My Vietnam Adventures with LT Ace CozzalioBy Billy Norman
My Tour: October 1967 to September 1968
I have been waiting to get this part of my Vietnam tour down on paper for a long time. About one and a half years ago, an old Vietnam friend, John Marshall called me on the phone. I had been told by my best Vietnam friend and roommate, Nick Albano, Jr., that John had been killed after I left Vietnam. John said he had been hit pretty badly and had been taken away to the hospital and did not return. Nick was told he had died. Wow, was that a surprise the day John called me. Nick and John had taught me how to play bridge in Vietnam. Many, many hours of bridge and poker.
Anyway, John had started a Doughboy web site and they are having an annual reunion. Here is the web site: http://members.aol.com/d3rd5thdoughboys/index.htmll. What was a Doughboy? Okay, let's get these D Troop 3/5 Cav outfit descriptions and call signs explained.
Doughboy: Six man recon squads dropped off in the jungle to find the gooks and then get the hell out of there and let the larger companies and/or gunships come in. I was a doughboy for 60 days. Doorgunners were picked from the Doughboys. John Marshal carried the radio for his squad. Sergeant Conley West was our fearless leader. "Hutch," Ben Hutchinson, carried the M60 and Sam Crews was the Point Man. I also remember Jerry & Harvey Booker, both killed on April 22, 1968. I was above them on a gunship when they and four others were killed.
Long Knives: These were the slick helicopters and crews of the Delta Hueys that hauled the Doughboys around. Their only armament was 2 door gunners with 60's.
Crusaders: These were the Huey Gunships. They did not haul passengers, just 2 pilots, 2 gunners, mini guns and rocket pods. I spent approximately 7 months as a Crusader door gunner and got approximately 800 flying hours.
My main pilots I worked with were Warrant Officers Andy Earle (Crusader 4 call sign) and Roland Florio. Mr. Florio taught me how to fly a Huey. He once got in trouble with Company Commander because he was letting me fly over company headquarters. Mr. Earle and I were to come home the same day as Florio, right around the last day of Aug., 1968. Florio was killed 13 days before we came home. He hit a high line when he was out showing a new pilot the area. I recently went to see Andy Earle in Henderson, NV. He's now a Doctor of Pharmacy with the VA. Nick Albano, Jr., my roommate was also a doorgunner. There were just 7 doorgunners total. Some other gunners were Walter Templeton, Bill Brooks, Sam Crews, Billy Payne and Larry Jankowski. Each chopper has one doorgunner and one crew chief. Crew chief used an M60 when flying but also did the chopper maintenance. Doorgunners usually flew right seat in the air and took care of all guns including mini guns, when we were not flying. My crew chief was Ron Deciles. Our Chopper was called "Kathy Ann." When the Cobras came into our company the gunships were eliminated and most of the doorgunners became armament people for the Cobras when they got back from missions. Some went to the slicks as gunners. I did not want to quit flying so I became the gunner for the company Commander's Slick for the approximately last 4 or 5 weeks of my tour.
War Wagons: These were the little 2 man helicopters called LOH's or "Loaches." They looked like a VW with a tail. One pilot and one gunner with an M60 and one mini gun. Ace was a War Wagon pilot. He later became a Cobra Pilot, which I didn't remember and they were also called Crusaders.
After talking to John, I got on his web site and read about Ace. Wow, was this guy a hero or what!! It made me start thinking about my adventures with Ace.......
One day on my day off from the Crusaders, Ace came around. He needed a door gunner to go up with him on a LOH mission. I volunteered. I had heard about this guy. He was supposed to be hell on wheels.
The mission of the LOH's, I believed to be, was to find the enemy then get the hell out of there and let the big boys come in. I don't think Ace ever quite figured that out. He never did understand the "get the hell out of there" part.
That day we were flying about a mile ahead of the ground troops and we saw an ammo can down in a small clearing. Ace asked me if I wanted him to land so I could go get it. I said "Sure, why not?" He landed in the next clearing over. The only thing I took for a weapon was my .38. I could have taken an M16 or a 12 gauge shotgun that was behind my seat BUT NO, I just took my pistol. About 10 to 20 feet short of the ammo box, 2 gooks jumped up about 30 yards ahead of me and opened up on me with AK47's. I made the fastest draw Wild Bill Hickok ever saw. Believe it or not I dropped to one knee, shot all my .38 rounds then did a low crawl back to the Loch. Ace lifted it about 6 or 8 feet off the ground while I was crawling and shot the minigun over my head. I had set a low crawl record in Basic Training back at Fort Leonard Wood. I bet this crawl would have set world records. Anyway, I hit the left seat and not in a normal way. I literally threw my whole body in the chopper on all fours. Ace just about wrecked getting us out of there because I was all over the controls. Needless to say, we then got the 2 gooks. We had the ground troops come over and they found a bunch of weapons. I got to keep an AK47 that was found in there. I gave it up before I came home.
From then on, I found myself going out with Ace on some of my days off. I did this 4 or 5 times. We made quite a team, the two crazies together.
On another day, we found a small sampan floating on a river with nobody on board, just some personal items. Most pilots still don't believe this story, but Ace dipped the front of our skids or skis under the water and picked that sampan right out of the river. We hauled it back to some base camp. This guy was crazy.
Probably the worst day we had we were flying about 6 to 8 feet off the ground when we started taking fire from the tree lines that were all around us. Instead of getting the hell out of there, to my HORROR, Ace STOPPED and opened fire with his minigun. We were circling 360 degrees in place. I was shooting my M60 also 360 degrees. Then my 60 jammed, that's when I got scared. I yelled in Ace's ear from about two inches away. He didn't hear me, he was transfixed, like a zombie. I did something I would not have ever dreamed I would do. I pulled on the control lever and we went straight up. That's the only thing I knew to do, to get his attention. It worked. He just grinned. I was crazy and having fun until my 60 jammed and then I got scared real fast. Wow, what a day.
