Valor Friday

| December 30, 2022

A young, fresh-faced Rodney J.T. Yano

In the past I’ve talked about several men who, as part of aircrew service, used their bare hands to save their aircraft and the lives of their comrades. The heroism of Red Erwin, John Levitow, Norman Jackson, and James Ward are some we’ve talked about before. For some reason, I missed the similar story of bravery in the face of literal fire from Sergeant First Class Rodney Yano.

Rodney James Takashi Yano was a third-generation Japanese-American born in Hawaii in 1943. Dropping out of high school in 1961, he enlisted with the Army. After basic training he was trained as a helicopter maintainer.

Anyone familiar with aviation, and in particular Army aviation, of the period will know that the US Army would come to rely on the helicopter immensely in the Vietnam War. When Yano enlisted, the Army had a relatively small number of advisors helping South Vietnam, but in the coming years, American involvement would rise dramatically.

It’s not much of a surprise then that with a huge war going on that involved the heavy use (and frequent loss) of Army helicopters, that Yano’s skills would be needed in the jungle. He deployed to Vietnam as part of the XVIII Airborne Corps in 1963-1964.

As a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter repairman, Yano didn’t get many opportunities to fly. As a mechanical expert on the chopper’s equipment, his duties were mostly on the ground. He did partake of every chance to fly that he could, and would thus serve as an observer or crew chief on occasion.

After Vietnam, Yano was sent to West Germany. He spent a year there with an ordnance battalion before going back to Vietnam. He was assigned to the Air Cavalry Troop of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (11th ACR) from 3 January 1967. He was listed as a Specialist 5 on the unit’s roster in April of that year.

The 11th ACR had first deployed to South Vietnam in 1966 and would remain there until 1972. Yano spent a year there on his second deployment, but then volunteered to extend. His reasons for extending were entirely altruistic.

Rodney’s younger brother Glenn had enlisted with the Hawaii National Guard. They mobilized 4,000 men for Vietnam in early 1968, becoming one of the few National Guard units to participate in the war. Army policy at the time prohibited the involuntary simultaneous deployment of immediate family members to the war. Rodney, who felt that his experiences in the country made him well suited to another deployment, knew that his continued service in-country meant that his brother, with the Hawaii Guard’s 29th Infantry Brigade, would be spared. It would be a fateful decision.

Throughout 1968 Yano, now a staff sergeant, continued to serve in the Air Cav Troop of the 11th ACR. Interestingly, the 11th ACR was commanded at this time by then-Colonel George S Patton IV, son of General George Patton. The 11th ACR’s assigned tanks at the time were the M48 Patton, named after his father, the famed WWII general.

SSG Rodney Yano, after he’s seen some shit

On 1 January 1969, Yano was out on the flight line at Bien Hoa. One of the unit’s helicopters was supposed to make an easy run to pick up an officer in Saigon and return to base. It’s roughly a 70 km trip over the calmest part of South Vietnam.

SP4 Carmine Conti, a crewman on the Huey, said that Yano picked up that Conti’s door gunner was nowhere to be found. Yano immediately ran over and volunteered. Conti said, “Yano loved to fly but, as a technical inspector, wasn’t getting much time in the air. . . . like everyone else in the troop, I liked the guy…a lot. He didn’t have to ask twice.”

Yano joined the crew as the ad-hoc crew chief and door gunner. The aircraft commander was then-Major John “Doc” Bahnsen. The flight took an exciting turn almost immediately.

Bahnsen was alerted to a nearby friendly force that was attacking a well entrenched enemy position. He was diverted to provide fire support, to mark the enemy positions for other close air support aircraft and artillery, and act as the airborne command and control element.

Arriving over the bitter fighting on the ground, the crew went to work. Yano, from his position at the door gun on the side of the aircraft, fired the machine gun and was tossing white phosphorus smoke grenades out the door onto the enemy positions. Once marked, Major Bahnsen could then call in supporting fire more accurately.

