Captain JAMES P.
FLEMING MEDAL OF HONOR 26 November 1968 U.S. Air Force 20th Special
According to the following Air Force web site, James P.
Fleming retired as a Colonel:
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
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
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
21st SOS (Knife), CH-3E Pilot
NKP, 1969 -1970