Eastern Michigan University

Distinguished Alumni AwardKettles

Charles S. Kettles ’79 earned his master’s degree in commercial construction at Eastern Michigan University, where he went on to develop the Aviation Management Program at the College of Technology and taught both disciplines.

Charles, who distinguished himself in heroic combat operations in Vietnam, was awarded the nation’s highest military honor last summer during a ceremony at the White House. He received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama, who noted Charles’ courage and valor in saving the lives of 40 soldiers and four of his own crew members on May 15, 1967, during fierce fighting near Duc Pho, Vietnam.

Obama laid out the extraordinary details of when Charles, a helicopter pilot, repeatedly flew into a valley to save soldiers who were under heavy fire. The President cited Charles’ actions as the ultimate example of the U.S. Military motto never to leave a comrade behind.

"In a lot of ways, Chuck is America," Obama said. "To the dozens of American soldiers that he saved in Vietnam half a century ago, Chuck is the reason that they lived and came home and had children and grandchildren. Entire family trees – made possible by the actions of this one man."

Following high school graduation, Charles enrolled in Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University), where he studied engineering. Two years later, he was drafted to the Army at age 21.

Charles graduated from the Army Aviation School in 1953 before serving active duty tours in Korea, Japan and Thailand.He returned in 1956 and established a Ford Dealership in Dewitt, Michigan, with his brother, and continued his service with the Army Reserve as a member of the 4th Battalion, 20th Field Artillery.

He answered the call to serve again in 1963, when the United States was engaged in the Vietnam War and needed pilots. His second tour of duty in Vietnam lasted from October 1969, through October 1970.

In 1970, Charles went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he served as an aviation team chief and readiness coordinator supporting the Army Reserve. He remained in San Antonio until his retirement from the Army in 1978.

He later worked for Chrysler Pentastar Aviation until his retirement in 1993.