WASHINGTON — The details of the heroism that will see Charles Kettles awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House come back clearly and quickly even five decades later. The White House announced Tuesday afternoon that Kettles would receive the award from President Obama on July 18. Kettles, 86, recalls the events of May 15, 1967: flying his UH-1 helicopter time after time after time into dizzying, withering fire to save the lives of dozens of soldiers ambushed by North Vietnamese troops in the Song Tau Cau river valley; nursing the shot-up, overloaded bird out of harm’s way with the final eight soldiers who’d been mistakenly left behind. “With complete disregard for his own safety …” the official narrative of that day reads. “Without gunship, artillery, or tactical aircraft support, the enemy concentrated all firepower on his lone aircraft … Without his courageous actions and superior flying skills, the last group of soldiers and his crew would never have made it off the battlefield.” Kettles, born and bred and retired in Ypsilanti, Mich., remembers how he felt after he touched down nearly 50 years ago for the last time, finally safe. Unrattled and hungry. “I just walked away from the helicopter believing that’s what war is,” Kettles told USA TODAY. “It probably matched some of the movies I’d seen as a youngster. So be it. Let’s go have dinner."
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