Marine Corps News: Vietnam-Era Marine Receives Navy Cross
Added October 15, 2015
This Tuesday, October 13, saw a Louisiana Marine receive the Navy Cross for actions that took place in Vietnam nearly half-a-century ago.
On May 9, 1969, Marine Sergeant Kenneth Altazan, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and his crew were responding to a call of more than 10 Marine casualties in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam. The plan was to land the CH-46 "Sea Knight" helicopter in two locations to evacuate the Marine casualties. As soon as it reached the landing zone, however, the helicopter came under heavy fire, resulting in it having to touch down in five separate locations to extract the Marines on the ground.
At the second pickup location, crew chief Altazan was standing on the CH-46's ramp when he saw a Marine carrying a second Marine toward the helicopter. Both men fell and Altazan ran into oncoming fire to carry one and help the other back to the helicopter. As they moved toward the Sea Knight, the Marine Altazan was carrying was shot and all three Marines collapsed, causing Altazan severely injure his knee. He got back up and got the Marines back to the helicopter.
At the final pickup location, Altazan saw a Marine waving a green shirt in a field of rice paddies and, despite the injury to his knee, Altazan again ran into oncoming fire to rescue the Marine. Upon reaching him, Altazan found not one, but two Marines in need of assistance. Altazan picked up one of the Marines, who was unconscious, and carried him while assisting the other Marine, who was suffering from a heat stroke, back to the helicopter.
Originally, Altazan earned the Silver Star for his actions. However, after a series of chance encounters, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) submitted evidence to the Marine Corps in 2011 detailing new evidence of Altazan's heroism, eventually resulting in his Silver Star being upgraded to the Navy Cross.