An Army first lieutenant and Cobra helicopter pilot who fought during the Vietnam War is to receive the Medal of Honor from President Joe Biden.
Larry Taylor flew hundreds of missions and saved countless lives, but no rescue flight was as daring, or as meaningful to Taylor, as the one for which he will receive the U.S. Armed Forces’ highest military decoration,
Biden will recognize Taylor at a ceremony next week, the White House announced on Friday.
On the night of June 18, 1968, Taylor took off in his attack helicopter to rescue four men on a long-range reconnaissance team that had become surrounded and was in danger of being overrun by enemy troops.
He had to figure out a way to get them out, otherwise ‘they wouldn’t make it.’
PICTURED: Then-1st Lt. Larry L. Taylor in his UH-1 ‘Huey’ helicopter. Taylor served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 with D Troop (Air), 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division
Taylor flew over 2,000 combat missions in UH-1 and Cobra helicopters and led a rescue mission in 1968 to save a small group of soldiers trapped in a rice field by enemy troops
David Hill, one of the men Taylor saved that night, said Taylor’s actions were what ‘we now call thinking outside the box.’
Hill and the three others were on a night mission to track the movement of enemy troops in a village near the Saigon River when they were found by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops.
An intense firefight ensued and soon they were running out of ammunition. They radioed for help.
Taylor flew off in his attack helicopter, arriving just minutes later at the site northeast of what at the time was Saigon, since renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
Taylor said the first problem with getting to the trapped soldiers was poor visibility.
‘It’s difficult to support you because I can’t see you and I can’t see the bad guys. I’m afraid if I start throwing some rockets out here, I’m going to kill one of you all,’ he recalled telling them over the radio.
He asked the patrol team to send up some flares to mark their location in the dark.
Taylor and a pilot in an accompanying helicopter started firing their ships’ Miniguns and aerial rockets at the enemy, making low-level attack runs and braving intense ground fire for about half an hour.
The two American helicopters attacked the enemy troops, using all their rockets and nearly 16,000 machine-gun rounds.
1st Lt. Larry Taylor sitting in a UH-1 ‘Huey’ helicopter in an undated photo. After completing flight training, Taylor was assigned to one of the Army’s first Cobra helicopter companies in Vietnam where he served from August 1967 to August 1968
Capt. Larry L. Taylor and wife, Toni Taylor. Taylor will become the newest recipient of the military’s highest award for valor in battle when President Joe Biden presents the Vietnam veteran with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday more than 55 years after his heroic actions
American troops on military operation fighting Viet Cong during the Vietnam war in 1967
But with both helicopters nearly out of ammunition and with the enemy continuing to advance, Taylor surveyed the team’s intended escape route to a point near the river and concluded that the men would be overrun if they tried to get there.
He had to think of something else.
Now running low on fuel and with the reconnaissance team also nearly out of ammunition, Taylor directed his wingman to fire the rounds left in his Minigun along the team’s eastern flank and then head back to base camp, while Taylor fired his remaining rounds on the western flank.
He used the helicopter’s landing lights to distract the enemy, buying time for the patrol team to head south and east toward a different extraction point he had identified.
After they arrived, Taylor landed under heavy enemy fire and at great personal risk.
The four team members rushed toward the helicopter and clung to the exterior – it only had two seats – and Taylor whisked them away to safety. He was on the ground for about 10 seconds.
‘I finally just flew up behind them and sat down on the ground,’ Taylor, now 81, explained during an interview.
American military operation during the height of the Vietnam War when the Marines faced the North Vietnamese Army close to the DMZ separating North and South Vietnam
General view of American soldiers walking in the jungle at the Hill 875 near Dakto on November 29, 1967
Members of Co D, 2nd Bn, 35th Inf, 3rd Bde, 4th Inf Div, unload from a CH-47A Chinook helicopter at the Landing Zone to conduct a helicopter combat assault in 1967
‘They turned around and jumped on the aircraft. A couple were sitting on the skids. One was sitting on the rocket pods, and I don’t know where the other one was, but they beat on the side of the ship twice, which meant haul ass. And we did!’
What Taylor did that night had never before been attempted, the Army said.
‘I was doing my job. I knew that if I did not go down and get them, they would not make it,’ Taylor told Stripes.com.
Hill put their odds of survival at ‘absolutely zero’ without Taylor’s outside-the-box thinking.
‘His innovation was well beyond the call, as was his courage,’ said Hill, the only member of the patrol team who is still alive. ‘And that’s the short of it, folks.
‘Hell, we were dead,’ Hill said. ‘The fortunes of war had turned against us that night.’
We were in a Custer-like situation,’ Hill said, referencing Custer’s Last Stand, an American battle from 1876.
‘We were finally able to make a breakout because he directed us to the very weakest portion of the enemy envelopment,’ Hill explained.
Taylor basically concocted the plan as he flew along.
‘There’s nothing in the book that says how to do that and I think about 90 percent of flying a helicopter in Vietnam was making it up as you go along,’ he said. ‘Nobody could criticize you `cause they couldn’t do any better than you did and they didn’t know what you were doing anyway.’
Taylor said he flew hundreds of combat missions in UH-1 and Cobra helicopters during a year’s deployment in Vietnam. ‘We never lost a man,’ he said.
‘You just do whatever is expedient and do whatever to save the lives of the people you’re trying to rescue,’ he said.
Taylor was engaged by enemy fire at least 340 times and was forced down five times, according to the Army.
The Medal of Honor is the United States Armed Forces’ highest military decoration and is awarded to recognize American soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, guardians and Coast Guardsmen who have distinguished themselves by acts of valor
After more than six years of pushing, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the Army’s recommendation and forwarded Taylor’s file to Biden. Biden signed off and called Taylor in July with the news
He received scores of combat decorations, including the Silver Star, a Bronze Star and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.
Taylor left Vietnam in August 1968, a couple months after that flight.
He was released from active duty in August 1970, having attained the rank of captain, and was discharged from the Army Reserve in October 1973.
He later ran a roofing and sheet metal company in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He and his wife, Toni, live in Signal Mountain, Tennessee.
Hill said he and supporters of Taylor were astonished to learn decades after that harrowing night that Taylor had not been awarded a Medal of Honor.
Taylor had been awarded a Silver Star, one of the military’s top honors for valor in combat, but to his supporters, that medal represented a ‘failure by the Army to adequately, or his commanders at the time, to adequately recognize his valor, his courage, his dedication’ in Vietnam, and ‘we were determined to turn that around,’ Hill said.
They wanted Taylor to have a Medal of Honor, the military’s highest decoration given to service members who go above and beyond the call of duty, often risking their lives through selfless acts of valor.
So the team dug into the process, gathering documentation, witness statements and other information, including asking Bob Corker, then Taylor’s home-state senator, for his help. A
After more than six years of pushing, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the Army’s recommendation and forwarded Taylor’s file to Biden.
Biden signed off and called Taylor in July with the news.