More detail on this person: U.S. Army Captain (Ret.) Kenneth Griffith, 79, of Anniston, Allabama, died on July 5, 2019. He is survived by his wife of sixty-two years, three daughters, seven grandchildren, eleven great-grandchildren, brother and sister-in-law, sister and brother-in-law, and several nieces, nephews, and cousins. He was preceded in death by his parents, Oscar U. Griffith and Elna Lawler; daughter, Kassandra Griffith; and sister, Theresa G. Schuler. He was born in Blue Mountain, Alabama and was raised in Anniston. After he graduated from Anniston High School, he joined the U.S. Army. He began his military career with the Military Police at Fort McClellan, Alabama, and was later stationed throughout the Southeast and in Europe. His final station was in Cu Chi, northeast of Saigon, with the 25th Infantry Division. Defending his load of wounded casualties, the front bubble of the helicopter he was piloting was shattered by gunfire, seriously wounding both himself and his co-pilot who was unconscious. He fought on and succeeded in flying his disabled helicopter back to camp, accomplishing a controlled crash landing before succumbing to his own wounds. For his heroism in this battle, he was awarded the third highest military honor: the Silver Star. Griffith was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster after a seven-hour helicopter battle with Viet Cong guerillas. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his commanding officer. During his military service he also received the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Aviator Badge, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal with three stars, Vietnam Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal with two loops, and the National Defense Medal. After completing physical rehabilitation due to the loss of his leg in combat, he officially retired and returned to his hometown of Anniston. He was afforded the honor of receiving an invitation to address both the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate for recognition from the Floor. He attended Jacksonville State University and earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 1974, a Master of Public Administration in Criminal Justice in 1975, and a Master of Science in Personnel Counseling in 1976. He was a Master Mason in a local Anniston Lodge..Graveside service with full military honors: 10:00 a.m. July 20, 2019 at Crook Cemetery, Ohatchee. Article in Anniston Star: Kenneth Griffith, who earned a Silver Star in Vietnam and retired to a quiet life of public service in Anniston, died July 5 at McGuffey Nursing Home in Gadsden, family members say. He was 79. "He was a fascinating man and a great patriot," said his daughter, Keli Griffith. Born in Blue Mountain, a blue-collar mill town later annexed by Anniston, Griffith was the son of a military policeman. After high school, he followed his father into the Army, training at the military police school at Fort McClellan. But what Griffith really wanted, his daughter said, was to fly. After a few years as an enlisted soldier, he landed a slot in officer candidate school and was soon on his way to Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. While stationed at Cu Chi, north of Saigon, Griffith piloted a damaged helicopter full of wounded soldiers back to base for a controlled crash landing. Griffith lost a leg in the crash, and returned home in 1969 as a young military retiree, still at the rank of captain. "He wanted to go back," Keli Griffith said. "Once he received his prosthetic leg, he informed them he could fly again." The military said no. "They told him he'd never fly again, and he said, `I'll show them,'" his daughter said. Griffith went on to get civilian licenses to fly both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The Cu Chi crash earned Griffith the Silver Star, an award for gallantry in combat. In earlier battles he'd picked up two Distinguished Flying Crosses. Pilots typically earn the Air Medal for flying a couple of dozen combat missions; Griffith was awarded the medal seven times, according to a funeral announcement. Griffith caught the eye of Bill Nichols, longtime Democratic congressman who recruited him into a 1970 race for the state House of Representatives. Incumbent Ray Burgess beat Griffith by about 1,000 votes in a Democratic runoff, according to Star reports. It was considered a close margin at the time, but Griffith said he wouldn't seek a recount. "An officer and a gentleman doesn't behave that way," Griffith told The Star in 1970. Highly regarded in the 3rd District he represented, Nichols was "very close" to her father, and acted as his political mentor, according to Keli Griffith. But on a crucial issue of the era, the men's views diverged. In 1971, when Army officer William Calley was convicted of war crimes at My Lai, Nichols organized a rally for the convicted officer at Anniston's federal building. Three hundred people, including mayors of local cities, showed up for the congressman's rally. Griffith, pointedly, wasn't among them. "If we had said, `Buddy, you're fighting for America, you can't do any wrong,' we'd be just like Nazi Germany" Griffith told The Star in 1971. Griffith's own daughter, then 13 years old, was handed a petition in Calley's favor at school. She signed it. "In my mind, he (Calley) was a Vietnam veteran," Keli Griffith said. "I came home and I told my father, thinking he'd be proud of me, and I got a lecture that what he'd done was horrendous." Griffith got no backlash for his stance on Calley, his daughter said, largely because of his military reputation. "For the first couple of years, there were people who'd come up to me and say, `Your dad's a war hero,' but that faded," Keli Griffith said. "But he's a down-to-earth person. He didn't talk about it." By 1988, when Griffith ran for probate judge, news stories noted he was "decorated for valor," but those references came low in the story. Griffith, now a Republican, told reporters he was seeking the office to supplement his military retirement. He lost the primary, again by a thin margin. "He said, `I'm done with public life. Let's stay home and have a life with the family,'" his daughter said. Griffith didn't actually stay home. He was active in the Masons and at Golden Springs Baptist Church, and coached youth league sports, his daughter said, where kids often knew him as "Cap" or "the Captain." He found ways to stay in the game despite working with a prosthetic leg, Keli Griffith said. "He taught us tennis," she said. "He knew how to throw that leg around so he could shoot across the court." Griffith and his wife, Sandra, lived in Anniston, his daughter said, though he spent his last days in the Gadsden nursing home due to Alzhemer's disease. He will be buried with military honors at Crook Cemetery in Ohatchee at 10 a.m. July 20, family members say.
Burial information: Crook Cemetery, Ohatchee
This information was last updated 07/15/2019
Please send additions or corrections to: HQ@vhpa.org VHPA Headquarters
Return to the Helicopter Pilot DAT name list
Return to VHPA web site
Date posted on this site: 04/14/2021
Copyright © 1998 - 2020 Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association