Congressional Medal of Honor Society

Stories of Sacrifice

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Vietnam War - U.S. Marine Corps

Stephen Wesley Pless

  • Rank: Major (rank at time of action: Captain)
  • Conflict/Era: Vietnam War
  • Unit/Command:
    Marine Observation Squadron 6, Marine Aircraft Group 36,
    1st Marine Aircraft Wing
  • Military Service Branch: U.S. Marine Corps
  • Medal of Honor Action Date: August 19, 1967
  • Medal of Honor Action Place: near Quang Nai, Republic of Vietnam
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a helicopter gunship pilot attached to Marine Observation Squadron 6 in action against enemy forces. During an escort mission Maj. Pless monitored an emergency call that four American soldiers stranded on a nearby beach were being overwhelmed by a large Viet Cong force. Maj. Pless flew to the scene and found 30 to 50 enemy soldiers in the open. Some of the enemy were bayoneting and beating the downed Americans. Maj. Pless displayed exceptional airmanship as he launched a devastating attack against the enemy force, killing or wounding many of the enemy and driving the remainder back into a treeline. His rockets and machine- gun attacks were made at such low levels that the aircraft flew through debris created by explosions from its rockets. Seeing one of the wounded soldiers gesture for assistance, he maneuvered his helicopter into a position between the wounded man and the enemy, providing a shield which permitted his crew to retrieve the wounded. During the rescue the enemy directed intense fire at the helicopter and rushed the aircraft again and again, closing to within a few feet before being beaten back. When the wounded men were aboard, Maj. Pless maneuvered the helicopter out to sea. Before it became safely airborne, the overloaded aircraft settled four times into the water. Displaying superb airmanship, he finally got the helicopter aloft. Maj. Pless' extraordinary heroism coupled with his outstanding flying skill prevented the annihilation of the tiny force. His courageous actions reflect great credit upon himself and uphold the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service.
Medal of Honor Recipient Stephen W. Pless
Medal of Honor Recipient Stephen W. Pless
Additional Details
  • Accredited to: Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia
  • Awarded Posthumously: No
  • Presentation Date & Details: January 16, 1969
    The White House, presented by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Born: September 6, 1939, Newnan, Coweta County, GA, United States
  • Died: July 20, 1969, Pensacola, FL, United States
  • Buried: Barrancas National Cemetery (MH) (21-929A), Pensacola, FL, United States
  • Location of Medal: National Museum of the US Marine Corps, Quantico, VA

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