EMU President James Smith presents local war hero Charles Kettles with honorary degree at Kettles’ home

by Geoff Larcom, Published December 12, 2016

YPSILANTI –  Eastern Michigan University President James Smith made a very special delivery today, presenting local war hero Lt. Col. Charles Kettles with an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree at Kettles’ home in Ypsilanti.

Kettles is an Eastern Michigan University alumnus who distinguished himself in heroic combat operations in Vietnam. The Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents approved the honorary degree during its regular board meeting Tuesday, Nov.1.


Charles Kettles accepts an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from EMU President Jim Smith, who visited Kettles home to present the award. In the background is a picture of Kettles during his military service.

Today’s award is the latest in a series of honors noting Kettles’ extraordinary military service. This past summer, Kettles, 86, was awarded the nation’s highest military award, receiving the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama, who noted Kettles’ 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.

"It was a wonderful honor to meet Lt. Col. Kettles this morning,” President Smith said. “He is a true American hero in every sense of the word, and was humble and gracious in accepting our honorary degree. It was genuinely a privilege to spend time with him, in his home."

Taking heavy fire flying into a dangerous valley

Kettles, a helicopter pilot, repeatedly flew into a valley to save soldiers who were under heavy fire. Later, Kettles earned a master’s degree at Eastern Michigan’s College of Technology, teaching students there while developing the University’s Aviation Management program.

He was born in Ypsilanti Jan. 9, 1930, the son of a World War I Royal Air Force (Canadian) and World War II Air Transport Command (U.S. Army Air Corps) pilot, and thus had aviation in his blood.

While attending the Edison Institute High School in Dearborn, Michigan, Kettles honed his love of flying on the Ford Motor Company Flight Department simulator. Following high school graduation, he 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.

Deep roots in Ypsilanti and at Eastern Michigan

Kettles served active duty tours in Korea, Japan and Thailand. Kettles returned in 1956 and established a Ford Dealership in Dewitt, Michigan, with his brother. He answered the call to serve again in 1963, when the United States was engaged in the Vietnam War and needed pilots. Fixed-wing-qualified, Kettles volunteered for Active Duty and was assigned as a flight commander with the 176th Assault Helicopter Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, and deployed to Vietnam from February through November 1967. His second tour of duty in Vietnam lasted from October 1969, through October 1970.

In 1970, Kettles 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.

Kettles then completed his bachelor’s degree at Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas, and then earned his master’s degree in commercial construction at EMU, where he went on to develop the Aviation Management Program at the College of Technology and taught both disciplines.

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

Kettles currently resides in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with his wife Ann.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 22,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.


Geoff Larcom



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