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Ypsilanti man to be awarded Medal of Honor by Obama

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Army Maj. Charles S. Kettles will finally receive the Medal of Honor for his service in the Vietnam War, the White House announced Tuesday.

Kettles, 86, helped save 40 troops and four helicopter crewmen of the 176th Aviation Company in the Song Tra Cau riverbed May 15, 1967.

The Ypsilanti native flew his helicopter multiple times into withering fire from North Vietnamese troops to deliver medical supplies and to help the trapped U.S. troops.

“I had to do what I thought was necessary,” he said in November. “I couldn’t leave anyone behind.”

Kettles was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1968, the second-highest military honor for servicemembers exemplifying courage and for extreme gallantry and risk of life in combat.

After two tours in Vietnam, Kettles returned to Ypsilanti, finished his bachelor’s degree at EMU, and earned a master’s degree, both in aviation. He ended his service as a lieutenant colonel.

He went on to teach aviation classes at EMU and established an aviation management degree program at the school. He also worked for Chrysler Pentastar Aviation.

In 2012, William Vollano, a coordinator with the Veterans History Project, and Kettles’ family launched a campaign to upgrade his award to the Medal of Honor.

Legislation was introduced in November by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Sens. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, for Kettles to receive the honor. The legislation was signed into law as part of the Fiscal Year 2016 government funding bill.

“Lieutenant Colonel Kettles heroically put his life on the line to save his fellow servicemembers, and I am thrilled that President Obama will be awarding him the Medal of Honor,” Peters said in a statement Tuesday.

The recommendation for the award had to be made by Congress since the statute of limitations has passed.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter agreed Kettles’ actions merited the recognition. Kettles will receive the Medal of Honor on July 18 from President Obama.

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military recognition. Awarded for valor in combat, the medal has been given to more than 3,400 U.S. servicemembers since being authorized in 1861.

“It’s nice to know we are one step closer in completing this process,” Kettles said in December. “I appreciate everyone’s effort in spearheading the bill.”