Upbringing and military service
Gary Wetzel was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He joined the United States Army in 1965 at the age of 18. He was sent off to Vietnam where he was a private first class. On January 8, 1968, Wetzel was acting as a door gunner when his helicopter was shot down.
As soon as the destroyed helicopter hit the ground, the survivors of the crash came under heavy fire. Wetzel was severely injured and his left arm was nearly severed. Despite his injuries, the soldier manned his machine gun and fought back against the enemy. While doing so, he also helped to rescue his fellow soldiers.
Injury and return to the States
The injury to Wetzel’s arm proved to be too severe and his arm had to be amputated. When he returned to the States, Wetzel was awarded the Medal of Honor and was promoted to specialist four. Part of the citation from President Lyndon B. Johnson read:
“After an agonizing effort, he came to the side of the crew chief who was attempting to drag the wounded aircraft commander to the safety of a nearby dike. Unswerving in his devotion to his fellow man, Sp4c. Wetzel assisted his crew chief even though he lost consciousness once again during this action. Sp4c. Wetzel displayed extraordinary heroism in his efforts to aid his fellow crewmen. His gallant actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.”
Wetzel has said of his Medal of Honor, “Even though I’ve had the privilege to put that blue ribbon around my neck…I not only wear it for me, I wear it for everybody else and consider myself more or less a caretaker.” And the former soldier has lived up to that idea. Wetzel often participates in military ceremonies.
One of Gary Wetzel’s areas of focus has come through his relationship with Bella Zizzo, a young girl who was born with a limb difference. After hearing her story, Wetzel reached out and asked how he could help. The veteran assembled a team of his motorcycle buddies and they organized a charity ride. The funds from the ride paid for Bella to attend No Limits Camp as well as a family trip to Disney World.
More from us: Mary Edwards Walker: The Only Woman to Receive the Medal of Honor
Bella’s mother said of Wetzel, “To have somebody reach out because they’re touched by your 4-year-old, it’s incredible. It just goes to show you that there are good people out there. It’s huge to have him look at our family and say, ‘We want to do anything we can.'”