Monday, May 23, 2011

Vietnam -- Federick Cappo: A hero to be remembered

All of this time, I've tried to do my best not to talk so much about the young aviators we had in Vietnam. There were two reasons for this.
  1. Almost all of them I didn't know or wasn't able to spend enough time with them to know them
  2. None but one really stood out as one I could identify as a full blown, ace in the hole Maverick type hero.
So, why haven't I mentioned him before now?

Because I was an E-3 at the time -- aka enlisted -- and, unlike years later, when General Officers knew me personally -- we were the low class, low lifes and they were the elite.

That wasn'y the case with Denny Kramp, Craig Geis, and Fredrick Cappo. These gentlemen made me feel good, made me feel like I was doing something I could be proud of. 

Now, Cappo could have easily been shot down himself that day and killed.  Instead, he landed beside the crippled Cobra and flew to two pilots out on his rocket pods and skids.

This man should have been given the medal of honor. Instead, he got a Silver Cross. Why? Because like me, he didn't play by the book.

For all the work I did for my unit, for all the things I did for them above and beyond, nothing, na da, zilch was award to me. 

No Air Medal, nothing. All I got from Vietnam was an ARCOM and a Bronze Star.  Standard issue of you kept your nose clean.

But this is Fred's story.

This was the first time -- and not the last -- that Frederick Cappo would show up on my radio performing some kind of gutsy move. An example of this was when he was flying by a mountain we called nu e ka. He observed some 122mm rockets being fired from that mountain and alerted Camp Eagle that some enemy rockets were launched.

No telling how many lives were saved because he reacted the way he did. But he didn't stop there.  He fired all of his 2.75 inch rockets at the location where those 122mm rockets were being fired and probably stopped more 122mm rockets from being fired at us.

What did he get for his efforts?  A letter of reprimand stating that firing rockets at a target without first making sure the area was cleared of friendly forces was in violation of standard rules of engagement.

What very few people knew -- and the by the book officers were totally clueless -- was those 122mm rockets that Fred called in were marked for civilian targets on the other side of Camp Eagle. So while we heard the sirens go off that we were under attack had either hit or were about to, the first volley never hit Camp Eagle at all.

It is the belief of this writer that because Fred did what he did actually stopped the NVA from firing a dozen or more of these rockets.  Not only at us but at other civilian targets. Later on that night, additional 122mm rockets were fired at civilian targets and a single 122mm rocket was launched hitting right behind one of our AH-1G Cobras.  The force of the explosion pushed me backwards as I watched it hit while trying to beat Craig Geis to a jeep.

Fred was also a friend.  When I wanted to learn more about how to take pictures, he provided me with a book on how to use the Ashi Pentax.

I didn't return the book back to him until 1975 when we were both assigned to the 2/17th Cavalry. I also gave him my Cobra Tie which was presented to me by Bell Helicopter Textron as a thank you for all the publicity I created promoting the use of the TOW Cobra in Germany.

Fred, my hat is off to you Sir for being the Maverick you were.


Anonymous said...

I knew Fred when he worked for Aero Systems, Inc during the mid 1980s. I read his DD 214. It was loaded with the medals he received, and if my memory serves me right he received 3 Siver Stars for "Uncommon Valor" while serving as a attack helicopter pilot. I was greatly honored to have met and worked with him.

Richard T. Edwards said...

From my perspective, Fred was one of those hero types that was quite, yet firm and dedicated to the survival of our soldiers.

Not only did he save to of our pilots from being killed but he also alerted Camp Eagle of an impending enemy 122 rocket strike that he saw come off the mountain.

Yet, he never boasted about the heroic things he did.

And that was the fabric of man I remember.

That plus the fact that constantly asked me where his "how to take photos" guide he lent me. I was so thirsty to learn photography, I could have eaten it in hope of learning through osmosis.