Medal of Honor recipient Larry Taylor celebrated with downtown Chattanooga parade

Crowds lined the streets of downtown Chattanooga on Monday to welcome home retired Army Capt. Larry Taylor, a Vietnam war veteran whose daring helicopter rescue of four men pinned down by enemy gunfire in 1968 recently earned him the nation’s highest award for military valor.

President Joe Biden presented Taylor, a Signal Mountain resident, with the Medal of Honor during a ceremony last Tuesday at the White House.

(READ MORE: How a soldier saved by Signal Mountain’s Larry Taylor fought to see him receive the military’s highest honor)

A series of marching bands, veteran organizations and local ROTC units proceeded down Market Street as attendees along the parade route cheered. Taylor served as the grand marshal and rode in the back of a red convertible near the head of the column, waving at passersby. Some shouted “thank you” as his car drove past. The event Monday coincided with the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Korean War veteran Ray Belvin, who served in the Air Force from 1950 to 1971, stood at attention and periodically saluted as the patriotic procession made its way down Market Street.

“A veteran ought to be here,” the 91-year-old said in an interview. “A lot of people can’t be here because of sickness and work, but I think this patriotism needs to be shown, especially in America today.”

As part of a group nicknamed the Fireflies, Belvin dropped flares out of C-47 aircraft at night so fighters could see in the dark.

“In those days, everything was eyesight,” Belvin said. “We didn’t have lasers.”

Taylor is a real American hero, Belvin said, and deserved the Medal of Honor sooner.

“The man should have had the benefit of that around his neck from the day he got out of the Army because of what he did in Vietnam,” he said.

(READ MORE: Signal Mountain man’s valor to be honored at White House; Chattanooga parade will follow trip)

Marvin Yaw, a three-year veteran of the Army, and his wife Rashelle Mercado heard about Taylor on the news. They were among the people near the staging area at Market Street and M.L. King Boulevard waiting for the parade to start.

“It’s hard to explain, but when you think about the saying, ‘Leave no man behind’ — these are our comrades,” Yaw said. “We don’t leave them behind even under a direct order not to go back. Heroes are made in situations like that. The average person would have probably listened to his commander and left the people there. He wasn’t about to.

“What you do in a time of danger and stress is what makes you a hero,” Yaw continued. “It took way too long for our country to recognize him, but things like that happen.”

Dave Hill, the last surviving member of the four-man reconnaissance team rescued by Taylor, also participated in the ceremonies Monday.

On June 18, 1968, Hill was on a mission with Bob Elsner, Gerald Patt and Bill Cohn when they became surrounded by enemy troops. After the team radioed for help, two Cobra helicopters, one of them Taylor’s, arrived on the scene to support the crew, unleashing rockets and machine gun fire at the enemy fighters.

After a tough battle, the helicopters were running low on fuel and ammunition, and it was clear they would not be reinforced by other aircraft. With no room in the two-man chopper, Taylor retrieved the outnumbered soldiers on the skids and jutting out rocket pods.

“You remember Cheshire cat in Walt Disney’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ sitting up in the tree? That was us,” Hill joked during a media briefing after the day’s ceremonies.

Taylor, 81, told reporters that soldiers forge lifelong friendships in combat.

“That’s just what you do because you depend on each other to keep each other alive,” he said. “If you’re ever in combat, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t been you can’t explain it. It’s like trying to explain sex to somebody who’s never had it. You can’t do it. It’s something you have to experience.”

Retired Master Sgt. Leroy Petry, another living Medal of Honor recipient, lost a hand in Afghanistan in 2008 as he attempted to lob back a grenade that would have killed him and two other soldiers.

“It exemplifies integrity,” Petry, who was also in town for the event Monday, said about Taylor’s story. “Doing the right thing even when nobody is around. That’s really why I came out here. I saw the love and support for Larry — both with his comrades around him that pushed for him to get that recognition but also this city, this town, this state that came out, supported him through the ceremony and now that he’s home.”

Another parade attendee, Army veteran Roger Rich, spent a year and three days in Vietnam, where he flew Charlie model gunships as part of the 92nd Assault Helicopter Company.

Rich later piloted Cobra helicopters during his time with the Tennessee National Guard and said Taylor made logical calculations to ensure the aircraft, which had already exhausted much of its weight in ammunition and fuel, could carry the four men. What Taylor did was courageous and was well worth the award, Rich said.

“I’d like to say I’d do the same thing, but I don’t know if I would or not,” he laughed. “We did a number of things like that that were spur of the moment. I don’t know if I’d been in his shoes I would have done the exact same or not.”

Contact David Floyd at or 423-757-6249.