White phosphorus (WP, aka “Willy Peter”) is well suited to military applications. It has several useful qualities. First, it burns bright. Its use as a flare can easily take an area the size of a football field in the middle of the darkest night and make it seem like high noon. Second, it smokes. A lot. Which, if you’re Staff Sergeant Yano and you want to mark an enemy location, makes it perfect. Wherever it lands will soon be easily identified by a column of acrid smoke. Lastly, it burns hot. Very hot. WP burns so hot that it will easily melt aluminum. So hot that even casual physical contact with your skin will result in instant third degree burns.

White phosphorus munition explosion

The American helicopter was taking heavy fire from the ground, in the form of both small arms and anti-aircraft fire. Despite the danger, Yano remained in the relatively exposed position of the chopper’s open door to continue firing on and marking the enemy.

Just then, one of the WP grenades within the helicopter detonated prematurely. The explosion shot the literally white hot phosphorus all over Yano and the inside of the aircraft. As I said, the heat of the WP meant Yano was instantly suffering severely painful, and likely fatal, wounds as the stuff burned hotter than a crematorium.

Conti said immediately after the explosion, “I tumbled to the cabin floor, unable to hear or see anything but white smoke. I thought I was dead.” Yano was covered in burning WP, his left hand nearly blown completely off. Yano didn’t miss a beat though, he grabbed a first aid kit, pulled out a tourniquet and told Conti that he should tie his left arm off above the elbow.

“By all rights,” Conti recalled, “Yano should have sat down and remained still to avoid aggravating his ghastly wounds. He didn’t.”

The fragments that landed within the helicopter burned with the same intensity as those burning through Yano. Filling the aircraft with thick smoke, it burned hot enough that it threatened the very structure of the airframe. The powerful heat was enough that other ammunition in the helicopter started to cook off and explode.

Yano, partially blinded by the initial explosion, had his vision fully obscured by the resultant smoke. Bahnsen and his co-pilot in the front of the aircraft were also blinded by the smoke, losing control of the aircraft, not even able to see the control panel right in front of them. Meanwhile, the mortally wounded Yano, with the use of only one arm and despite unimaginable pain, started “hurling blazing ammunition from the helicopter,” as his citation reads.

The ammunition he was tossing and kicking out was still exploding unpredictably. This caused the valiant young NCO even more wounds. Yano didn’t stop until all the ammunition that threatened his aircraft and the lives of his comrades was ejected.

“Fire was burning all around him and the cabin was still full of white smoke,” Conti described. “It was a surreal sight but the most selfless and courageous act of heroism that I saw during the war, and I saw a lot of heroic actions.”

Yano’s quick thinking and determination to fight through his numerous, grievous injuries saved the lives of his fellow crewmen. The aircraft’s pilot recovered control and immediately flew Yano to a nearby medical evacuation hospital, where they landed safely. “Our survival that day,” Conti concludes, “was assured only by Yano’s extraordinary courage and calm amid crisis while he personally teetered on death’s door.”

Despite receiving prompt medical care, Yano’s numerous wounds were too much. He succumbed to his injuries soon after. He was only 25 years old.

For his bravery that January day, Yano was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor (as had Red Erwin for his battling WP aboard his aircraft towards the end of World War II). Yano’s mother and father received the medal from President Nixon on his behalf on 7 April 1970. He was also posthumously promoted to sergeant first class. During his service in Vietnam, Yano also earned the Bronze Star Medal, 11 Air Medals, and the Purple Heart.

Doc Bahnsen would serve until 1986, retiring as a Brigadier General. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross for valor on 23 January 1969, just days after Yano’s bravery aboard his aircraft. He also earned five Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, and three Distinguished Flying Crosses for his service in Vietnam.

Bahnsen has been an outspoken advocate in remembering Yano. He has helped to create several memorials to the man who saved his life. In 2012, he was instrumental in naming a large vehicle wash station at Fort Benning after Yano. Bahnsen and Yano’s brother Glenn unveiled the dedication plaque.

