STEPHEN W. PLESS, USMC
Vietnam War 1965-1973
Medal of Honor Recipient
Major Stephen W. Pless, Medal of Honor recipient who survived 780 combat helicopter missions in Vietnam, was killed, July 20, 1969, when his motorcycle plunged off an open drawbridge into Santa Rosa Sound which separates Pensacola from Pensacola Beach, Florida.
Major Pless was the 18th Marine to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam during August 1967. It was presented to him by President Lyndon B. Johnson in ceremonies held at the White House, January 16, 1969.
Stephen Wesley Pless was born September 6, 1939, in Newman, Georgia. He attended Decatur High School at Decatur, Georgia, and graduated from Georgia Military Academy, College Park, Georgia, in 1957.
While at Georgia Military Academy, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, September 6, 1956, and served with the 1st Motor Transport Battalion, USMCR, Atlanta, Georgia. He received recruit training and advanced combat training at Parris Island, South Carolina, graduating in October 1957. He then served as an Artillery Surveyor, 10th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, until September, 1958.
While attending flight training at Pensacola, Florida, he was commissioned a Marine Corps second lieutenant, September 16, 1959. He was promoted to first lieutenant, March 16, 1960, and designated a Naval aviator upon graduation from flight training April 20, 1960.
Lieutenant Pless next served successively as squadron pilot with HMR(L)-262, Marine Aircraft Group 26, at New River, North Carolina; with HMR(L)-264 aboard the USS Boxer; with HMR(L)-264 aboard the USS Wasp, again with HMR(L)-262, Marine Aircraft Group 26, at New River; as Assistant Administrative Officer of HMR(L)-262 aboard the USS Shadwell; and as Squadron Adjutant, HMM-162, Marine Aircraft Group 26, at New River.
Ordered to the Far East in June, 1962, he saw duty as Assistant Administrative Officer of HMM-162, MAG-16, in Thailand, and at Da Nang, in the Republic of Vietnam.
Upon his return to the United States in June 1963, he reported to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, and served as basic flight instructor, VT-1, and later as Officer in Charge, Aviation Officer Candidate School. He was promoted to captain, July 1, 1964.
After his detachment in April, 1966, Captain Pless was assigned duty as Brigade Platoon Commander, 1st Anglico, Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe, Hawaii. In August, 1966, he became Officer in Charge, ROK Detachment, and later Brigade Air Officer, 1st Anglico, Sub-Unit 1, with the 2d Brigade Korean Marine Corps, at Chu Lai, in the Republic of Vietnam. For his service in this capacity, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal and the Korean Order of Military Merit. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart for wounds received, and 32 Air Medals for his service as Assistant Operations Officer, VMD-6, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, in the Republic of Vietnam, from March 20, 1967 until September 22, 1967.
Upon his return to the United States, he assumed duties as Administrative Assistant, Officer Candidate School, Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida. While serving in that capacity, he was promoted to major, November 7, 1967. He was killed as a result of a motorcycle accident, July 20, 1969.
Major Pless was awarded the Avco-Aviation/Space Writers Association Helicopter Heroism award for his heroic rescue of three wounded American soldiers in Vietnam on August 19, 1967, the action for which he received the Medal of Honor.
A complete list of his medals and decorations include: the Medal of Honor; the Silver Star Medal; the Distinguished Flying Cross; the Bronze Star Medal; the Air Medal with seven Silver Stars and two Gold Stars in lieu of second through 38 awards; the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”; the Purple Heart; the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal; the National Defense Service Medal; the Korean Order of Military Merit; the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; th Vietnam Service Medal; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Major Pless was survived by his wife, the former Jo Ann Smith of Summerdale, Alabama and three children; his father, Mr. Travis B. Pollard of Atlanta, Georgia; his mother, Mrs. Nancy Pless of Miami Beach, Florida; and one brother.
Mersky, Peter B., U.S. MARINE CORPS AVIATION: 1912 TO THE PRESENT.