3:31 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Please be seated. Thank you.
What a distinguished group of Americans. Former Medal of Honor winners, thank you for being here.
Folks, in a few days, young women and men from across the country are going to arrive at Fort Worth, Georgia, to attend Ranger School, one of the toughest military courses in the world. For nearly 20 hours every day, they’ll run, march, swim, and climb some of the most challenging obstacles under the most grueling of conditions.
But most importantly, they’ll learn how to lead, studying the stories of our greatest nation’s warriors.
They include the story of a pilot who, 55 years ago, risked his own life to save a group of young soldiers like them. The pilot we honor today: Captain Larry Taylor.
The Medal of Honor is our nation’s oldest and highest recognition of valor.
Now, when I called Larry to let him know he finally was receiving this recognition, his response was, “I thought you had to do something to receive the Medal of Honor.” (Laughter.) Let me say that again. He said, “I thought you had to do something to receive the Medal of Honor.”
Well, Larry, you sure in hell did something, man. If you ask anyone here, I’m pretty sure they’d say something — you did something extraordinary. That includes our Secretary of the — of the — of the Defense Austin — Secretary Austin, Secretary McDonough, the Army — the Secretary of the Army Wormuth, Chairman Milley, and Senator Black- — where is Senator — Senator Blackburn? — and also Senator Hagerty, who all have joined us today.
I also want to thank the previous Medal of Honor recipients who have come to recognize their brother in arms: Paris Davis, Walter Marm, and James McCloughan, and Leroy Petey — Pe- — Petry, excuse me. Gentlemen, you’re the very best the nation has to offer. We owe you.
The same goes for Sergeant David Hill — Vietnam veteran; former firefighter; and as the last surviving member of Larry’s mission, the driving force behind his Medal of Honor nomination.
On behalf of our nation, thank you all for being here.
And finally, Toni. Larry learned many ranks and call signs throughout his military service — he earned them: Captain, Dark Horse, Mustang, and probably a few we can’t say out loud. (Laughter.) Best left out of the presidential record, I guess. (Laughs.) But I believe — I believe that Larry is most proud of being called your husband.
And it’s an honor — it’s an honor to have you both here as we give this heroism its full recognition that it deserves.
Born in the Volunteer State, raised by a World War Two veteran, duty defined Larry Taylor’s life from his earliest days.
As a young man, he volunteered to join the college ROTC unit at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Then, after graduating in 1966, he commissioned as an Armor Officer.
Larry had dreamed of leading in- — leading men into battle on what he called “chariots of steel.” But it didn’t take many days on the ground for Larry to realize he belonged in the sky. He wanted to be a pilot. Not just any pilot. A Cobra pilot, flying the newest, fastest, deadliest Army helicopter at the time: a gunship built for only two people and their ammo.
So, when Larry was ordered — and when Larry was ordered — was offered a spot to fly in the Fighting First in Vietnam, he jumped at the chance. It was there that then-Lieutenant Taylor would go above and beyond the call of duty, quite literally.
June 18th, 1968, it was pitch black — no moon, no stars, no light beyond the glow of Lieutenant Taylor’s cockpit controls — when he heard a whisper come in through his radio, “We’re surrounded. We’re surrounded.” That’s what he heard.
The call had come from a four-man Army patrol unit just northeast of Saigon, a unit that included Sergeant David Hill.
Earlier that day, the men had set out to recon the area. But in the dark, the men found themselves in the middle of the Vietnam — Viet Cong stronghold. Nearly a hundred enemy soldiers now encircled their unit.
The men picked up their radio and made a call. It was no longer a recon mission. They needed a rescue mission. Without hesitation, Lieutenant Taylor and his co-pilot began racing toward them. Over the radio, he laid out the gameplan. He would use his Cobra to give the unit cover until a rescue helicopter could extract them.
That was one — there was just one simple problem: It was pitch black. Lieutenant Taylor couldn’t determine exactly where they were.
So, he asked his men to launch a flare — a move that would reveal their location to him but also to the enemy. Lieutenant Taylor knew the risk, but he was ready. Over the radio, he said, “Let’s get to work.” The flare went up, and the flight — fight was on.
The enemy fire lit up the night. Lieutenant Taylor and his co-pilot dove down, positioning their Cobra nearly parallel with the Viet Cong fighters. They flew dangerously low level for more than a half an hour, firing thousands of rounds of rockets to cover the ground — cover — cover the ground on which the men were.
Then, Lieutenant Taylor heard a sound that only meant one thing: His helo was hit. And then it was hit again and again and again.
At that point, according to Army standards, he could have left the fight. But Lieutenant Taylor had his own sacred standard: Quote, “You never leave a man on the ground,” end of quote.
He tried to find an escape route for the unit, his Cobra taking more rounds as he did. He kept trying to radio for a rescue, knowing that he and his men below were almost out of time and ammunition.
On his last try, he learned that any attempt to save the men had been called off. The rescue heli- — helicopter was not coming.
Instead, Lieutenant Taylor received a direct order: “Return to base.” His response was just as direct: “I’m getting my men out.” “I’m getting my men out.”
