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.
That 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.
Altazan was 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 safety.
“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.”
Landing 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.
“He 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 Forces Reserve.
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
Provided through DVIDS
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