Latest Medal of Honor Recipient

This is a story about bravery and heroism, not really about war, so I’m posting in the Miscellaneous category. Please, no comments about politics or war (apart from what this man is being honored for).

A 25-Minute Flight on 20 Minutes of Fuel’

The amazing Capt. Larry Taylor receives the Medal of Honor.

Let’s hope we all have a Larry Taylor in our lives when times get desperate and survival appears impossible. The retired U.S. Army captain will receive the Medal of Honor today for his 1968 nighttime rescue in Vietnam of four soldiers, one of whom spent years ensuring that his rescuer would be appropriately honored.

Even if that night had never occurred, Capt. Taylor would deserve the thanks of a grateful nation. According to the Army the helicopter pilot was engaged by enemy fire no fewer than 340 times over the course of more than 2,000 combat missions. The one that occurred in complete darkness on June 18, 1968, is the reason for today’s White House ceremony. The Army reports:

On that night he flew one of two AH-1G Cobra helicopter gunships sent to support a four-man long-range reconnaissance patrol team that had been surrounded and was in danger of being overrun.

Taking off from their Phu Loi base, Taylor and his wingman arrived at the contact site just northeast of Saigon a few minutes later. Once overhead, Taylor radioed the patrol team and asked the four Soldiers to mark their location with flares. Using the illumination as a reference point, he and his wingman strafed the enemy with mini-guns and aerial rockets. Braving intense ground fire, the two Cobra gunships continued to make low-level attack runs for the next 45 minutes.

With both helicopters nearly out of ammunition and the enemy still closing in, Taylor reconnoitered the escape route the team intended to take. He concluded that the four Soldiers would be overwhelmed if they tried to reach their evacuation point near the Dong Nai River.

Returning to the patrol team’s location, Taylor learned that a plan to rescue the Soldiers with a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter had been canceled because it stood almost no chance of success. Running low on fuel, with the patrol team nearly out of ammunition, Taylor decided on a bold and innovative plan to extract the team using his two-man Cobra helicopter, a feat that had never been accomplished or even attempted.

He 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.

Todd South reports for Army Times:

The tactical operations center tried to wave Taylor off. They said the team was trained to escape and evade. They could handle themselves.

“I told them there’s no place for them to escape and evade to,” Taylor said. “Please stay off my radio.”

Mr. South has more on the four men on the ground, Pfc. Robert Elsner, Sgt. David Hill, Spc. 4 William P. Cohn and Cpl. Gerald Patty:

Empty on ammo, out of grenades and enveloped in a cacophony of explosions, rifle and machine gun fire, Hill and his team ran into a clearing as Taylor stomped on the left pedal and plopped his Cobra on the ground.

As they descended, Taylor’s co-pilot asked, “what are we going to do with them?”

“I said, ‘I don’t know, I didn’t think that far ahead,’” Taylor said.

The Cobra has no seating for passengers. It is a narrow fuselage aircraft with seats for a pilot and co-pilot, stacked atop each other. Its stubby wings and light frame hold weaponry — a minigun and rocket launchers — and two slender skids come between the aircraft and the ground.

“I didn’t have to tell them to get on,” Taylor said.

On June 18, 1968, Hill and Cohn straddled the rocket launchers like horses while Elsner and Patty hugged the skids.

“Which is exciting in the dark,” Hill said.

And off they went into the night sky. Readers may be accustomed to seeing such scenes in action movies and assuming they never happen in real life. But this really happened and since it was real life, our hero knew that he couldn’t fly at his normal high speed and altitude or his four outdoor passengers would never be able to hang on. So to complete his evening of remarkable bravery, Capt. Taylor had to enjoy a slow and low ride while seeking to avoid enemy fire until he finally found a safe spot to allow the passengers to disembark. Mr. South reports:

They landed, the four men ran to the front of the aircraft so Taylor and his co-pilot could see them. The four saluted the men who’d saved their lives and then they were gone.

Intense combat in the succeeding days and tragic deaths among some of those who might have recommended a Medal of Honor for Capt. Taylor somewhat obscured his remarkable actions. But Sgt. David Hill was among those who never forgot that night and his long campaign to honor his rescuer has now culminated in President Joe Biden’s decision to upgrade a Silver Star to the Medal of Honor.

It seems that our hero has never stopped making himself useful. The Army reports on Capt. Taylor’s life following his active duty:

After his Army service, he operated a successful roofing and sheet metal company in Chattanooga and was involved with several veterans’ organizations. He has also been a generous donor to charitable nonprofit organizations in the Chattanooga area.

Therefore the precise count on the number of people Captain Taylor has rescued may be difficult to ascertain. NBC affiliate WRCB in Chattanooga reports:

The 81-year-old was in high spirits Monday night speaking to fellow veterans he hadn’t seen since Vietnam… His challenge coin for this occasion bears the motto “Leave No Man Behind”. It’s a fitting slogan for a man who still insists he was just doing his job.

“Well, nobody got killed. So, we managed to pull everybody out and we pulled it off. There were times when I thought, ‘oh God, we’re all going to get killed’. I think I was shot down five times in Vietnam and people said, ‘you’ll get used to it’. They lied. I never got used to it,” Taylor said.

So our hero wasn’t fearless. His fear was simply no match for his determination to save others.

Helicopter pilots of all kinds in Vietnam were real heroes. They were incredibly brave to fly in and out of hot LZs as a matter of course. This particular act of bravery is remarkable. For those in Utah who would like to get a hands on idea of how this rescue went down, go and visit the Fort Douglas museum. They have a Cobra in their static collection behind the main building.