Larry Taylor, Vietnam War pilot praised for daring rescue, dies at 81

Larry L. Taylor, the helicopter pilot who 55 years ago orchestrated the courageous rescue of four U.S. Army Rangers under enemy fire in the jungles of Vietnam, died Jan. 28 at his home in Signal Mountain, Tenn., five months after he was belatedly awarded the Medal honors for his heroism. He was 81 years old.

His death was confirmed by the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga, which is south of Signal Mountain, where Mr. Taylor born and raised.

Selected as a captain in 1971 after serving as a first lieutenant for one year in Vietnam, 1967-68, Mr. Taylor earned more than 50 decorations flying more than 2,000 combat missions in Cobra and UH-1 “Huey” helicopters. It was hit by enemy fire 340 times, and was shot down five times.

On June 18, 1968, Lieutenant Taylor was flying one of two helicopters supporting a four-man long-range reconnaissance patrol in Binh Duong Province, northeast of Saigon, when the Rangers, walking through a rice field on a moonless night, were surrounded. and soon it will be overrun by about 100 Viet Cong guerrillas. The rescue mission of the other two helicopters was canceled as it seemed hopeless.

But Lieutenant Taylor, along with his co-pilot, Chief Warrant Officer James Ratliff, were determined to get the four soldiers off the jungle floor – despite being under enemy fire, and even though the aircraft was running low on ammunition and fuel. After targeting the Viet Cong and diverting them with his aircraft’s landing lights, he ignored orders to return to base and gambled on a maneuver the military said had never been tried before with the two-person Cobra, which seats only the pilot and copilot.

The copter landed in a secluded spot 100 yards from the firefight, and Lt. Taylor gave the patrol only seconds to rush to the spot. Once there, the Rangers climbed onto skids and rocket pods and attached themselves to them as the helicopter flew to a safe landing site. Laying on the ground, the Rangers saluted their rescuers and disappeared into the forest before returning safely to their base.

Lieutenant Taylor was awarded the Silver Star for valor. One of the four Rangers, Sgt. David Hill, lobbied three times over two decades through the military chain of command to have the White House upgrade the award to the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for valor. In his third attempt, he won the endorsement of Burwell B. Bell III, a retired four-star general. On September 5, 2023, President Biden presented Mr. Taylor a medal at a ceremony at the White House.

Larry Lowe Taylor was born on February 12, 1942 in Chattanooga to a military family. A great-great-grandfather fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, a great-uncle in World War I, and his uncles and his father, Robert Lee Taylor, in World War II. His father ran a roofing and sheet metal business and his mother, Frances Taylor, ran the household.

Larry Taylor joined the Reserve Officer Training Program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve when he graduated in June 1966. Two months later he joined the regular Army.

Already certified as a pilot before joining, he was trained and qualified as a military aviator. As a member of D Troop (Airborne), First Squadron, Fourth Cavalry, First Infantry Division, he was assigned to fly one of the first Bell AH-1G Cobra attack helicopters deployed on combat missions in Vietnam. When his helicopter landed after a rescue mission in June 1968, it was riddled with 16 bullet holes.

He went on to serve in the Second Cavalry Regiment in West Germany and left active duty in 1971. He later took over the family’s roofing and metal company.

He is survived by his wife, Tony (Bechtel) Taylor; two sons, Larry and Grady, from his first marriage to Dolly Caywood, which ended in divorce; his sister, Barbara T. Lemley; and five grandchildren.

At the ceremony in the White House, Mr. Taylor said he still relives the rescue every time people ask him, “What made you do that?” His answer, he said, was always the same: “It had to be done.”

“I was doing my job,” he said Stars and Stripes. “I knew if I didn’t go down and get them, it wasn’t going to work.” As he was often quoted: “We never leave a man behind.”

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