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July 12, 2023

Profiles of Valor: CAPT Larry Taylor (USA) Medal of Honor Announcement

“I thought you had to do something to receive a Medal of Honor.”

“The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” —Patrick Henry (1775)

There is a local family-style restaurant that became the destination of choice for regular Saturday morning breakfasts with my friends, Lt. Col. Bill Gauntt (USAF, Ret. POW), and John Connor, whose father was a World War II POW after his B-17 was shot down over Germany. It was a special time of fellowship in the last year of his Bill’s life.

I owed Bill a deep debt of gratitude after he walked another old fighter pilot, my father, through his last days. It has been difficult to return to that restaurant since Bill’s passing last year, and I had not done so … until this week.

That restaurant is also a favorite spot for a guy I have known for two decades, but have not seen recently due to his health challenges. You may recognize the name Larry Taylor, an Army Cobra pilot whose actions one night in Vietnam I profiled back in 2021. We had a long catchup lunch this week after a call he received from the White House.

I’ve had inquiries about efforts to expedite the upgrade of his Silver Star to a Medal of Honor. “Expedite” may seem the wrong word given the fact that the actions in connection with this upgrade occurred 55 years ago. But there are still nominations pending for members of Andrews’ Raiders in 1862, some of whom were the first Medal of Honor recipients. As I noted in Larry’s profile regarding the Medal of Honor for Col. Paris Davis, “These nominations are often delayed not only because the service verification standards are very detailed but because nominees are almost universally humble warriors who require the advocacy of others, as they are disinclined to promote their own nomination.” Likewise, this was true of the long-overdue award to Korean War Veteran Col. Ralph Puckett (USA, Ret.).

For context, over the course of his multiple tours in Vietnam beginning with the 1st Squadron/4th U.S. Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division, Larry Taylor flew more than 2,700 missions — including 1,200 combat missions in the UH-1 and Cobra — was engaged by enemy fire 340 times, and was forced down five times. He was awarded 61 combat decorations, including 44 Air Medals, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, two Bronze Stars, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, and a Silver Star. As you might imagine, there were many harrowing operations, and of course a few humorous tales associated with those awards.

But one award for a death-defying action rises above all the others.

Taylor received a Silver Star for his heroic role in a rescue operation on the night of June 18, 1968, while piloting his AH-1G Cobra helicopter gunship as the flight leader of his two-gunship fire team. As our military readers know, the Silver Star is the third-highest military award for valor, behind the Medal of Honor and the service branch Distinguished Service Crosses. But in this case, his Silver Star award is not commensurate with the valorous actions of then-Lt. Taylor, who provided direct fire support and then rescued a four-man Army Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) team surrounded by a numerically superior enemy force. That team was moments from being overrun and killed. The events of that dark night near the village of Ap Go Cong, Binh Duong Province, have been well documented by members of F Company, 52nd Infantry (LRP), 1st Infantry Division, as were the 17 holes in Larry’s Cobra from enemy fire. (Read about that mission in detail.)

Of his actions that deadly night, Larry humbly observed: “I just got caught doing my job. I didn’t plan on it. Didn’t expect it. It just happened. That’s what you do. I told my men, ‘You never leave a man on the ground,’ and we never did, and I never lost a man. Not one. … I’d flown thousands of missions in Vietnam and saved countless lives. But none had meant so much to me as the four we saved that night, for life had never become so sweet as the night I became the angel of death … no man left behind.”

There are suspect reasons for the delay of this upgrade. Notably, according to 1-4 CAV folklore, at some point in the communication exchange after being denied his request to rescue the team that night, “one of the pilots” accused, over an open mic, the officer in the chain of command above him of “having unnatural relations with his mother.” But the original refusal to recommend Taylor for a Medal of Honor has less to do with that insult to a senior officer than his direct defiance of orders. However, it is notable that many Medals of Honor have been awarded to those defying orders — and that makes sense given those orders related to just how deadly the situation was.

Revitalizing the now-seven-year-old petition for the upgrade of Larry’s Silver Star was Gen. B.B. Bell (USA, Ret.), board member at the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center. Last Saturday, all the efforts of those Larry saved, and other veterans including Gen. Bell, culminated with a phone call.

Normally, when a sitting U.S. president wants to speak with someone out in flyover land, there is an advance call advising you to be available at a certain time and number. That didn’t happen with Larry, whose wife Tony picked up the phone and was told to standby for the president of the United States.

Now, given my “relationship” with Joe Biden, if I had gotten such a call, I would have immediately known it was a prank. However, this was a call Larry never expected to get, but he realized in that moment that it was indeed Biden calling.

Larry told us: “We talked for quite a few minutes. I told him, ‘I thought you had to do something to receive a Medal of Honor.’” Biden responded, “I have your 201 file. You are coming to Washington.” Larry says he “told me to wear whatever I’d wear to Sunday school.”

On reflection, Taylor says: “Most people on the street don’t know what the hell [the Medal of Honor] is, but I do, so I’m proud. To be mentioned in the same company as those people kind of makes you stop and think. It’s an exclusive fraternity, that’s for sure.”

Indeed it is. Since the first medals were awarded, American presidents and military commanders have, in the name of Congress, presented 3,535 Medals to 3,516 recipients — amazingly, 19 service personnel are double recipients. In a nation of some 330 million people, there are just 65 living recipients. That number is about to become 66.

Bravo Zulu, Larry!

You ca read about his White House ceremony on 5 September here.

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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