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