local Vietnam veteran was recognized and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valorous actions in Vietnam more than 40 years later.
Instrument instructor pilot Charles “Butch” Grafton was presented the medal by former company commander retired Maj. Gen. C.A. “Lou” Hennies, during a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum April 4.
“Here today we’re proving that it’s never too late or too long to make a wrong right,” Hennies said.
Grafton earned the medal for saving the life of a fellow service member while participating in an aerial fight in Vietnam while assigned to the 61st Assault Helicopter Company, 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, as a warrant officer 1.
On April 10, 1971, a platoon with the 173rd Airborne Brigade came under heavy fire and sustained several casualties.
One soldier in particular needed immediate medical attention.
Medical evacuation helicopters were requested, but due to the amount of enemy in the area, were unable to fly into the region for several minutes.
Grafton volunteered his aircraft to enter the combat zone and make the emergency withdrawal.
While making the emergency extraction, Grafton’s aircraft came under heavy automatic weapons fire, wounding the crew chief and damaging the aircraft.
Although the crew chief was wounded, Grafton stayed on the ground until all critically injured were on board.
“Heroism, it happens by circumstance and you’re either going to do the right thing...or your not going to do it,” Hennies said. “He rose up to it. That aircraft got shot up very badly and a crewman got shot up very badly, but Butch continued the mission.”
Once everyone was on board, Grafton flew the badly damaged aircraft through hostile fire to the nearest medical facility.
“Warrant officer Grafton’s personal, professional flying skill and selfless dedication to his fellow men is credited with saving the life of the wounded man,” Secretary of the Army John McHugh wrote in a citation. “Warrant officer Grafton’s courageous actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect greatly credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”
Forty-two years since the incident, Grafton was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross.
An award, Hennies said was long overdue.
It was in the records before, but was never presented to Grafton.
“I won’t say that things got lost, but the fact is, it just kind of got buried,” Hennies said. “It was in the record officially, but it was never presented. (It’s) important to do this. When people do that, they deserve that recognition publicly.”
Grafton said he’s been waiting on the medal for a very long time, and feels wonderful to finally receive it.
His wife Sharron of 39 years said she is also very proud.
“He’s a very deserving person to get it, because he’s a superhero every day,” she said.
Although the air flight called for courageous and heroic actions, Grafton said it didn’t feel that way at the time.
“You don’t think,” he said. “It’s the training. That award doesn’t just belong to me. It belongs to every one of the pilots that trained me at Fort Rucker and all of the aircraft commanders I flew with in Vietnam to learn how to do these things. When they finally made me an aircraft commander I had the skills (and) background to do the job. The job just did itself. That’s the way the Army trains.”
Grafton currently resides in Newton and is a contract instrument instructor pilot at Fort Rucker, where he has been for 33 years.
“He loves what he’s doing,” Hennies said. “He’s put a mark on probably a thousand young guys that have been under his watch.”
Although Grafton teaches a different type of flying now, Grafton said the lesson will always be the same.
“Learn the aircraft, trust your instincts and it will generally work out for you.”