Rodney Yano is buried at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. He was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame on 4 December 1986. Among many memorial honors afforded to Yano, a helicopter maintenance facility at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and a library at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, are named after him.

USNS Yano (T-AKR-297)

He is the namesake of USNS Yano (T-AKR-297), a large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ship. That means she transports supplies and war materiel throughout the world. She’s been in US Navy service since 1997. Rodney’s mother Lillian and his brother Glenn were at the naming ceremony.

Yano is listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at panel 35W, line 18.

Two of Yano’s fellow cav troopers wrote touching memorials to him, many years after his sacrifice. Interestingly, despite receiving the nation’s highest honor, his bravery was not well publicized, even among those he served with. Both men didn’t find out Yano died and had received the MoH until many years later.

John Griffith wrote, “You were a great friend and inspiration to me. You taught me more about a UH1C than the whole army did. Because of this there were times that it was the only reason I’m here. When I heard about you at a Cav reunion I was saddened but not surprised at how it happened since you always put yourself last when helping anyone. I am proud to have called you my friend.”

Wayne Nutsch wrote, “I knew the “Pineapple” in 1965 when we were in the 246th Transportation Co, Obersleissiem, Germany. Yano had already spent a year in Vietnam. Fun loving guy like us all, but had a serious side as well. His fatal injuries occurred afterward, probably on his 2nd (or more) tour in Vietnam. I happened to be passing through Fort Rucker, Alabama in about 1998 and saw Yano’s picture in Base Ops. That’s when I learned of his death and being awarded the MOH.”

Category: Army, Historical, Medal of Honor, Valor, We Remember

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I am embarrassed to admit that I was not aware of SSG Rodney Yano’s story.

What a man!

Mike M.
I Troop, 2nd Plt.,11th ACR
1 Nov. ’67 to approximately 15 May ’68 (medevacked to CONUS, WIA, 8 May).

God Bless SSG Yano and God Bless America.


“…no greater love….” “…that such men lived.”

Not all heroes wear capes.

Another great story of a Warrior.

Thanks, Mason.


SFC Rodney James Takashi Yano.

Rest In Peace, Soldier.


Never Forget.

Thank You, Mason, for sharing SFC Yano’s story.

Another Unsung Hero.

John 15:13


“Staff Sergeant Yano was flying as the crew chief in UH-1C tail number 66-00528. SFC Yano was the only fatality, although one other soldier was injured.”

Never Forget.


Yano 2.jpg

Thank you for helping us learn about and remember men like Yano.


Thank you Mason. God bless SFC Yano’s family and our nation.


Wow, incredible story. I’ve often read the bios and MOH citations for the namesakes of the ships I’ve been on, can’t believe I overlooked Yano!

The USNS Yano is a floating mechanical nightmare. Imagine the movie “The Money Pit” if it took place on a ship. That entire class (Shughart Class) of transports are plagued with major problems.


As I read this it reminded me of something my father had told me in the early 70s. My father a marine MGySgt had been assigned in the G-3 Ist Marine Air Wing Danang RVN in 1970-71 returning to MCAS Beaufort SC in Feb 71.

Periodically they would hold a retreat/awards parade. At one of these my father was one of the award recipients so my sisters, mother, and I attended. He was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal with Combat V. What caught my attention was one of the other recipients was a young SNCO that worked for him was awarded his 2nd through 44th Air Medal.

I asked my Dad about it and he told me that during his time in Vietnam a whole lot of SNCOs in the 1 MAW and subordinate units that were assigned to rear echelon (where I learned about the acronym (REMF) volunteered for and served as door gunners.


When he learned of that he made the case that he had started his Marine career as a tail gunner in SBDs at the tail end of WWII so it seemed natural that he should resume that a a few decades later. The G-1 told him “Not No but Hell No.”

The aforementioned SSgt had done that and had flown something north of 440 and possibly as many as 880 missions as a door gunner during his 13 months in-country.