‘It was an act of heroism;’ Bill would grant Medal of Honor to Miamisburg soldier killed in Vietnam

MIAMISBURG — Ohio’s U.S. Senators have introduced a new bill to help honor an American hero from Miamisburg.

>>PHOTOS: Bill introduced to grant Medal of Honor to Miamisburg soldier killed in Vietnam

U.S. Army Sgt. Gary Lee McKiddy was killed in the Vietnam War. Ohio Senators J.D. Vance and Sherrod Brown co-sponsored a bill along with Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters that the group of lawmakers introduced last week.

The bill would eliminate the now-expired time limit for when the Medal of Honor application had to be submitted for McKiddy.

News Center 7′s John Bedell talked to McKiddy’s brother, Rick about an effort that’s lasted more than 50 years – one to make sure Sgt. Gary McKiddy’s sacrifice is recognized with the Medal of Honor. It’s the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force that can be bestowed upon a service member of the United States Armed Forces.

“He was a good big brother,” Rick McKiddy said in a virtual interview with News Center 7 this week from his home in Michigan. “He taught me a lot about life and about love.”

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Long before he became an American hero, Gary McKiddy was Rick McKiddy’s hero. Rick said he idolized his big brother growing up in the Village of Verona in Preble County and later Miamisburg.

“Every time (Gary) got in trouble, whether it was speeding or whatever, I was his punishment,” Rick McKiddy recalled with a laugh. “Mom and dad would make him take me wherever he went. Because I would tell on him.”

After graduating from Miamisburg High School in 1968, Gary was working full-time for General Motors and going to college at Wright State University where he was studying to become a veterinarian.

“He was able to buy a brand new Chevelle,” McKiddy said. “He was he was living the American dream. He had money, and a fast car, a beautiful fiancé, and a future as a veterinarian. And he gave it all up.” Sacrifices Gary McKiddy made in order to serve his country.

“Some friends of his had been killed in Vietnam and it bothered him,” Rick McKiddy remembered. “So at some point he decided he would volunteer for the draft. His draft number was so high he would have never been called.”

So that’s when McKiddy said his older brother enlisted in the U.S. Army. After getting orders to go somewhere else, Gary McKiddy volunteered to go to Vietnam.

“He felt we had a reason to be there and to liberate people and help them enjoy the freedoms that we knew,” Rick McKiddy said.

While in Vietnam, Sgt. Gary McKiddy became a door gunner on a helicopter with the U.S. Army’s 1st Air Cavalry Brigade. Seven months into his one-year tour in Vietnam, Gary flew a combat mission on May 6, 1970. It would be his last.

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Rick McKiddy recalled what Gary’s best friend in the Army, Jim Skaggs, who in May 1970 was in the final weeks of his tour, later told the McKiddy family: that Gary was feeling apprehensive the night before the mission.

“Gary had told Jim the night before they went out that he had a bad feeling,” Rick McKiddy said. “(Gary) said, ‘I want to pray all night.’ He said, ‘I got a bad feeling about tomorrow. And I wish you wouldn’t go.’ He said, ‘You only got a few weeks in country left.’ And Jim said, ‘If you go, I’m going.’ And Gary said, ‘Then I promise you, no matter what happens, I’ll make sure you get home.’”

During the May 6, 1970 mission, the enemy shot down McKiddy’s helicopter. The chopper caught fire in the air before it crashed. McKiddy was thrown free from the aircraft, but immediately ran back to the wreckage to rescue the co-pilot – his best friend, Jim Skaggs.

After pulling Skaggs to safety, McKiddy ran back toward the inferno to rescue the pilot. But as McKiddy reached in to pull the pilot out, the helicopter’s transmission fell on the pair, trapping them inside the chopper just before it exploded, killing both men. Sgt. Gary Lee McKiddy was 20.

“(Skaggs) said, ‘it was it was an act of heroism, and it was above and beyond the call of duty,” Rick McKiddy recalled Jim Skaggs later telling the McKiddy family. “’But that was his best friend.’ And he said, ‘you know, you were kind of expected to go after your best friend.’ But he said (Gary) didn’t know Tommy Whiddon – the pilot – (he) had only been there a few weeks and Gary and him didn’t really have a relationship. They had flown together a few times. And (Skaggs) said, ‘your brother ignored his own safety and disregard for his own life. He went back into a burning inferno the second time’ and he said he almost made it.”

Sgt. Gary Lee McKiddy was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions on May 6, 1970. For more than 50 years, his family has been working to get that upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

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That new bi-partisan bill would open the door for that to happen. Rick McKiddy says legislation just like this has been introduced several times since 2002 in Washington, D.C., but it’s never made it to the president’s desk. He’s hoping this time is different.

“I think this guy was clearly a hero,” Ohio Senator J.D. Vance told News Center 7 in a one-on-one interview this week. “He clearly deserves The Medal of Honor. But because of various bureaucratic requirements and the way that the process works out with the Department of Defense, he’s not been able to get it. Obviously, he’s no longer with us. But I think for his family and for a lot of people who knew him, it’s very meaningful. So we’re trying to solve that problem.”

“He lost his life doing it -- that’s the highest form of patriotism,” Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown said in a one-on-one interview with WHIO this week. “It’s taken too long. There’s some military rule that after a number of years, you can’t do it. Well, we’re challenging that rule. This happened. He died more than 50 years ago. His brother knows he’s earned it. I know he’s earned it. The president knows he’s earned it. So it’s about time we responded. That’s why the senators from Michigan and Ohio are teaming up to do this right.”

People like the McKiddy family and Jim Skaggs have known for years that Sgt. Gary Lee McKiddy went above and beyond the call of duty. But Rick McKiddy said that formal recognition of the Medal of Honor would complete a decades-long quest they’ve been on to honor his hero, his brother Gary, in return.

“Well, first off, it would be closure,” Rick McKiddy said. “Because it was my (late) father’s quest, my family’s quest, and Jim Skaggs’. And we can put that chapter of life behind us -- except we’ll never forget. … So it says a lot not only to my family, but the men and women in uniform that if you serve and you give all you will always be remembered.”

News Center 7 will work to track the progress of this new legislative effort and let you know whether Sgt. Gary Lee McKiddy is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

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