BATON ROUGE, La. - Forty-six years after responding to a call of
10-plus Marine casualties in an area overwhelmed by enemy forces in
Quang Nam Province, Republic of Vietnam, the commander of Marine
Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North, Lt. Gen. Rex C. McMillian,
presented a Marine Corps veteran with the Navy Cross, the
second-highest award a Marine can receive for valor. The award was
presented during a ceremony at the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial &
Museum, Oct. 13, 2015.
Lt. Gen. Rex C. McMillian, commander of Marine Forces Reserve, presents Sgt. Kenneth A. Altazan, Vietnam War veteran, with the Navy Cross Medal certificate aboard the USS Kidd Veterans Museum, Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 13, 2015. Altazan received the Navy Cross medal in addition to the Silver Star medal for his effort and bravery displayed during the Vietnam War. During a medical evacuation mission, Sgt. Altazan demonstrated bravery and complete disregard for his own safety in order to save the lives of many service members. Without notifying the pilot, he jumped off of his aircraft and rescued fellow service members, carrying them back to the aircraft while under heavy enemy fire. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal Ian Ferro)
On May 9, 1969, Sgt. Kenneth A. Altazan, crew chief for
Marine medium helicopter squadron 364, Marine Aircraft Group
16, 1st Marine Air Wing, was conducting emergency medical
evacuations for a Marine infantry company that was being
suppressed by a large enemy force during the Vietnam War.
Altazan's heroic efforts during this time were recognized
with a Silver Star.
Though Altazan received the
Silver Star years ago, additional evidence of his heroics
were recently submitted to the Marine Corps that led to
upgrading his Silver Star to the Navy Cross.
evidence was a recording taken by a serviceman whose plane
was flying above Altazan's helicopter that day, and his
recording showed that Altazan not only jumped into the line
of fire once to rescue others but twice, the second time
after suffering an injury to his knee.
the appointed crew chief on the lead aircraft of two CH-46
transport helicopters that were assigned to extract the
10-plus Marines that were heavily engaged in combat with the
North Vietnamese Army Force.
The plan was to land
the helicopter in two places to rescue the injured, but the
aircraft immediately came under heavy fire, and the wounded
Marines were scattered. Undaunted by the volume of fire
directed at his aircraft, Altazan directed his crew that
they were to extract the dispersed Marines from five
locations instead, touching the helicopter down each time.
At the second extraction location, Altazan saw a Marine
evacuating a casualty get shot and fall to the ground.
Without a second thought, he ran to them, lifted one onto
his shoulder and grabbed the other by the arm and began to
haul them to the helicopter. In the midst of his rescue
effort, an enemy bullet hit the Marine he was carry causing
all three to hit the ground and injuring Altazan's knee.
After all three men fell to the ground, Altazan picked
himself back up and continued to carry the Marines to
“In boot camp, they taught us to react. You
react to something more than you think it through,” said
Altazan. “If I had sat back and thought about what was going
on none of this would have ever happened.”
the helicopter at the final fifth zone, dangerously close to
the enemy's position, Altazan noticed another Marine
casualty in the distance waving a green shirt. The Marine
was unable to get to the helicopter due to his injuries and
enemy fire. Again, with no regard for his own injuries,
Altazan jumped out of the doorway of his aircraft and began
to run toward the Marine. Running out of time and in
significant pain, he pulled off his heavy body armor and ran
to the Marine. Upon arrival, he discovered not one, but two
wounded Marines. One, he pulled over his shoulders into a
fireman's carry, the other he dragged by his belt
approximately 30 meters to the safety of the helicopter.
According to Altazan's Navy Cross citation, his bold
initiative and selfless concern helped save the lives of his
fellow Marines, inspired all who observed him and was
instrumental in completing the hazardous mission.
left the safety and comfort of his aircraft and personally
carried wounded back,” said Sgt. Maj. William F. Fitzgerald
III, sergeant major of 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine
Fitzgerald added, it's important for
Marines to recognize achievements like Altazan's, not only
because it fills them with pride, but also because they too
may be called to display that kind of courage.
By U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Gabrielle Quire
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