Lieutenant Taylor would perform the extraction himself, a maneuver never before accomplished in a Cobra.
Remember, the Cobra was only — a gunship only. It had no cabin for passengers. But that was the least of his problems.
First, Lieutenant Taylor needed to give his men a way out of the rice paddy where they had been pinned down. He needed diversion. So, despite the fact that he had no rockets or rounds left, Lieutenant Taylor drew the enemy fire himself. Using his landing light to trick the enemy into thinking he still had ammo, he started making runs on the Viet Cong fighters. The ruse worked a few times, but it was enough for the men to make it to the extraction point.
There, still under heavy gunfire, Lieutenant Taylor landed. The men mounted the exterior of his heli- — of his helo, clinging to the skids, climbing on the rocket pods. Within seconds, Lieutenant Taylor was back in the air.
But the mission wasn’t over. Lieutenant Taylor saw his fuel light flickering. He had started off with 16- — 1,600 pounds of gas, and now he had about 6 — not enough to make it back to base. Worse, the soldiers he was carrying were covered in wet mud and clinging to the Cobra against 50-knot wind — knots of wind. Even if he could make it back to base, his men would freeze or fall first.
So, he once more risked his own safety for his fellow teammates. He located a friendly area to set his bird down. The four men dismounted the helo and disappeared back into the pitch-black night. No moon. No stars. No light beyond the glow of their faces when they briefly turned and saluted Lieutenant Taylor for saving all four of their lives.
He wouldn’t see some of these men again until 30 years later at Army reunions. By that time, Lieutenant Taylor had long become Captain Taylor. He had flown more than 2,000 combat missions. And he had received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 43 Air Medals.
Thank, God, he’s not putting them all on his chest. He’d have trouble standing. (Laughter.)
Incredible. No, really, think about it. It’s incredible.
But the greatest honor of all: Families showed up at these reunions, too. They’d look for Larry. They’d hug him. They would say, “You don’t know me, but you saved my daddy’s life.”
In a few days, young soldiers about the same age as Larry was during the dark night in Vietnam, they’ll arrive at Ranger School. Like all of us today, they’re inspired by his story, and they will be. But how — by how he refused to give up. Refused to leave a fellow American behind. Refused to put his own life above the lives of others in need.
When duty called, Larry did everything — did everything to answer. And because of that, he rewrote the fate of four families for generations to come.
That’s valor. That’s valor.
That’s our nation at its very best.
And that’s why it’s now my great honor to ask Lieutenant Colonel Ann Hughes to read your Medal of Honor citation.
May God bless you all. And may God protect our troops.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL HUGHES: Attention to orders.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant Larry L. Taylor, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.
First Lieutenant Larry L. Taylor distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with Troop Delta, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division on June 18th, 1968, near the village of Ap Go Cong, Republic of Vietnam.
On this date, First Lieutenant Taylor commanded a light fire team of two Cobra helicopter gunships scrambled on a nighttime mission in response to an urgent call for aerial fire support from a four-man, long-range patrol team.
Upon arrival, First Lieutenant Taylor found the patrol team surrounded and heavily engaged by a larger Viet Cong force. He immediately requested illumination rounds and supporting artillery to assist with identifying the enemy positions.
Despite intense enemy groundfire, he flew at a perilously low altitude, placing a devastating volume of aerial rocket and machine gun fire on the enemy forces encircling the friendly patrol.
For over approximately 45 minutes, First Lieutenant Taylor and his wingman continued to make low-level, danger-close attack runs on the surrounding enemy positions.
When enemy fire increased from the village of Ap Go Cong, he requested artillery rounds with lower illumination altitudes be fired on that portion of the village so that the burning rounds ignited the enemy positions.
With both Cobra gunships nearly out of ammunition and the enemy still closing in on the patrol team, First Lieutenant Taylor flew the patrol team’s potential ground evacuation route, founding it — finding it unviable based on the heavy enemy ground fire encountered.
Returning to the patrol team’s location, he continued to circle it at a low level under intense enemy fire, employing his searchlight to make fake gun runs on the enemy positions to distract them from the patrol team.
Running low on fuel and with the patrol team nearly out of ammunition, First Lieutenant Taylor decided to extract the team with his two-man Cobra helicopter gunship — a feat never before accomplished.
He directed his wingman to fire their remaining minigun rounds on the patrol team’s east flank. First Lieutenant Taylor then fired his own last minigun rounds on the enemy positions, opening an avenue of movement to the east for the patrol team.
He directed the patrol team to move 100 yards towards the extraction point, where First Lieutenant Taylor, still under enemy fire, landed his helicopter and instructed the patrol team to climb aboard anywhere they could.
With the four-man, long-range patrol teams seated on rocket pods and skids, he evacuated them to the nearest friendly location, undoubtedly saving their lives.
First Lieutenant Taylor’s conspicuous gallantry, his profound concern for his fellow soldiers, and his intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
(The Medal of Honor is presented.) (Applause.)
3:46 P.M. EDT