Saturday, November 11, is Veterans Day, and I want to take a moment to honor our men and women who serve or have served our nation. Among our CA community of parents, teachers, staff, and alumni, a number of individuals have been part of the military and have served with honor and distinction. It is so important for our students to be aware of the sacrifices our military service men and women make to keep our nation safe. We are grateful for all they do.
I am in the midst of preparing for my Vietnam War history course that I will be teaching next trimester. Every year, I make adjustments to the course readings and content. And, every year I am humbled by the service of our veterans. One story that I will be sharing with my students is that of Captain Larry Taylor, who was just recently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam. Taylor flew an AH-1G Cobra helicopter in South Vietnam. This specialized attack helicopter could hold only two people. Setting out for a night mission on June 18, 1968, it was loaded with rockets, machine guns, and 1,600 pounds of fuel. There was no moon, and it was pitch black.
During the mission, he and his co-pilot heard a call for help from a four-man Army reconnaissance team on the ground. Over the radio came the words, “We’re surrounded. We’re surrounded.” The soldiers were hiding in a rice paddy encircled by more than 100 enemy fighters. Taylor told the men on the ground that he would provide cover as they awaited a rescue helicopter that could carry the team. Since he could not see them, Taylor asked the ground team to light flares—a move that would make them vulnerable to the enemy.
For the next 30 minutes, Taylor flew his Cobra close to the ground providing covering fire. His helicopter was hit multiple times, but he refused to leave the men behind. Higher-ups in the chain of command canceled the rescue mission and ordered Taylor to return. But, though he was out of ammunition and low on fuel, he was determined to rescue the men himself and ignored the direct order.
Using his landing lights to confuse the enemy, he ordered the team to an extraction point. There, they climbed on the skids and rocket pods for dear life. At this point, Taylor had little fuel left, certainly not enough to make it to his base. The men were wet and were either going to freeze or fall. He found a safe area to land. The men got off the Cobra and saluted Taylor in the darkness.
Going on to fly more than 2,000 combat missions, he would not see any of these soldiers for 30 years. He received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 43 Air Medals for his service. When President Biden called to tell Taylor he was going to receive the Medal of Honor at a ceremony this past September, Taylor responded, “I thought I had to do something to receive the Medal of Honor.”
Humility is such an amazing attribute. If you read about Medal of Honor recipients, that sense of humility is a common theme. Taylor, like so many recipients of this highest of all honors, was just doing his job. They weren’t trying to be heroes. They were doing their best to support their fellow soldiers. Of course, Taylor did something remarkable that night. His actions saved the lives of four men.
Our military is full of such people—Americans who want to serve their country and make a difference. I hope you will take some time today to reflect on their service and say thank you to a veteran.