Alan "Ace" Cozzalio (August 19, 1946 – April 30, 1993) was an American army officer, primarily known for his distinguished service as a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. Initially nominated for the Medal of Honor, he instead received the Distinguished Service Cross as well as every lesser commendation of valor. He remained in the army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant colonel before being medically retired due to heart problems. He died six years later at the age of 46 after an unsuccessful heart transplant operation.
Cozzalio was born August 19, 1946, in Ashland, Oregon, and raised on his family's ranch on the Klamath River on the California/Oregon border. He attended the local schools in Ashland, Hornbrook, California, and high school in Yreka and Sacramento, California. He graduated from Mira Loma High School in 1964. He worked as a cook and assistant manager at an International House of Pancakes in Sacramento before being drafted into the United States Army in February 1966.
He trained for armored duty before graduating from Armor Officers Candidate School in April 1967 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Armor. He then received helicopter pilot training from March to October 1967 at the Army Aviation School.
Cozzalio arrived in Vietnam in December 1967 and was assigned to a standalone helicopter cavalry reconnaissance unit attached to the 9th Infantry Division. The unit wore yellow scarves and white Stetsons, evoking the uniform of prior-era horse cavalry units. Cozzalio wore a complete 1860s cavalry uniform on special occasions.
Cozzalio spent eighteen months in Vietnam and was shot down a total of six times. Several times, he returned in a helicopter so badly damaged it was never flown again.
This time included two required six-month tours, during which he received 49 medals including a Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Soldier's Medal and two Purple Hearts, one for a bullet wound to the neck and another for a broken jaw suffered after crashing when shot-down which required a seven-week hospital stay before he returned to duty. He logged over 1,000 hours of combat flying in the area around Saigon. The biggest engagement in which he participated was the May Offensive in Saigon's Cholon sector May 5–11, 1968.
After his twelve months active duty in Vietnam, he took a 30-day leave at his home in Oregon before a voluntary return for an additional six-month extended tour.
After service in Vietnam, he returned to the US for several years before deploying as a Special Services Officer to Thailand in 1972. He attended Sul Ross University in Texas in 1974–1975, before duty as a recruitment officer in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1975–1977. From 1977 to 1980, Major Cozzalio was posted to Katterbach Kaserne, Germany with the 501st Aviation Company. He returned to attend the 10-month Regular Course at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1980–1981, and then as a Lt. Colonel he commanded the ROTC programs as the University of Southern Mississippi in 1981–1984 as an assistant professor of military science. His final posting was to command the 4th Aviation Training Battalion at Ft. Rucker in Dothan, Alabama in 1984–1986.
Distinguished Service Cross
Cozzalio, then a Captain, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Maj. General James W. Sutherland for action on January 25, 1969. Cozzalio was flying a Huey Cobra of the 5th Calvary, 9th Infantry Division when a reinforced enemy machine gun bunker fired on ground troops killing five and wounding others, and pinned-down the entire 90-man unit. Due to the small distance between the bunker and the infantry unit, the type of weapons and lack of maneuverability of the Huey, Cozzalio was unable to attack the bunker. He landed the Cobra and returned in a Light Observation Helicopter (Loach) and while hovering ten feet above the bunker, he destroyed it with direct fire and fragmentation grenades. Unofficial reports say he landed on top of the bunker, allowing his gunner to get out and throw a grenade inside, the two just lifting off before the explosion. He the switched back to the Cobra to continue ground support operations against the enemy.
For rescuing the unconscious crew of a downed Huey, Cozzalio and his crew chief received the Soldier's Medal.
- Silver Star
- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Bronze Star Medal
- Purple Heart
- Meritorious Service Medal
- Army Commendation Medal
- Army Achievement Medal
- Good Conduct Medal
- National Defense Service Medal
- Vietnam Service Medal
- Armed Forces Reserve Medal
- Army Service Ribbon
- Overseas Service Ribbon
- Master Army Aviator Badge
- Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
- Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross
- Valorous Unit Award
- Air Medal
- Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Medal
- Unit Citation Badge
- Cambodian Crewchief Wings
- Expert (rifle, pistol)
- Assault Badge
In 1986, he contracted Epstein Barr disease and was medically retired due to cardiomyopathy. He returned to live at the family ranch. In 1992, he relocated to Portland, Oregon to await the availability of a donor heart. After seven months, he underwent a heart transplant operation and died within days on April 30, 1993 when the donor heart proved to be defective.
The Hot LZ Memorial Wall in Weed, California, part of the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden, includes the names of veterans of conflicts since the Civil War. The center of the wall honors Cozzalio with a bronze portrait relief sculpture and a plaque listing his military commendations. The planning of the memorial wall began after a memorial service held for Cozzalio at the garden May 5, 1993 yielded several donations in his honor. The wall was completed in 1994
Cozzalio was inducted into the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame in April 2019.
- Gooch, Rex (2015). Ace: The Story of Lt. Col. Ace Cozzalio. Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Lighthorse Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1508642466. Search this book on
- "Alan Ace Cozzalio". Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
- "Copter Pilot-Home On Leave-Says Viet Cong Are On The Run". The Sacramento Bee. Sacramento, California. Dec 26, 1968. p. 7. Retrieved April 2, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Ace: The Story of Lt. Col. Ace Cozzalio by Rex Gooch". vva.org. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
- "Ace Cozzalio". The Orangeville News. Folsom, California. Sep 17, 1980. p. 24. Retrieved April 2, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- "DAR chapter learns about ROTC program". The Hattiesburg American. Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Apr 26, 1984. p. 27. Retrieved April 2, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
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- "Alan A. Cozzalio". ocsalumni.org. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
- "The Hot LZ Memorial Wall". tracesofwar.com. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
- "Veterans Honored At The Living Memorial Sculpture Garden Weed, Ca". Mountain Valley Living. September 22, 2016. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
- Smith, David (Nov 12, 2015). "Siskiyou war hero Ace Cozzalio honored in biography". Siskiyou Daily. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
- "OCS US Army Armor School 1965-1968". ocsatfortknow.com. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
- Alan Cozzalio at Find a GraveLua error in Module:WikidataCheck at line 23: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
- Distinguished Service Cross citation
- Cozzalio at the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association
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