Captain JAMES P. FLEMING MEDAL OF HONOR 26 November 1968 U.S. Air Force 20th Special Operations Squadron
 

According to the following Air Force web site, James P. Fleming retired as a Colonel:
http://www.af.mil/history/person.asp?dec=1960&pid=123006514

 

Colonel James P. Fleming
Jet fighter pilots dive in and out of danger, barely missing enemy shells and antiaircraft fire. Most helicopter pilots live less dangerous lives, especially those flying the UH-1F light utility helicopter. But 1st Lt. James P. Fleming was the exception in 1968 as he balanced on the edge of vulnerability over the jungles of Southeast Asia, earning the Medal of Honor.

Fleming was born in March 1943 in Sedalia, Mo. He entered military service at Pullman, Wash. By 1968, he was an aircraft commander of a UH-1F transport helicopter assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Ban Me Tout, Republic of Vietnam. On Nov. 26, a six-man reconnaissance team of Army Special Forces Green Berets had been lifted into Vietnam's western highlands, near the Cambodian border and about 30 miles west of Pleiku. Hours later, they found themselves penned up next to a river, with enemy forces on the three remaining sides. The team leader called for immediate evacuation. The call was received by an Air Force forward air controller, as well as a flight of five UH-1s near the area. Fleming flew one of the transports. All five, despite being low on fuel, headed toward the coordinates while the FAC briefed them on the situation.

The berets were taking heavy fire from six heavy machine guns and an undetermined number of enemy troops. There was a clearing in the jungle about 100 yards away from them and a smaller one only 25 years away. The furthest one was too far away for them to get to through enemy fire. As soon as the helicopters sighted the team's smoke, the gunships opened fire, knocking out two machine gun positions. One gunship was hit and crash-landed across the river, its crew picked up by one of the transports. A second transport, low on fuel, had to pull out of formation and return to base. There were only two helicopters left, Fleming's transport and one gunship that was almost out of ammunition.

Hovering just above the treetops, Fleming checked out the smaller clearing and found it impossible to land there. Looking over the battle scene, Fleming had an idea. If he hovered just above the river with his landing skids against the bank, a balancing act that required great piloting skill, especially in the middle of a firefight, the special forces troops might be able to run the few yards to his helicopter safely. But the biggest miracle of all would be keeping his transport from being hit by ground fire.

Suspended motionless against the river bank, his boom hanging out above open water, he waited for the Green Berets. Long minutes later, the reconnaissance team radioed that they couldn't survive a dash to the helicopter. Fleming rose and hastily backed his chopper over the water and flew out of range through a hail of bullets. Fleming wasn't through yet, though. The FAC directed the berets to detonate their mines as Fleming made another last, desperate attempt to rescue them. As the mines exploded, Fleming again lowered his helicopter to the river bank, balancing against it, giving the berets an open cargo door through which to leap to safety. But the enemy, knowing exactly what he was doing this time, concentrated their fire on the UH-1. The berets ran for the chopper, firing as they ran and killing three Viet Cong barely 10 feet from the helicopter. As they leaped through the cargo door, Fleming once more backed the helicopter away from the bank and flew down the river to safety.

In a ceremony at the White House May 14, 1970, President Richard Nixon presented the Medal of Honor to Fleming for his heroic actions and conspicuous gallantry in the face of enemy fire.

Fleming remained in the Air Force, becoming a colonel and a member of the Officer Training School staff at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Sources compiled from the Air Force History Support Office and homeofheroes.com.


 

Bob Arnau
21st SOS (Knife), CH-3E Pilot
NKP, 1969 -1970