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Vietnam helicopter pilot’s heroics earn ‘long overdue’ Silver Star upgrade

Capt. Larry Liss receives the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics in a May 14, 1967, rescue operation in Vietnam. After a lengthy push by Liss' brother, Art, and others to get theHuey helicopter pilot a higher honor, he will be awarded the Silver Star at a ceremony next month. (Larry Liss)

A Vietnam veteran who in 1967 flew an unarmed Huey helicopter on multiple rescue missions that saved dozens of troops will be awarded the Silver Star at a ceremony next month.

The Army’s decision to upgrade Larry Liss’ Distinguished Flying Cross to the military’s third-highest combat decoration comes after more than a decade of efforts to have the 82-year-old’s heroics recognized.

“It’s long overdue that we gather to honor the extraordinary bravery and selflessness ofCaptain Larry M. Liss, a true American hero,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, an Air Force veteran, said in a statement Thursday.

Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, will recognize Liss during aMarch 5 ceremony at the Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Pennsylvania, where Liss’ actions on May 14, 1967, will be recounted.

The mission, known as the rescue at Cau Song Be, involved Liss and his co-pilot, Tom Baca, making repeated flights from a remote base into jungle terrain where friendly forces were surrounded by about 650 North Vietnamese. Baca, who died in 2020, also was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.

Capt. Larry Liss sits in a Huey helicopter with two orphans in South Vietnam in 1966. Liss received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions as the pilot in a daring helicopter rescue at Cau Song Be, Vietnam, in 1967. At an upcoming ceremony, the award will be upgraded to a Silver Star. (Larry Liss)

Enemy forces were poised to overrun a U.S. special operations outpost manned by roughly100 South Vietnamese soldiers and a small group of Green Berets.

The impromptu mission was carried out in a helicopter used for VIP transportation rather than combat. During the mission, Liss stepped out of the Huey and fought the enemy with his rifle, while friendly South Vietnamese troops known as Civilian Irregular Defense Forces raced toward the aircraft.

In an interview with Stars and Stripes in September 2023, Liss said the deteriorating situation demanded that he act.

“(Enemy forces) were really close, and I just saw this mess unfolding,” he said. “So I got out of the aircraft and I helped them create the perimeter, and I engaged where I had to.”

Liss and Baca were forced to fly in a jungle of tree branches and bamboo, weed-whackingthe vegetation with their rotors to create a landing zone. The maneuver nearly rendered the helicopter unable to fly because of the damage it inflicted.

Liss made numerous trips “despite the increasing danger with each lift,” according to hisSilver Star citation, which was issued by the Army on Jan. 11.

He ignored the continuously shrinking perimeter against an intensified enemy attack, leaping out of his seat “in total disregard for his own well-being and safety” to engage the enemy onthe ground while rallying the troops and helping the wounded aboard the helicopter, the citation said.

“On the last trip, although the aircraft was overloaded, Captain Liss was determined to extract the remaining 18 Soldiers; therefore, he directed troops into the cargo bay and told others to stand on the skids, and even personally held onto two Soldiers who were hanging onto his door and window by their lapels until the helicopter safely landed at the base camp,”the citation said.

Over the years, some of Liss’ supporters, including former Rep. Joe Sestak, have said the heroics were worthy of the Medal of Honor.

The effort to get the Silver Star awarded to Liss involved a push by Pennsylvania lawmakers and Liss’ brother Art, who spent years compiling a history of the events at Cau Song Be that included eyewitness accounts of those involved.

Art Liss’ advocacy played a pivotal role in ensuring that his brother got the recognition he deserved, Houlahan said, adding that “Art’s tireless efforts embody the spirit of dedication and love that binds our military families.”

Source: Army Times


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