Stephen Pless (born Stephen Pollard) was born on September 6, 1939, in Newnan, Georgia. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve on September 7, 1956, and went on active duty beginning June 4, 1957. After completing basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, he served as an artillery surveyor with the 10th Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Division at MCB Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from October 1957 until he began flight training with the U.S. Navy on September 26, 1958. Pless was commissioned a 2d Lt in the U.S. Marine Corps on September 16, 1959, and was designated a Naval Aviator on April 20, 1960. His next assignment was as a helicopter pilot with Marine Aircraft Group 26 (MAG-26) at MCAS New River, North Carolina, where he served with HMR(L)-262, HMR(L)-264, and HMM-162 from April 1960 to June 1962. Lt Pless served as Assistant Admin Officer of HMM-162 with MAG-16 in Thailand and at DaNang AB, South Vietnam, from June 1962 to June 1963, followed by service as a flight instructor with VT-1 and as Officer in Charge of the Aviation Officer Candidate School at NAS Pensacola, Florida, from June 1963 to April 1966. Capt Pless next served as a Brigade Platoon Commander with the 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (1st ANGLICO) at MCAS Kaneohe, Hawaii, from April to August 1966, and then as Officer in Charge of the Republic of Korea Detachment, and then as Brigade Air Officer, of the 1st ANGLICO, Sub-Unit 1, with the 2nd Brigade Korean Marine Corps at Chu Lai, South Vietnam, from August 1966 to March 1967. His next assignment was as Assistant Operations Officer with VMO-6 of MAG-36 in South Vietnam from March to September 1967. His final assignment was as Administrative Assistant with Officer Candidate School at NAS Pensacola from September 1967 until he was killed in a motorcycle accident on July 20, 1969. Maj Pless was buried at Barrancas National Cemetery on NAS Pensacola.
His Medal of Honor Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a helicopter gunship pilot attached to Marine Observation Squadron 6 in action against enemy forces. During an escort mission Maj. Pless monitored an emergency call that 4 American soldiers stranded on a nearby beach were being overwhelmed by a large Viet Cong force. Maj. Pless flew to the scene and found 30 to 50 enemy soldiers in the open. Some of the enemy were bayoneting and beating the downed Americans. Maj. Pless displayed exceptional airmanship as he launched a devastating attack against the enemy force, killing or wounding many of the enemy and driving the remainder back into a treeline. His rocket and machinegun attacks were made at such low levels that the aircraft flew through debris created by explosions from its rockets. Seeing 1 of the wounded soldiers gesture for assistance, he maneuvered his helicopter into a position between the wounded men and the enemy, providing a shield which permitted his crew to retrieve the wounded. During the rescue the enemy directed intense fire at the helicopter and rushed the aircraft again and again, closing to within a few feet before being beaten back. When the wounded men were aboard, Maj. Pless maneuvered the helicopter out to sea. Before it became safely airborne, the overloaded aircraft settled 4 times into the water. Displaying superb airmanship, he finally got the helicopter aloft. Major Pless' extraordinary heroism coupled with his outstanding flying skill prevented the annihilation of the tiny force. His courageous actions reflect great credit upon himself and uphold the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service.