Rex Gooch was a helicopter pilot with the Lighthorse Air Cavalry in the Vietnam War in the Mekong Delta in 1971. When attending Lighthorse reunions years later, he heard stories about another pilot named Ace Cozzalio, and wrote a narrative of his life: Ace: The Story of Lt. Col. Ace Cozzalio (Lighthorse Publishing Co., 292 pp., $15.95, paper; $8.99, Kindle).
During his eighteen months in Vietnam, Allen Ace Cozzalio was shot down six times. On several other occasions he brought his Loach back home so damaged from enemy fire that it was no longer flyable. He received every medal for valor except the Medal of Honor.
As a newly arrived 2nd Lt. in December of 1967, Cozzalio was assigned to D Troop, 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry, which was attached to the 9th Infantry Division as its recon unit. They were named the “Bastard Cav” because they were a stand-alone cavalry unit attached to an infantry division.
The image of a rogue, renegade, rebel appealed to the D Troopers; it was a perfect match for Ace Cozzalio. Soon after he arrived, the unit began wearing yellow scarves and white Stetsons; some officers carried sabers. Ace Cozzalio donned a full 1860s cavalry uniform at Lighthorse award ceremonies and other special occasions.
Among his legendary exploits, Cozzalio, after seeing a Huey crash and explode in flames, landed his OH-6 Loach nearby and he and his crew chief rescued the unconscious pilot and co-pilot. Cozzalio and his crew chief received the Soldier’s Medal for their actions that day.
On another occasion he landed the Loach on a canal berm where he had spotted an armed male tossing his weapon aside and jumping into the canal. Cozzalio donned his Stetson cavalry hat, grabbed his trusty saber, then jumped into the canal. He began poking around in the murky water until his blade found flesh and he took the VC prisoner—mostly likely the only enemy soldier in the Vietnam War captured with a cavalry saber.
Ace Cozzalio in his 1860s cavalry uniform
Following the 9th Infantry Division’s Battle of Phu My, Cozzalio was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for performing an incredible act of bravery Seeing that a 90-man unit crossing an open field was pinned down by NVA machine gun fire from a reinforced bunker, he landed his Loach on top of the bunker while his gunner jumped out and tossed a grenade into it. Cozzalio lifted off just before the grenade exploded and destroyed the bunker.
After twenty years of service, Lt. Col. Cozzalio was discharged from the Army due to heart trouble caused by the rare Epstein-Barr virus. Seven years later, while undergoing a heart transplant procedure, he died at the age of 46.
Rex Gooch has written a fast-moving, fascinating account of a legendary helicopter pilot who died much too soon—and of the others he flew alongside in the Mekong Delta. This book belongs on the bookshelf of any veteran—pilot or passenger—who experienced flying in a helicopter in Vietnam.
The book’s website is http://fifthcavalry.com
—James P. Coan