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Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | March 8, 2024

National Guard Chief Presents Silver Star to Vietnam Veteran

By Brad Rhen, Joint Force Headquarters - Pennsylvania National Guard

WAYNE, Pa. – Nearly 57 years after rescuing more than 80 U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War, retired Army Capt. Larry Liss received the Silver Star medal.

Liss originally received a Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. But thanks to the persistence of his brother, Art Liss, and several members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, that medal was upgraded to a Silver Star.

At a March 5 ceremony at Valley Forge Military Academy, Liss said he was accepting the award for every helicopter pilot who has ever flown a combat mission.

“I don’t think anybody realizes what it means to be a helicopter pilot in combat,” he said. “I’ve been on the ground. I know what it’s like on the ground, but at least on the ground, I could hide. You can’t hide in a helicopter, and these guys and women flying these helicopters, I just know nobody knows, they don’t realize, you’re exposed.”

Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, presented Liss with the Silver Star. Hokanson noted the Silver Star is the third-highest military honor for valor in combat. On the back of the medal, the words “For gallantry in action” are inscribed.

“Gallantry in action didn’t hesitate when a routine transport mission transformed into a rescue operation in the blink of an eye,” Hokanson said. “Gallantry in action flew into the mouth of danger over and over and over again, for a total of six times. Gallantry in action saved the lives of 86 troops in a bloody firefight. Gallantry in action. These words are hardly sufficient to capture the magnitude of Captain Liss’ courage.”

Hokanson, who is also an Army aviator, said the medal is a fitting tribute to an American hero from a war too often forgotten.

“Larry, you defined a generation with your courage and your sacrifice,” Hokanson said. “Your commendation is heartfelt but long overdue.”

Liss received the award for his actions on May 4, 1967. That afternoon, Liss and his copilot, Tom Baca, flew a chaplain to Cau Song Be outside Tay Ninh City. While there, they learned that North Vietnamese soldiers were poised to overrun a nearby U.S. special operations outpost with roughly 100 South Vietnamese soldiers and a small group of Green Berets.

Without hesitation, Liss and Baca climbed into their unarmed Huey helicopter and flew to help. When they arrived, they discovered the attacks were taking place on a narrow road overgrown with trees and bamboo.

In a risky maneuver, they used the helicopter’s rotor blades to cut through the vegetation to clear a landing zone and begin rescuing the soldiers.

Liss and Baca made six trips to the battle, saving more than 80 soldiers. During the landings Larry got out of the Huey while Tom kept it hovering and helped pull soldiers into the helicopter while returning fire with his rifle.

By the time Liss and Baca returned from the final trip, the Huey was nearly unable to fly.

The mission, known as the “Rescue at Cau Song Be,” led to Liss and Baca being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Valor.

During his speech after receiving the Silver Star, Liss thanked Baca, who died in 2020.

“Another unsung hero helicopter pilot,” Liss said. “He’s probably the greatest aviator I’ve ever been with, and probably the only reason I’m here today is he was able to make the first landing and cut through the brush, and then I copied what he did. If I would have gone in, I would have crashed. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Liss said he and Baca were not alone in performing bravely during the Vietnam War. He estimated he witnessed 40 to 50 Medal of Honor-worthy incidents during the war that were not recognized.

“Never recognized because that’s their job,” he said.

Liss retired from the Army in 1970 as a captain. Over seven years of service, he flew 650 combat missions and 4,500 flight hours.

During his career, Liss also received a Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts, a Valorous Unit Award for extraordinary heroism and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry.