Captain, U.S. Army
Duties: Aviation Unit Commander
Dennis Randazzo, U.S. Army
Medals and awards - Vietnamese Service, Vietnam campaign, Good Conduct, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, Cross of Gallantry with Palm, New York State Conspicuous Star, Expert M-14 Rifle, Sharpshooter 45-caliber pistol
Dennis Randazzo grew up in the Silver Creek area. As a child he just blended in with the other boys his age. With no plans for tomorrow, he was amazed with all the fun he had growing up.
When he looked back into his childhood, he didn't have a specific place where he hung out and had fun. He claims that when he was growing up, he went all over the village and at times to the Sunset and Hideaway Bay areas to swim or just have summer fun. As he got older, he started hanging out and playing baseball. He also swam during the summer while in the fall came touch football with whomever decided to play.
Randazzo attended Silver Creek Normal School and Silver Creek High School. With the Vietnam War in full gear, it was time for him to decide which branch of the military he would join. He loved the engineering field and working on old cars during his teenage years, which led him into the engineering field. He always thought that someday he would love to fly and with this war going on, Randazzo knew if he applied himself that the Army would be his ticket that put him in the pilot's seat.
Before taking off in any type of aircraft he had to start with the basic training everyone else participated in. On July 25, 1969, with the Vietnam War in the final stages of the Tet offensive he headed to Missouri to report to the Army's Fort Leonard Wood where the Army was training its recruits in heavy equipment and engineering.
At Fort Leonard Wood, he excelled in engineering school and was asked how he felt about becoming an Army officer. He thought about this opportunity and knew it would bring him closer to the pilot's seat in some type of military aircraft.
He quickly accepted the opportunity to become an Army officer and was headed to Fort Belvoir, Va. He was trained here to become an Army officer. After completing the officers training school and upon completion, he now carried the title of 2nd Lt. Dennis Randazzo.
This was his opportunity to apply and attend flight school and become an Army helicopter pilot. When he arrived at flight school, he was given duties as a transportation officer, whose duties were to see that all the transportation on base was up to par and ready for detachment to any unit if needed. When flight school was completed, he was issued his wings by one of his old friends from home, Brad Hornburg, who once was his neighbor growing up on Christy Street in Silver Creek.
His next duty station was Fort Eustis, Va. While he was there, he had the opportunity as a pilot to test new helicopters and associated equipment. Also here the Army was trying different battle tactics. They were also looking for volunteers for AMOC - aviation maintenance officers course - and with this assignment came the rank of first lieutenant and orders for West Pack (Vietnam) were definitely being written up.
Before he headed to Fort Walters, Randazzo had to learn everything needed to pilot his aircraft while serving in the conditions of Southeast Asia. These included dropping this aircraft on a piece of jungle cleared only by grenades or seeing that parts of Vietnam were noted for some of their postage stamp size landing zones. Some of these zones, at times, were only the size of the chopper itself.
At Fort Walters, Randazzo learned to fly the famous Hughes 53 chopper along with the H-23 trainer. For the next 90 days, he was being prepared for Vietnam.
Along with flying and landing helicopters, he had to know much more. When he stepped foot in Vietnam, he had many responsibilities that included the safety of his crew and the safety of his helicopter. Once a helicopter pilot took off on a mission anything could happen. Firefights went on constantly and friendly Vietnamese civilians were walking into harm's way. Pilots were shot down and, of course, the Vietnamese monsoons started and lasted for 100 steady days of nonstop rainfall. Once he claimed the title of chopper pilot, he started a 24/7 frame of total responsibility.
Most young men like Randazzo thought he would be heading west, but he received one more set of orders before he stepped onto the red clay of Vietnam. He was sent to Fort Rucker to be qualified in all choppers with the Army and installing all of its latest equipment. While he was at Fort Rucker he learned instrumentation, landings and everyday emergency situations.
The next morning, he boarded the DC 9 commercial airline and headed to Tan Son Nhut, Air Base in Vietnam. After his 23-hour flight on this DC 9 that held three soldiers in their fatigues who were side by side, it was a relief to get off the plane until he hit the 100-plus-degree temperatures.
His time in Vietnam was an experience he will never forget. Everyone who went in that direction minded their own business. He looked for the commanding officers' tent one day and found out that his new duties were to fly the Army's huey aircraft.
As he got situated in Vietnam, he found himself in a different world. He was now living in a new world where everyone was depending on the man next to him to survive.
All those Hollywood movies were real. They were actually happening on a day-to-day basis. All those practice landings with simulated small arms fire were now real and every now and then, your aircraft popped a hole near it's nose. It was now for real. It didn't matter where you hid or what rank you had.
Being a helicopter pilot in Vietnam meant you moved to where you were needed and moved to where you can do some good. As his tour progressed, Randazzo found himself moving more north. He was now flying in Quang Tri Province for the 223rd aviation squadron and flew the LOH6 chopper. The LOH6 as a chopper was designed for its crew to be the eye in the sky. For someone else, he would be the guy that would cover a jet ready to drop its load from enemy SAMS (surface to air missiles) or anti-aircraft fire. At times these LOH6 put themselves in front of enemy fire to take the heat off the big boys.
As the North Vietnamese army moved, so did the U.S. Army. Randazzo's new tactical area of responsibility became Camp Eagle, north of Phu Bia. Here he teamed up again with members of 101st aviation. Many search and destroy patrols along with killer teams were being performed on a daily basis. This type of combat covered two areas. First it caught the enemy off-guard, having soldiers inserted only yards in front of them.
Catching them off-guard and second the killer teams would catch groups going back home to the north at night walking known enemy infiltration routes.
His next duty station was at the marble mountain area of Danang, which not only brought in constant daily flights to the demilitarized zone areas. It also brought in some of the Vietnam's beauty.
The marble mountain and China beach area of Vietnam today is listed as one of the top travel destinations used by tourists. It's kind of hard for one who was stationed there being in Danang, which was constantly hit daily by enemy mortars and 152 rockets from the North Vietnamese army batteries, to picture it now as a peaceful, tourist hot spot.
Many missions back then were on a need to know basis. A pilot's job was to deliver personnel to a grid number on a map. Many times not even knowing who you may have on your craft. Given the call sign sneaky Pete, Randazzo traveled the I Corp constantly until his tour of duty came to an end. As most in Vietnam each day scratched off one more part, getting him closer to his return to the real world.
Dennis Randazzo, as all others who went to Vietnam, did his part. A part that is listed as one of the most dangerous jobs in Vietnam, but not saying that there were any safe or non-dangerous jobs.
For pilots, flying a chopper without being in a combat situation is dangerous itself. A lot of military occupational specialty jobs were at some point and time given a life expectancy in Vietnam, going from machine gunner in a helicopter, a forward observer, to second lieutenant or a radioman being six weeks to others that listed in months. But, as in any war, no place or person is safe.
Randazzo will carry with him stories that most would not think were believable. A lot of things happened in those 10 years of Vietnam that will never be told. There are some that need to be told so we don't send those who aren't even with us yet to wars like Vietnam. Forty-five years later, we are still asking each other why? Dennis Randazzo, helicopter pilot, and is our Local Hero of the Week.