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President Biden on Tuesday awarded the Medal of Honor to 81-year-old retired Captain Larry L. Taylor, a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War who flew hundreds of missions and risked his life to save his countrymen. 

Taylor was a first lieutenant on June 18, 1968, when he deployed in support of a patrol that had been surrounded by an enemy force. Braving intense fire in pitch black conditions, Taylor and his wingman made low-level attack runs. As they neared the end of their ammunition, Taylor learned that a plan to rescue the patrol had been canceled. So, Taylor decided to extract the team using his two-man Cobra helicopter — something the White House says had never been attempted, let alone accomplished. 

“The rescue helicopter was not coming,” Mr. Biden said as he retold the story Tuesday. “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 move never before accomplished in a Cobra.”

Taylor had his wingman fire his remaining mini-gun runs and return to basecamp. Then, Taylor fired his own remaining mini-gun rounds, using his landing lights to draw enemy attention while the soldiers headed to an extraction point. 

Once his team reached the extraction site, Taylor landed his Cobra under heavy fire, “with complete disregard for his personal safety,” as the White House put it. The soldiers climbed aboard and Taylor took them to a safe location. That day, Taylor rewrote the stories of the four men he saved for generations, the president said. 

“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,'” the president said. “Let me say that again, he said, ‘I thought you had to do something to receive the Medal of Honor.’ Well Larry, you sure as hell did something, man.” 

Taylor was honorably released from active duty in August 1970, and was discharged from the U.S. Army Reserve in October 1973. 

Captain Larry L. Taylor

U.S. Army

The Medal of Honor is the highest honor given to members of the military who display conspicuous gallantry and bravery in the field at the risk of their own lives. 

According to the National Medal of Honor Museum, only 3,515 Americans who served in the Armed Forces have received the medal, out of 40 million who have served since the Civil War.