Saturday, June 25, 2016

One Kool Kettle

On a quite-faded Post It on the computer monitor that sits atop my desk at work contains one of my favorite quote, upon which I initially stumbled in Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation.  It is from Emerson: 

So nigh is grandeur to our dust, 
So near to God is Man, 
When Duty whispers low, "Thou must",
The youth replies, "I can". 

The United States - in close to two hundred and fifty years of existence - has thus far been blessed with an abundance of youths, male and female, who have reflexively answered Duty's call.  Exactly two weeks following this nation's celebration of its two hundred and fortieth birthday, one such youth is being honored by President Obama at the White House.  

Charles Kettles retired from the United States Army as a Lieutenant Colonel.  On May 18, 1967, long before he attained the rank from which he retired, Charles Kettles was a helicopter pilot, flying the UH-1 (the "Huey"), which he ultimately did during two tours in Vietnam.  His day started as the commander of one of the Hueys that dropped eight members of the 101st Airborne into a landing zone near the Song Tra Cau River in the shadow of a 1,500 foot hill.  Almost from the moment the Rangers arrived, they were confronted by a substantially larger contingent of North Vietnamese troops, including many who had apparently been laying in ambush awaiting the Rangers' arrival.  The Rangers had been dropped squarely into Hell, which proceeded to break loose all around them.

Between the time he made his initial drop until he shut his Huey down for the final time many, many hours later, Charles Kettles made multiple trips back into the fray to rescue and evacuate Rangers - including one trip when he flew solo - no crew, no guns, and no support of any kind whatsoever.  It was a suicide mission for which he continued to volunteer and which he continued to live to talk about - against incredible odds - time and time again. 

His heroics that day likely should have earned him his Congressional Medal of Honor, which President Obama shall award to him on July 18, even had he not completed one final miraculous mission.  It was not until after Kettles and the other Huey pilots had completed what they believed was their final troop extraction of the day, had returned to base, and had shut the helicopters down that someone realized that they were eight Rangers short.  Charles Kettles volunteered to go pick them up and bring them home.  

He tells the story of what happened next far better than I ever could: 

Indeed they did.  On July 18, 2016, President Obama shall express to Lt. Col. Kettles the appreciation of a grateful nation for him having done what he did that day fifty years ago...even if all he did - to hear him tell it - was his job.


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