Few combat fields have ever tested
the versatility and courage of the American airman like the skies over Vietnam during
America's longest war. Air Force pilots flew bombing missions over North Vietnam and
ground support missions over the South. They flew jet fighters in air-to-air
encounters with Soviet-made MiGs, and they flew helicopters to drop into enemy infested
jungles to extract other downed pilots as well as wounded infantrymen. They flew
into dense fog, heavy rains, and hails of enemy gunfire. They braved SAMs (surface
to air missiles), anti-aircraft fire, and heavy small-arms and machinegun fire from the
ground to perform and finish their missions. They risked their lives to fly over
isolated American outposts to provide support or drop supplies, and landed on battle
scarred runways in the midst of their enemies to pluck from danger, Americans at risk.
Many were killed, others listed as Missing in
Action....their fate unknown. Some survived long tenures of torture as
Prisoners of War. One was captured AFTER his Medal of Honor action, another survived
to wear the Medal of Honor for his heroism as a prisoner of the enemy. One Medal of
Honor hero died in captivity, resisting the will of his captors.
The newly designed Medal of Honor was awarded to
twelve airmen in the years immediately following the end of the Vietnam war. For the
first time, living heroes outnumbered the dead, eight of the twelve surviving to wear
their Nation's highest award. Long after the end of the war a thirteenth airman
received the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam...an enlisted man who had left the relative
safety of his helicopter to voluntarily join and treat wounded soldiers on the
ground. His Medal of Honor was posthumously presented to his father 35 years after
he gave his life to save the lives of others.