One other time, we found a sampan with 2 new Mopeds. They were so deep down in the trees we could not get them and we had no place to land. Ace finally just had me shoot them up. It would have been neat to have had them back at Bearcat.
I never realized what a true war hero Ace was until I read about him. He died in 1993 after a heart transplant failed. He left the Army as a Lt. Colonel with a medical discharge in 1987. He received so many medals, I can't begin to name them all. A few are: The Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross (3 times), Soldiers medal, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart, plus many, many more.
Ace was born and raised on a ranch on the California/Oregon border and was a cowboy all his life. I was also born and raised on a ranch in South Dakota and have ridden over 40 to 45 Brahma bulls in my wilder days, plus about that many barebacks, some saddle broncs and lots of bull dogging. I doubt if Ace and I ever discussed our cowboy days.
Ace, I am sure, is riding a wild bronc somewhere high in the sky right now. "Good Luck, Ace."
To make the point on myself being a crazy, I was in the National Guard and feeling guilty that I had got out of Vietnam when so many people I knew were going. So one day I was having an argument with my dad and another one with my girlfriend so I went down and volunteered for the draft. By volunteering for the draft I would only get 2 years instead of 3 years. I went to Sioux Falls, SD and took my medical and failed it because of my ears. I went in to see the doctor and begged him to let me in. He finally said yes. He said he had guys begging him not to let them in and I was begging him to stay in.
They sent me to Germany and I wanted to be in Vietnam. I did what's called 1049 (I still have that 1049) -- I volunteered for Vietnam. It took me 7 months to get my transfer. I made a good friend in Germany, Kent Pester from California. I recently talked to Kent, the first time in 30 years.
I went home for a leave before shipping out to Vietnam. While on leave, I broke my arm bull dogging a steer in a rodeo. I knew if I reported for duty with a cast on my arm they would not let me go. When I got to the base in Oakland, before I reported in, I took the cast off. I had only had it on 4 or 5 weeks.
When I got to Vietnam, on my first day at 3/5 Cav at the battalion headquarters at Bearcat, about 40 miles NE of Saigon, I was told I would be put in the tank company. I asked to see the battalion Commander and told him I wanted to be a helicopter gunner. He sent me to D Troop (helicopter support company) but they said I would have to be a Doughboy for 2 or 3 months until a doorgunner slot came open. I use to go out on the airfield in the evenings and help the gunners clean and fix their guns. After 2 months, I finally became a doorgunner.
Another Story About Ace:
In 1968 Gary Green and I were flying a Sniffer mission down in a place called the Plain of Reeds. It was Northwest of Dong Tam. It was getting late in the day and Maj. Brofer wanted us to check out one more area. We headed toward the area that he indicated. Along our route was a group of hootches. The rule was that you never flew between two hootches. But I was in a hurry .
Ace Cozzalio was leading the Loach team that was right behind me. Covering the three of us was a Cobra team at about 1500 feet. I was in a hurry and I flew between the 2 hootches. They never shoot at the first one through. The first one only warns them. They always get the second one as he comes through. The second one through was Ace and they riddled his helicopter. Neither he nor his gunner was wounded. Ace called on the radio, "We have been hit and I have oil spraying out of the transmission, I'm heading out to middle of this big open area to set down where nobody can get to us."
I pulled around and got on his tail and I was 50 to 75 yards behind and pacing him at about 110 knots. Apparently a flight control push-pull tube to the rotor head separated and in doing so caused the aircraft to start tumbling. I watched it tumble three times in the air before it contacted the rice paddies. It sent water flying and spraying in all directions. I slipped my Huey to the right, stood on the left pedal and did a backwards flare during a 180 degree turn then wallowed into the paddy about 50 yards past Ace. I looked over at Ace. He and his gunner were still sitting in the helicopter. The aircraft's tail was sticking in the ground. The rotor blades were gone. The bubble was gone and Ace was facing me. He looked up at me and impolitely gave me the "Finger of Fate." He let me know I was the one who had screwed up and gotten him shot down.
Ace and his gunner got on my aircraft. He rode in silence as he had nothing to say to me.
He did forgive me the next day.
Another Story About Ace
D Troop 3/5 CAV, 9th Inf Div.
I was the A/C commander and flying when we lost tail rotor control and crashed. The rotor blade came through the cockpit and hit Ace on the head and knocked his jaw down on his chicken plate breaking his jaw and knocking him out. My door was jammed but the windshield was broken and I went out that way. I ran around to get Ace out but his door was jammed as well. I went in the back and undid his seat belt and asked the crew chief to help me get him out the windshield but the crew chief said there were pins under the seat and we could get him out backwards. I was very concerned that the ship would catch fire as the turbine was running full throttle. We took him away from the chopper, which had the smoke laying adapter aft of the turbine. I had the LRRP's secure our crash site and I used the emergency radio to talk to the gun ships. Not long after a Navy Kammen rescue helicopter lowered a basket and we strapped in Ace. They took him to Japan. About 3 weeks later he hitchhiked back to our unit in military aircraft so that he could stay with our unit rather than be transferred into another unit. His first words "Hey, Surfs up."
Billy raced the longest snowmobile race in the world 5 times, from Anchorage to Nome. You can read the article that was published in Race & Rally (a national magazine) about the snowmobile race.