Col. Bruce Crandall flew 22 missions in an unarmed helicopter to deliver ammunition and evacuate wounded soldiers during the Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965.
Decades later, President George W. Bush recognized Crandall's bravery in Vietnam with the military's highest award, the Medal of Honor. Crandall, who visited Arcadia High School on Friday, is among 79 living Medal of Honor recipients.
"The right thing to do is not always the easiest thing to do," Crandall told students gathered at the school's new Performing Arts Center.
Crandall's presentation was part of a two-day educational tour to introduce hundreds of students across the state to participating Medal of Honor recipients and drill home the concepts of courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity and citizenship.
Though outsiders might consider him brave, Crandall said, he had "no doubt" every person in the audience would have done the same thing he did if called upon.
The decorated vet also talked about the difficulty he had assimilating back into society once he returned stateside.
"I didn't wear my uniform anywhere," he said, referring to the backlash against Vietnam soldiers at the time.
Crandall left students with a reminder to value themselves and to take advantage of every opportunity afforded to them as American citizens.
"Thank you for who you are," he said. "When you look at yourself in the mirror, be proud of what you see. Respect yourself. If you feel like you can't do [something] you won't."
Crandall lives in Washington state with his dog, Huey, who is named after a type of military helicopter. His wife, Arlene, died of cancer in 2010 and is buried at Arlington Cemetery. The couple have two sons and several grandchildren.