Jewish Vietnam Veteran from Penn Valley to Finally Receive Silver Star

Larry Liss receives the Distinguished Flying Cross in July 1967 (Courtesy of Larry Liss)

It’s a rescue mission that sounds pulled from a movie script.

Larry Liss, a Jewish pilot in Vietnam, was supposed to just assist another pilot, Tom Baca, in dropping off a military chaplain at a special forces unit for Sunday services in May 1967.

They made the drop-off, but then they heard commotion over their radios. One hundred U.S. soldiers “were surrounded by Vietnamese soldiers deep in the thicket of a bamboo forest in Cau Song Bae,” according to a 2022 Jewish Exponent story.

Liss and Baca used their unarmed helicopter to fly through the thicket six times and rescue 87 soldiers.

But since there was little documentation of the event, Liss, a Penn Valley native and Chester County resident, never received a Silver Star for his efforts … until now.

After years of lobbying by his brother, Arthur Liss, Larry’s cause was taken up by Pennsylvania’s senior U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, who represents Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Chester County. And on March 5, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th chief of the National Guard Bureau, will present Liss with his Silver Star in Eisenhower Hall at the Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne.

The Silver Star is the “third-highest military combat decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Armed Forces,” according to the Department of Defense. It is awarded for “gallantry” in action.

Liss served in the military for three years and earned 35 air medals before this one. Those included the Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts and “the Distinguished Flying Cross for Valor for his rescue mission in Cau Song Bae.”

Yet his brother felt he deserved a Silver Star.

“We will have violated the ethics of the military, of their major ethos, which is, ‘Leave no soldier behind,’” he told the Exponent in 2022.

Larry Liss told the Exponent at the time that he “couldn’t care less” about a Silver Star.

But according to Art Liss, Larry Liss was a “forgotten hero.”

He was forgotten because the only official records of the Cau Song Bae mission were from Liss and Baca. There were none from a commanding officer. After the mission, Liss was “berated by his commanding officer for conducting a mission other than the one he was assigned and for using an aircraft in a combat situation that was not meant for combat,” according to the 2022 Exponent story.

Larry and Art Liss (Courtesy of Art Liss)

It was also difficult for Art Liss to find eyewitness accounts for a mission that happened so long ago.

The Liss brothers told the Exponent in 2022 that they suspected that antisemitism had played a role. That story relayed a fact from the National Museum of American Jewish Military History that only 18 American Jews had received the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest honor, since the Civil War.

Larry Liss also said then that he “got picked on so much” during his time at the Pennsylvania Military College.

Art Liss began trying to get his brother recognized in the late 2000s. He talked to legislators and reached out to the Military Awards Branch. Houlahan took up his cause.

“It’s long overdue that we gather to honor the extraordinary bravery and selflessness of Captain Larry M. Liss, a true American hero,” Houlahan said in a news release. “His acts of valor during the Rescue at Cau Song Be in the Vietnam War exemplify the highest standards of military service. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Larry’s brother, Art Liss, whose unwavering advocacy played a pivotal role in ensuring that Larry receives the recognition he deserves. Art’s tireless efforts embody the spirit of dedication and love that binds our military families. This Silver Star Presentation will be a testament to the resilience and strength of the Liss family, and it is my privilege to stand alongside them in honoring Captain Larry M. Liss for his exceptional service to our nation.”

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