James P. Fleming

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James Phillip Fleming
James P Fleming.jpg
Colonel James P. Fleming, USAF
Born (1943-03-21) March 21, 1943 (age 76)
Sedalia, Missouri
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service1966–1996
RankUS-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Unit20th Special Operations Squadron
Battles/warsVietnam War
AwardsMedal of Honor
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross
Meritorious Service Medal (2)
Air Medal (8)

James Phillip Fleming (born March 12, 1943) was a United States Air Force pilot in the Vietnam War. Born in Sedalia, Missouri, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing a six-man MACV-SOG Recon Team, stranded between heavily defended enemy positions, near Đức Cơ, Vietnam.


Born in March 1943 in Sedalia, Missouri, Fleming entered military service at Pullman, Washington. In 1968, he was an aircraft commander of a UH-1F transport helicopter assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Ban Me Thuot East Airfield in the Republic of Vietnam. On November 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 (48 km) 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's call for immediate evacuation was received by an Air Force forward air controller (FAC), Major Charles E. Anonsen, as well as Fleming's nearby flight of five UH-1s. All five helicopters, despite being low on fuel, headed toward the coordinates while the FAC briefed them on the situation.[1]

The Green Berets were taking heavy fire from six heavy machine guns and an undetermined number of enemy troops. 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 another 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 and one other that was almost out of ammunition.[1]

Hovering just above the jungle treetops, Fleming inspected the only clearing near enough for the troops to reach and found it impossible to land there. He instead flew over the river and hovered just above the water, with his landing skids against the bank, hoping that the special forces troops would be able to run the few yards to his helicopter safely. In addition to exposing his aircraft to ground fire, this maneuver was a balancing act that required great piloting skill. After waiting for several minutes, the reconnaissance team radioed that they couldn't survive a dash to the helicopter. Fleming lifted his UH-1 out of range of the hostile fire.[1]

The FAC directed the Green Berets to detonate their mines as Fleming made a last attempt to rescue them. As the mines exploded, he again lowered his helicopter to the river bank, balancing against it, giving the Green Berets an open cargo door through which to leap to safety. The enemy soldiers concentrated their fire on the UH-1. The Green Berets ran for the chopper, firing as they ran and killing three Viet Cong barely 10 feet (3.0 m) from the aircraft. As they leaped through the cargo door, Fleming once more backed the helicopter away from the bank and flew down the river to safety.[1]

In a ceremony at the White House on May 14, 1970, President Richard Nixon presented the Medal of Honor to Fleming for his actions during the rescue. Fleming's other decorations include the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and eight Air Medals.[1]

Fleming remained in the Air Force, becoming a colonel and a member of the Officer Training School staff at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, before his retirement in 1996.[1]

Awards and Decorations[edit]

His decorations include:

COMMAND PILOT WINGS.png US Air Force Command Pilot Badge
Medal of Honor
Silver Star
Width-44 crimson ribbon with a pair of width-2 white stripes on the edges Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Meritorious Service Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster
Silver oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Medal with silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Presidential Unit Citation with bronze oak leaf cluster
Combat Readiness Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with V device and three bronze oak leaf clusters
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (second ribbon required for accouterment spacing)
Bronze star
Width=44 scarlet ribbon with a central width-4 golden yellow stripe, flanked by pairs of width-1 scarlet, white, Old Glory blue, and white stripes
National Defense Service Medal with service star
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze campaign stars
Air Force Overseas Short Tour Service Ribbon
Air Force Overseas Long Tour Service Ribbon
Silver oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Longevity Service Award with silver and bronze oak leaf clusters
Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
Air Force Training Ribbon
Gold star
Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm and Gold Star
Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
Vietnam Campaign Medal

Medal of Honor citation[edit]

Air Force version of the Medal of Honor

Fleming's official Medal of Honor citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Fleming (then 1st Lt.) distinguished himself as the Aircraft Commander of a UH-1F transport Helicopter. Capt. Fleming went to the aid of a 6-man special forces long range reconnaissance patrol that was in danger of being overrun by a large, heavily armed hostile force. Despite the knowledge that 1 helicopter had been downed by intense hostile fire, Capt. Fleming descended, and balanced his helicopter on a river bank with the tail boom hanging over open water. The patrol could not penetrate to the landing site and he was forced to withdraw. Dangerously low on fuel, Capt. Fleming repeated his original landing maneuver. Disregarding his own safety, he remained in this exposed position. Hostile fire crashed through his windscreen as the patrol boarded his helicopter. Capt. Fleming made a successful takeoff through a barrage of hostile fire and recovered safely at a forward base. Capt. Fleming's profound concern for his fellowmen, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Col. James P. Fleming". United States Air Force. Archived from the original on December 12, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2010.
  2. ^ "Medal of Honor Recipients – Vietnam (A–L)". Medal of Honor Citations. United States Army Center of Military History. August 3, 2009. Retrieved November 2, 2010.

External links[edit]