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Senate considers congressional gold medal for Dust Off Crews

The Vietnam War Memorial after a snowstorm, Washington, D.C. A new Senate bill calls for a congressional gold medal to honor Army Dust Off crews of the Vietnam War. The crews performed aeromedical evacuation from 1962 through 1973.

Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

A bill to award a congressional gold medal, collectively, to the Army Dust Off crews of the Vietnam War in recognition of their extraordinary heroism and life-saving actions in Vietnam was introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on November 10. 

In a Nov. 10 statement, Sen. Cornyn wrote, “The ‘Dust Off’ crews, as they were known by their radio call sign, flew unarmed air ambulances into hostile areas to rescue the wounded, providing critical medical treatment as they evacuated troops out of harm’s way to waiting medical facilities during the Vietnam War.”

The findings section of the bill adds that the Dust Off crews performed aeromedical evacuation for United States, Vietnamese, and allied forces inside South Vietnam from May 1962 through March 1973. 

Helicopters were essential to help those injured on the battlefield, and during the Vietnam War with the use of helicopter air ambulances, United States Army Dust Off crews rescued almost 900,000 United States, South Vietnamese, and other allied sick and wounded, as well as wounded enemy forces. The legislation states, “some Dust Off units in Vietnam operated so efficiently that they were able to deliver a patient to a waiting medical facility on an average of 33 minutes from the receipt of the mission, which saved the lives of countless personnel in Vietnam.”

“These soldiers earned a national reputation for their service in what was considered to be one of the most dangerous jobs in one of the world’s deadliest conflicts in the modern era,” said Sen. Cornyn in his Nov. 10 statement. “The Dust Off crews are just one extraordinary example of bravery exhibited by Texas veterans, and these courageous soldiers deserve to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.”

Among those singled out in the findings portion of the bill is Maj. Charles L. Kelly, the commanding officer of the 57th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance), Provisional, in Soc Trang, South Vietnam. Maj. Kelly helped “forge the Dust Off call-sign into history as one of the most welcomed phrases to be heard over the radio by wounded soldiers in perilous and dire situations.” Maj. Kelly was killed in action in 1964 as he maneuvered his aircraft to save a wounded American soldier and several Vietnamese soldiers and boldly replied, after being warned to stay away from the landing zone.

The bill, S. 2268, currently has one co-sponsor, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. It is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, AMVETS, the Association of the United States Army, the Army Aviation Association of America, the DUSTOFF Association, and the Vietnam Dustoff Association.

The gold medal will be given to the Smithsonian Institution, where it will be available for display as appropriate and available for research. 

The bill adds, “It is the sense of Congress that the Smithsonian Institution should also make the gold medal awarded pursuant to this Act available for display elsewhere, particularly at appropriate locations associated with the Vietnam War, and that preference should be given to locations affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.” 

The U.S. Mint may strike and sell bronze duplicates of the medal to collectors. 

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