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Medal Of Honor Recipient James P. Fleming
by Katie Lange, DoD News
May 18, 2023

Then U.S. Air Force Capt. James P. Fleming wears his Medal of Honor for an official portrait on an undisclosed date in 1970. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Then U.S. Air Force Capt. James P. Fleming wears his Medal of Honor for an official portrait on an undisclosed date in 1970. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Helicopter pilots inserted troops and pulled them out of the jungles of Vietnam on a regular basis during the war. But then Air Force First Lieutenant James P. Fleming’s refusal to leave anyone behind during an incident on November 26, 1968 ... set him apart from the average pilot and earned him the Medal of Honor.

Fleming was born in Sedalia, Missouri, at the end of World War II. His father had been a military pilot, so Fleming naturally grew fascinated with service and flying. He joined ROTC while he was at Washington State University and, upon graduation in 1966, he entered the Air Force to become a pilot, too.

Fleming was halfway through fixed-wing pilot training when a call went out for men to fly helicopters in Vietnam, so he volunteered. After more months of training, he was sent into combat.

“I was terribly excited to go,” Fleming said in an interview with the Veterans History Project. “I wanted to go fly in war.”

A few months into his tour, Fleming was a first lieutenant and the aircraft commander of a UH-1F Iroquois transport helicopter that was part of the 20th Special Operations Squadron based out of Nha Trang Air Base. Their mission: to support troops sent into volatile areas of Vietnam along the Cambodian border.

On Nov. 26, 1968, Fleming flew to the aid of a seven-man team of Army Green Berets on a reconnaissance patrol. They had been compromised while spying on enemy troops and were in danger of being overrun by a large, heavily armed enemy, which chased them to a riverbank.

U.S. Air Force UH-1F Iroquois helicopters insert special operations teams into Cambodia during the Vietnam War. (U.S. U.S. Air Force photo)
U.S. Air Force UH-1F Iroquois helicopters insert special operations teams into Cambodia during the Vietnam War. (U.S. U.S. Air Force photo)

Fleming knew one rescue helicopter had already been downed by enemy fire, as he watched it happen. But he searched for the missing patrol anyway, disregarding his own safety while dangerously low on fuel. Enemy fire crashed through his chopper’s windshield before he finally found the Green Berets wading into the river water, trying to escape the onslaught following them.

Fleming found a way to hover his helicopter right above the riverbank so one of his crew members could grab the Green Berets, pulling them out of the water one by one. The last man on the team practically had to jump into the chopper right before they took off.

Despite continued fire in their direction, Fleming made it out of the fray. All seven men on the recon patrol made it out alive, thanks to his unwavering desire to bring everyone home.

About a month later, Fleming was injured and evacuated to Japan. When he returned to Vietnam a few months later, he was surprised to hear he was going home – he’d been named a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Fleming received the nation’s highest military award for valor from President Richard Nixon at a ceremony at the White House on May 14, 1970.

Fleming spent a total of 30 years in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel in 1996.

He and his wife currently live in Washington. They had three children, including a son who joined the Marines and served in Afghanistan.

James Fleming's Medal of Honor Citation | Video About MOHR James Fleming

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