President Biden awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor, Tuesday to a Vietnam War helicopter pilot who risked his life by flying into enemy fire to rescue four soldiers.
Biden bestowed the medal on retired U.S. Army Capt. Larry L. Taylor, 81, of Tennessee in a ceremony at the White House, where the president said young soldiers heading to Army Ranger school in Georgia in a few days will look to Taylor as an example of courage.
“Like all of us today, they’re inspired by his story, and they will be — 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,” Biden said. “When duty called, Larry did everything — did everything — to answer.”
During Taylor’s service in Vietnam, he flew more than 2,000 combat missions in helicopters, engaged with enemy fire 340 times and was forced down five times. His most harrowing operation, for which he was honored Tuesday, came June 18, 1968, when his team was deployed to support a long-range reconnaissance patrol that was surrounded by enemy forces near the hamlet of Ap Go Cong.
According to the U.S. Army, then-1st Lt. Taylor and his wingman identified the reconnaissance team, which marked their location with flares. They attacked the enemy combatants “with mini-guns and aerial rockets” for the next 45 minutes while facing intense ground fire and running low on fuel and ammunition.
Taylor then decided to extract the team with his two-man Cobra helicopter. He and his wingman fired their remaining mini-gun rounds as Taylor used his Cobra’s landing lights to draw the enemy fighters’ attention. The patrol team, meanwhile, traveled southeast toward a point Taylor had designated.
When the team arrived, Taylor landed under heavy enemy fire. The soldiers climbed aboard, and Taylor flew them to a safe spot before landing again.
“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 Lt. Taylor for saving all four of their lives,” Biden said during the ceremony.
The Medal of Honor is awarded to military members who risk their lives to distinguish themselves beyond the call of duty. In addition to Taylor, Biden has awarded Medals of Honor to five Vietnam veterans, an Iraq War veteran, two veterans of the War in Afghanistan and a Korean War veteran.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R) and Bill Hagerty (R) of Tennessee were among the guests at the ceremony honoring Taylor.
Taylor, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., joined the U.S. Army Reserve in June 1966 and the Regular Army later that year. He served in Vietnam from August 1967 to August 1968 and was honorably released from active duty two years later.
The president has twice tested negative for the coronavirus since first lady Jill Biden received a positive test result Monday. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday that the president is not experiencing symptoms of covid-19 but will wear a mask when he is indoors and around other people. At the Medal of Honor event, Biden wore a mask while walking to the stage. He took it off to speak and did not put it back on for the rest of the ceremony. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.