The Marine Corps Medal of Honor Recipients

Featuring Marine Medal of Honor Recipients From WWII-Korea-Viet Nam And Iraqi Freedom


United States Marine Corps

Stephen W. Pless


Major Stephen W. Pless
United States Marine Corps

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 Six in action against enemy forces near Quang Ngai, Republic of Vietnam, on 19 August 1967. During an escort mission Major ( then Captain ) Pless monitored a emergency call that four American soldiers stranded on a nearby beach, were being overwhelmed by a large Viet Cong force. Major 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. Major 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 rocket and machine gun attacks were made at such low levels the 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 men 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, Major 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. Major Pless's 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 United States Naval Service.

Lyndon B. Johnson
President of the United States.

Major Stephen W. Pless, Medal of Honor recipient who survived 780 combat helicopter missions in Vietnam, was killed, 20 July 1969, when his motorcycle plunged off an open drawbridge into Santa Rosa Sound which separates Pensacola from Pensacola Beach, Florida.

Major Pless was the 18th Marine to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam during August 1967. It was presented to him by President Lyndon B. Johnson in ceremonies held at the White House, 16 January 1969.

Stephen Wesley Pless was born 6 September 1939, in Newman, Georgia. He attended Decatur High School at Decatur, Georgia, and graduated from Georgia Military Academy, College Park, Georgia, in 1957.

While at Georgia Military Academy, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 6 September 1956, and served with the 1st Motor Transport Battalion, USMCR, Atlanta, Georgia. He received recruit training and advanced combat training at Parris Island, South Carolina, graduating in October 1957. He then served as an Artillery Surveyor, 10th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, until September 1958.

While attending flight training at Pensacola, Florida, he was commissioned a Marine Corps second lieutenant, 16 September 1959. He was promoted to first lieutenant, 16 March 1960, and designated a Naval aviator upon graduation from flight training 20 April 1960.

First Lieutenant Pless next served successively as squadron pilot with HMR(L)-262, Marine Aircraft Group 26, at New River, North Carolina; with HMR(L)-264 aboard the USS Boxer; with HMR(L)-264 aboard the USS Wasp, again with HMR(L)-262, Marine Aircraft Group 26, at New River; as Assistant Administrative Officer of HMR(L)-262 aboard the USS Shadwell; and as Squadron Adjutant, HMM-162, Marine Aircraft Group 26, at New River.

Ordered to the Far East in June 1962, he saw duty as Assistant Administrative Officer of HMM-162, MAG-16, in Thailand, and at Da Nang, in the Republic of Vietnam.

Upon his return to the United States in June 1963, he reported to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, and served as basic flight instructor, VT-1, and later as Officer in Charge, Aviation Officer Candidate School. He was promoted to captain, 1 July 1964.

After his detachment in April 1966, Capt Pless was assigned duty as Brigade Platoon Commander, 1st Anglico, Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe, Hawaii. In August 1966, he became Officer in Charge, ROK Detachment, and later Brigade Air Officer, 1st Anglico, Sub-Unit 1, with the 2d Brigade Korean Marine Corps, at Chu Lai, in the Republic of Vietnam. For his service in this capacity, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal and the Korean Order of Military Merit. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart for wounds received, and 32 Air Medals for his service as Assistant Operations Officer, VMO-6, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, in the Republic of Vietnam, from 20 March 1967 until 22 September 1967.

Upon his return to the United States, he assumed duties as Administrative Assistant, Officer Candidate School, Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida. While serving in that capacity, he was promoted to major, 7 November 1967. He was killed as a result of a motorcycle accident, 20 July 1969.

Major Pless was awarded the Avco-Aviation/Space Writers Association Helicopter Heroism award for his heroic rescue of three wounded American soldiers in Vietnam on 19 August 1967, the action for which he received the Medal of Honor.

A complete list of his medals and decorations include: the Medal of Honor; the Silver Star Medal; the Distinguished Flying Cross; the Bronze Star Medal; the Air Medal with seven Silver Stars and two Gold Stars in lieu of second through 38 awards; the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”; the Purple Heart; the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal; the National Defense Service Medal; the Korean Order of Military Merit; the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; th Vietnam Service Medal; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.


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