Book Review / Reviewed by LTC Hugh L. Mills, Jr., U.S. Army, Retired: Ace Cozzalio was a friend of mine and I jumped at the chance to read and review Rex Gooch’s new book, “Ace: The Story of Lt. Col. Ace Cozzalio.” The similarities in our careers are amazing. Both raised on ranches, both Armor officer candidate school (OCS) grads from Ft. Knox, both commanded scout platoons in the Air Cavalry in Vietnam and both flew Cobras as well. We both went absent without leave (AWOL) from hospitals in combat, both captured enemy personnel by helicopter and both commanded attack companies in Germany. We both attended the Continental class of the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Ft. Leavenworth, KS.
Ace was the eternal Cavalryman. He lived and breathed Cavalry and embraced the historical elements of the branch. It was not unusual for Ace to walk around the troop area in full 1873 uniform to include the 1860 pattern saber he was fond of carrying. But to his men he embodied the essence of a combat leader. Ace led from the front and his leadership was infectious.
Early in his assignment Ace was injured in a UH-1 crash and was hospitalized in Japan. Likely to be evacuated back to the United States, he disagrees and departs the hospital to hop a C-130 back to Viet Nam and his troop at Dong Tam. Technically he was AWOL but unorthodox methods are the hallmark of a decisive leader and Ace had that in spades.
Ace’s favorite aircraft (and mine) was the Hughes OH-6A scout helicopter. It was new in country and in the Army inventory in 1968 and was largely untested. Ace adapted the aircraft to the mission and the environment. That environment was the Mekong Delta area of IV Corps in South Vietnam.
In 1968 the War Wagons of the “Bastard Cav,” D Troop, 3/5 Cavalry, established the very tactics I continued in my third tour of duty in Vietnam in 1972 and my second as a scout platoon leader. The tactics were sound and battle proven. Myths and urban legends that swirled around Ace in the post war years are confirmed and some are dispelled, but it is an interesting and fun read. I shared so many hours in the front seat of the OH-6. The narrative put me in the pilot’s seat again and that was a good feeling. The OH-6 was my first true love and it was for Ace.
In 1979 while serving as an Attack Helicopter unit commander in Germany I was tasked to evaluate Ace’s company in another division. My appraisal was that Ace was the “real deal” though somewhat eccentric. His motto was “always a cowboy” reflecting his life-long affinity for all things western. While in CGSC at Leavenworth, all the officers carried briefcases to lug around the massive volumes we were required to negotiate. Ace carried saddle bags.
This is the story of a Cavalryman. It is a solid piece of work about a man I called friend and peer.
LTC (Ret.) Hugh L. Mills, Jr. is a retired Master Army Aviator and 2011 Army Aviation Hall of Fame inductee. During his two tours in Vietnam as an aero scout and one as a cobra pilot, he flew more than 3,300 combat hours and developed many of the U.S. Army’s air cavalry aero scout tactics. He was shot down 16 times and wounded three times, earning numerous decorations for valor, including three Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, four Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Bronze Stars, one for valor in ground combat. He co-authored a book about his experiences in Vietnam, “Low Level Hell: A Scout Pilot in the Big Red One.”