My hero's name is Dexter Florence. Dexter can be labeled a hero in my eyes because he saved Richard Cunnare's life in Vietnam. Dexter displayed incredible courage, loyalty, and the biggest pair of cojones you could imagine.
On August 15, 1972, Richard Cunnare and his copilot Chuck Dean was leading a team of 3 AH-1G attack helicopters and 2 OH-6A light observation helicopters, LOH's, on an air calvary scout mission in the Republic of Vietnam. The missions were being flown in support of the Army of South Vietnam. The purpose of these missions was to locate the last major force that had to be eliminated to take pressure off the city of Quang Tri, which was the capital of the Quang Tri Provence. This battle for Quang Tri had been raging for four months and had taken an estimated 25,000 lives on all sides. This was the second mission of the day and the previous mission had resulted in taking heavy ground fire which had left the team delighted as they had escaped any losses.
The mission of the Air Cavalry is to fly out and trick the enemy into firing at them to reveal their positions and bring the fire power of the United States forces to bear on the enemy. The purpose of the second mission was to do a bomb damage assessment for artillery that Richard had called in on a suspected battalion of the North Vietnamese Army, NVA. This battalion was suspected of being the northern force of an NVA division and had been foolish enough to try to shoot the team down.
The team was back over the enemy position and Richard was observing for enemy fire to his left, when all of a sudden Chuck Dean, yelled over the intercom, "taking fire, taking fire, three-o-clock!" The lead AH-1G Cobra had been caught in a trap of anti-aircraft fire from a triangle of three guns. There is no escape from such a trap and the next thing Richard knew he was surrounded by burning wreckage with 600 very mad NVA soldiers rushing toward him. Still dazed from the impact of the crash and a gun shot wound to his left arm Richard started to focus on his situation.
Pain had started to set in and a strange sense of calm filled Richard as he realized the extent of his injuries. A sharp sensation in his hands told him that he had been burned badly and he could not see because of a wound to the upper bridge of his nose which displaced his right eye and shut the left eye. A check of his body found his right foot was flopping as it had been dislocated in the crash and his back had been broken. The NVA soldiers were getting close and Richard could hear the bullets cracking around him and explosions from enemy rocket propelled grenades, RPG's.
The next thing he expected was the NVA soldiers bayoneting him or worse. Panic started to set in as Richard reached for his pistol and could not grasp it as a result of the burns to his hands. To make matters worse the NVA soldiers were getting close as they charged up the hill to finish him off. At this point, Richard figures he is, as good as, dead. Nobody in their right mind would come in and get him, he thought. All Richard could do now, was yell, "God help me," over and over again.
Suddenly, the area was being rocked by the impact of 17 pound rockets from his cobra's and then Richard felt the force of the rotor wash from a single LOH being flown by, Dexter Florence, as it landed. Two soldiers jumped out of the LOH and grabbed hold of him. As one of his rescuers started firing a machine gun right over his head bursting his left ear drum, Richard, yelled to the men to save Chuck Dean and they told him that Chuck was dead.
At first they dragged him on the ground to wait for fire being placed on the area to become more accurate and pin the NVA down. Then the soldiers picked him up and threw his pain racked body into the aircraft and flew through heavy ground fire with Richard yelling, over and over again, "I am going to make it!"
For his actions Dexter was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Sadly, three days before he was to go home, Dexter Florence was killed while flying his aircraft in support of South Vietnamese troops. Richard Cunnare survived and now has a wonderful wife with two terrific sons, 18-year-old David and 16-year-old John. Through Dexter's heroic actions and loyalty to a friend a new generation of Cunnare men was born.