During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with First Lt. James P. Fleming, a Huey helicopter pilot with the Air Force 20th Special Operations Squadron, who was honored for his daring rescue of a Special Forces team over Cambodia on Nov. 26, 1968.
James P. Fleming’s 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 six-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 one 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.”
In Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, Peter Collier adds an important detail to the rescue mission:
“The … team leader of the patrol who had been separated earlier from the others, dove into the river and swam toward the helicopter. When he finally grabbed onto the rope ladder held by a crew member, Fleming took off with him dangling in the air and managed to make it back to base.”
“Fleming was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his commanding officer, who was killed in action in April 1969, about the time that Fleming heard that the recommendation had been accepted. The medal was presented at a White House ceremony by President Richard Nixon on May 14, 1970.
“After returning from combat, Fleming served four years at the Air Force Academy. Later, he was vice commander of the Air Force Training School in Texas and the operations officer of the Squadron Officers School in Alabama. He retired as a colonel after more than 30 years of military service.”