Medal of Honor Recipient Recognized Last Year for Vietnam Heroism Dies at 81

Medal of Honor Recipient Recognized Last Year for Vietnam Heroism Dies at 81
Larry Taylor looks on after receiving the Medal of Honor during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5, 2023. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Larry Taylor, a MOAA member whose heroism in command of a team of helicopter gunships under heavy fire during a nighttime patrol team evacuation in 1968 earned him the Medal of Honor more than half a century later, died Jan. 28 at his home in Signal Mountain, Tenn. He was 81.


Taylor, who left the Army as a captain in 1970, received the military’s highest valor award from President Joe Biden in September 2023, the culmination of a six-year effort by advocates and lawmakers, including MOAA’s Chattanooga Chapter, to upgrade his Silver Star. MOAA chapter and national officials attended the White House ceremony alongside Taylor’s family members, DoD and VA leadership, and other dignitaries.



“I was personally humbled to attend Captain Taylor’s Medal of Honor ceremony and witness this American hero receive his long-overdue honors,” MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, USAF (Ret), said. “Our MOAA team sends our condolences to his family and to his friends and supporters in the MOAA chapter in Chattanooga, many of whom worked incredibly hard to make sure he finally received his recognition. Our MOAA team will remain inspired by Captain Taylor’s heroism and will strive to emulate his commitment and dedication in our daily efforts.” 



Larry Taylor shakes hands with MOAA President and CEO Brian T. Kelly, USAF (Ret), after a Sept. 5, 2023, ceremony at the White House (Photo by Frank Michael/MOAA)


[RELATED: MOAA Member Receives Medal of Honor]


On the pitch-black night of June 18, 1968, then-1st Lt. Taylor engaged hostile forces near the village of Ap Go Cong. He was out of ammunition by the time he landed his Cobra attack helicopter under heavy fire at a makeshift extraction point. The Cobra was on the ground for about 10 seconds; patrol team members clung to its skids as Taylor flew them to safety.


It was one of about 2,000 missions Taylor flew during service.


“We never lost a man,” Taylor told Military Times in its account of his heroism. “We lost some aircraft, but we never lost a man.”


Supporting the Cause

Taylor was awarded a Silver Star for his actions about six months after the rescue. Tennessee lawmakers and MOAA Chattanooga Chapter leaders began the process of securing an upgrade in 2017.


“Larry was very active in the local veterans’ community,” said Lt. Col. Ray Mitchell, USAR (Ret), president of the MOAA Chattanooga Chapter. “All of us in this area knew him and what he had done [in Vietnam]. Larry was the kind of person who wouldn’t bestow credit on himself. Luckily, several retired general officers in the area knew what happened and worked hard to get him the Medal of Honor.” 



Then-1st Lt. Larry Taylor in his UH-1 “Huey” helicopter. Taylor served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, flying over 2,000 combat missions in UH-1 and Cobra helicopters. (Army photo via Lewis D. Ray)


The work paid off last June, when Taylor took a phone call from Biden. The president recalled Taylor’s humility during the award ceremony.


“When I called Larry to let him know he finally was receiving this recognition, his response was, I thought you had to do something to receive the Medal of Honor,’” he said. “Let me say that again: He said, I thought you had to do something to receive the Medal of Honor.’ Well, Larry, you sure as hell did something, man,” Biden said, per an ABC News report.


Mitchell said he doesn’t think Larry realized just how big of a deal everything was until just before or even at the Medal of Honor ceremony.


“He became a national hero overnight,” Mitchell said. “But for Larry, he looked back on his actions in Vietnam as something he did when he was young. He was just doing his job at that time.”


[RELATED FROM MOAA: Vietnam Unchronicled]


Lt. Col. Tony Crowder, USAF (Ret), first vice president of the Chattanooga Chapter, also noted Taylor’s humility.


“He was a wonderful man, humble. … He was well-liked by the community because of his war experience but also as a family man and businessman,” he said.


Lasting Legacy

Both Mitchell and Crowder said they are grateful to have known Taylor and to be part of the efforts to recognize his heroism.


“It’s so uplifting to take the time to recognize extraordinary individuals like Larry and their strong sense of what is morally correct,” said Crowder. “He chose to do the right thing no matter the odds against him … no matter the personal risk. What an example to all of us.”


Mitchell described the experience as a “lifetime event.” “Not many people get to meet a Medal of Honor recipient let alone know one personally and have them a part of your civilian life.”



Larry and Toni Taylor participate in the Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony and Virtual Medal of Honor Wall Museum Unveiling at Conmy Hall, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va, on Sept. 6, 2023. (Photo by Christopher Kaufmann/Army)


His hope is that everyone remembers Taylor for the great human being he was.


“He was the kind of guy you wish there were many more of to hang around with and get mentored by. People like Larry, with that kind of character, drive this country forward. When I look back on life, I’ll say, ‘How in the world did I get put in the same room with a person like Larry?’”


He added that the Chattanooga Chapter will remember him, and we’ll always be there for his wife, Toni. “We’ll continue to invite her to our meetings and stay in touch with her.”


Taylor will be laid to rest at Chattanooga National Cemetery — one of eight Medal of Honor recipients interred there.


His story will live on through a display at the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga.


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About the Author

Blair Drake
Blair Drake

As managing editor of Military Officer, Drake coordinates and edits content for the magazine, including the Never Stop Serving section.