MIAMISBURG, Ohio (WDTN) — Fifty years have passed, but it’s still hard for Rick McKiddy to get the words out. He chokes up as he remembers the day he found out his brother died in the Vietnam War.
“I never will forget the minister said, ‘You should be proud your brother died a hero,’” Rick said.
Sergeant Gary McKiddy died a hero in a place he never had to be. After volunteering to serve in the
Vietnam War, Gary originally had orders to go to Alaska. Rick says after Gary lost several close friends in Vietnam, the center of the fighting was the only place Gary saw fit to go.
“He felt the call of duty to volunteer to go to Vietnam,” Rick said. “So that’s what he did. He had
his orders changed.”
It was there that he met Jim Skaggs. The pair became fast friends, often flying helicopter
missions together over the jungles of Vietnam. Skaggs says he’ll never forget Gary’s words the
night before their final flight together.
“He said, ‘Yeah I’m ready but I don’t want you to go,’” Skaggs recalled. “We’d been flying together
for a long time and I never heard him talk like that. So this was really odd to me. He said, ‘I
don’t want you to go. I just don’t feel good about this one.’ I said, ‘We always fly together. If
you’re going, I’m going.’”
It was the next thing that Gary said — and his own reply– that Skaggs says still bothers him to this
“He said I’m going to stay up and pray tonight. And he said I’d like you to join me. And I told him
no, I said you pray for us. I’m just really not interested. And that’s where I was as a 20 year old
tough guy at that point in my life. I’m older now and a bit more experienced and I wish I could
do that now.”
But the two would never get another chance. The next day, on a mission just inside Cambodia,
their helicopter was hit by enemy fire and went down.
“As soon as we hit the ground we flipped on my side,” Skaggs said. “I remember the dirt was flying
by on my side and I saw the rotors hit the ground and go flying off. Then we flipped back
upright and I saw the jungle rushing at me and I heard the glass in front of me break. That’s the
last thing I remember about the crash.”
In the days after the crash, Skaggs was able to piece together what happened. Skaggs and the pilot
had been trapped inside — badly hurt — but Gary was thrown free. Instead of staying a safe
distance away from the burning helicopter, Gary ran back to save his friend. He pulled Skaggs out
of the wreckage, then went back for the pilot.
“When I came to, I was lying out in the jungle on my back and I’m looking around and I’m in
shock,” Skaggs said. “I’m in total shock and I look off to my one side and I see what appeared to be
a bonfire burning and ammunition was shooting off. POP-POP-POP like popcorn everywhere.”
Skaggs tried to stand — to go find Gary and the pilot — but his legs wouldn’t work. His pelvis was
broken in three places, and his right leg was fractured so badly, it was turned backwards. He
passed out again and woke up to medics putting him on a stretcher.
“I grabbed one of them by the wrist and I said, ‘I’ve got two crewmen out here. You’ve gotta
find them,’” Skaggs recalled. “He went over to where the fire was burning and he came back and
he shook his head no. So I knew they were gone. And I just began to cry. I couldn’t stop crying.”
Now, 50 years later, Skaggs and Gary’s family are still fighting for the honor they say Gary deserves:
The Medal of Honor.
“He gave his life for our country,” Rick said. “It’s an expectation in the military and in the United
States that we honor those who go above and beyond the call of duty.”
But so far, it’s been decades of dead ends… even with multiple bills being delivered to Congress
to award Gary the medal.
“It always gets put off the shelf,” Rick said. “There’s never a call to say I tried or we’re going to
continue working on it. It’s like, well… went to committee. As my brother Ron said, that’s where
they go to die.”
Still, it’s a hope they cling to. An honor, earned by the shedding of blood.
“To see his name on the Hall of Heroes at the Smithsonian,” Rick said. “He deserves it. He
You can write your state representative on their behalf and urge them to consider awarding the Medal of Honor to Gary. To find your state representative, click here.