b. 09/01/1930 Ypsilanti, Michigan. d. 21/01/2019 Ypsilanti, Michigan.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 15/05/1967 Duc Pho, Vietnam.
Kettles was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on January 9, 1930. He studied engineering at Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University). He was drafted into the United States Army at the age of 21. Upon completion of basic training at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, Kettles attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Knox, and earned his commission as an armor officer in the United States Army Reserve on February 28, 1953. He graduated from the Army Aviation School in 1954, before serving active duty tours in South Korea, Japan and Thailand.
After leaving active duty, Kettles established a Ford dealership in Dewitt, Michigan, and continued his service with the Army Reserve as a member of the 4th Battalion, 20th Field Artillery.
He volunteered for active duty in 1963 and underwent Helicopter Transition Training at Fort Wolters, Texas, in 1964. During a tour in France the following year, he was cross-trained to fly the UH-1D “Huey.” In 1966, he was assigned as a flight commander with the 176th Assault Helicopter Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, and deployed to South Vietnam from February through November 1967. His second tour of duty in Vietnam lasted from October 1969 through October 1970. In 1970, he went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he served as an aviation team chief and readiness coordinator supporting the Army Reserve. He remained in San Antonio until his retirement from the Army in 1978.
Kettles received the Medal of Honor on July 18, 2016 from President Barack Obama at The White House, nearly 50 years after his actions while serving as a flight commander assigned to 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) (Light), 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Task Force Oregon.
Kettles was awarded the medal after legislation was introduced by Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and U.S. Senators Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing as a result of a grassroots level campaign started in 2012 Ypsilanti Rotary Veterans History Project. He had been originally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. A soldier who was there that day said “Maj. Kettles became our John Wayne,” Obama said, adding his own take: “With all due respect to John Wayne, he couldn’t do what Chuck Kettles did.”
Kettles completed his bachelor’s degree at Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas, and earned his master’s degree at Eastern Michigan University, College of Technology, in commercial construction. He went on to develop the Aviation Management Program at the College of Technology and taught both disciplines. He later worked for Chrysler Pentastar Aviation until his retirement in 1993. Kettles resided in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He died in Ypsilanti on January 21, 2019, at the age of 89. In 2020, the Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which is in the city next to his home town of Ypsilanti, was renamed the LTC Charles S. Kettles Veterans Affairs Medical Center in his honor.
Major Charles S. Kettles distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving as Flight Commander, 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) (Light}, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam. On 15 May 1967, Major Kettles, upon learning that an airborne infantry unit had suffered casualties during an intense firefight with the enemy, immediately volunteered to lead a flight of six UH-1D helicopters to carry reinforcements to the embattled force and to evacuate wounded personnel. Enemy small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire raked the landing zone, inflicting heavy damage to the helicopters; however, Major Kettles refused to depart until all helicopters were loaded to capacity. He then returned to the battlefield, with full knowledge of the intense enemy fire awaiting his arrival, to bring more reinforcements, landing in the midst of enemy mortar and automatic weapons fire that seriously wounded his gunner and severely damaged his aircraft. Upon departing, Major Kettles was advised by another helicopter crew that he had fuel streaming out of his aircraft. Despite the risk posed by the leaking fuel, he nursed the damaged aircraft back to base. Later that day, the Infantry Battalion Commander requested immediate, emergency extraction of the remaining 40 troops, including four members of Major Kettles’ unit who were stranded when their helicopter was destroyed by enemy fire. With only one flyable UH-1 helicopter remaining, Major Kettles volunteered to return to the deadly landing zone for a third time, leading a flight of six evacuation helicopters, five of which were from the 161st Aviation Company. During the extraction, Major Kettles was informed by the last helicopter that all personnel were onboard, and departed the landing zone accordingly. Army gunships supporting the evacuation also departed the area. Once airborne, Major Kettles was advised that eight troops had been unable to reach the evacuation helicopters due to the intense enemy fire. With complete disregard for his own safety, Major Kettles passed the lead to another helicopter and returned to the landing zone to rescue the remaining troops. Without gunship, artillery, or tactical aircraft support, the enemy concentrated all firepower on his lone aircraft, which was immediately damaged by a mortar round that shattered both front windshields and the chin bubble and was further raked by small arms and machine gun fire. Despite the intense enemy fire, Major Kettles maintained control of the aircraft and situation, allowing time for the remaining eight soldiers to board the aircraft. In spite of the severe damage to his helicopter, Major Kettles once more skillfully guided his heavily damaged aircraft to safety. Without his courageous actions and superior flying skills, the last group of soldiers and his crew would never have made it off the battlefield. Major Kettles’ selfless acts of repeated valor and determination are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.
BURIAL LOCATION: HIGHLAND CEMETERY, YPSILANTI, MICHIGAN.
BLOCK 100, LOT 2, GRAVE 4.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.