Gunship pilots receive Silver Stars after 44 years for heroic rescue of legendary soldier

Photo credit: Screenshot from KSVW video

Two Army gunship pilots who saved a friendly unit during a brutal battle in the Vietnam War are finally getting recognition for their extraordinary courage under fire.

Captain William S. Reeder Jr. of Seabeck and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Daniel E. Jones stood at attention to recieve their medals yesterday afternoon in an awards ceremony at the Presidio of Monterey in California.

The ceremony would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Retired Major John J. Duffy, who fought tooth and nail to get the medals awarded to the two aviators.

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, clerical error delayed the commendations for more than four decades. However, Duffy was determined to get formal recognition for the pilots’ actions in a bloody battle that took place in 1972, known as the Battle for Charlie.

During the battle, Duffy was in command of a small unit that was given the order to withdraw. Under heavy artillery fire, swarmed by infantry and surrounded by anti-aircraft guns, Duffy knew that good air support would be hard to come by.

However, that air support came in the form of two canopy-hugging AH-1 Cobras, flown by  Reeder and Jones, who provided gunship support throughout the night, only heading back to base to rearm, refuel and return for more support.

Despite being wounded several times, Duffy took advantage of the air support to evacuate his men. Through expert air support, Duffy and 37 out of 471 of his paratroopers lived to fight another day.“The pilots’ courage and accuracy saved the guard from certain death”, he said.

Unfortunately for Reeder, he was shot down not long after the Battle for Charlie, his co-pilot/gunner killed. Severely wounded, he evaded the enemy but was eventually captured, spending nearly a year as a Prisoner of War. He credits a South Vietnamese soldier for saving his life.

California Democratic Representative Sam Farr assisted Duffy in getting the Silver Stars for the pilots. He admired Duffy’s tenacity in getting due recognition for the pilots.

“He (Duffy) told me there were a lot of people who should be getting the awards, including the pilots. … He said you’ve got to honor these soldiers. He was not going to forget and leave them (awards) in some bureaucratic pile.”

Duffy was awarded  62 awards during the Vietnam War, including the Distinguished Service Cross and is the only living individual to hold eight Purple Hearts.

Reeder is the author of a book that is used in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training. Jones recently retired from a career in commercial aviation.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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