire, the two Cobra gunships continued to make low-level attack runs for the next 45 minutes,’ the White House said, noting both helicopters were nearly out of ammunition when the mission took a turn for the worse.
While flying overhead the patrol team, Taylor was notified the plan to rescue the men was to be scrapped as it ‘stood almost no chance of success’ with the men still under heavy fire, and the enemy still closing in, the White House said.
Then Taylor took action.
‘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,’ a statement from the White House continued.
The new rescue mission included Taylor and his crew exhausting the last of their ammunition and a subtle diversion to distract the enemy forces while the patrol team heads out a different way. Then, the four patrol team members had to cling to the exterior of the helicopter during the extraction.
Here is how the White House described the events:
He [Taylor] directed his wingman to fire his remaining mini-gun rounds along the eastern flank of the patrol team and then return to base camp. Taylor fired his own remaining mini-gun rounds along the team’s western flank, using his Cobra’s landing lights to draw the enemy’s attention while the patrol team headed southeast toward a nearby extraction point Taylor had designated.
When the team reached the site, Taylor landed his Cobra under heavy enemy fire and with complete disregard for his personal safety. The patrol team climbed aboard, grabbing on to rocket-pods and skids, and Taylor carried them to a safe location before landing them back on the ground.
Taylor was on the ground for about 10 seconds. He then got his crew and all four of the patrol team members to safety.
Taylor, now 81, recalled during an interview last week with The Associated Press that failure was not an option. He had to figure out how to get them out — otherwise ‘they wouldn’t make it,’ he said.
‘I finally just flew up behind them and sat down on the ground,’ he explained. ‘They turned around and jumped on the aircraft. A couple were sitting on the skids. One was sitting on the rocket pods, and I don’t know where the other one was, but they beat on the side of the ship twice, which meant haul a–. And we did!’
David Hill, one of the four members of the patrol team that Taylor saved that night, described the Taylor’s as ‘thinking outside the box.’
What Taylor accomplished that night had never before been attempted, the Army said.
Taylor, a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, left Vietnam in August 1968. He was released from Army active duty in August 1970, having attained the rank of captain.
He was later discharged from the Army Reserve in October 1973.
Taylor and his wife, Toni, live in Signal Mountain, Tennessee.
He has received scores of combat decorations, including the Silver Star, a Bronze Star and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.
After not receiving the Medal of Honor for that harrowing night, several of his supporters pushed for him to be awarded one.
Their eventually successful efforts spanned nearly six years when Biden called Taylor in July with the news.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.