My hero's name is Dexter Florence. Dexter can be labeled a hero in my
eyes because he saved [my father] 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 three AH-1G attack helicopters
and two 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 Province. 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
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.
result of this essay, the author, student David
Cunnare, is being disciplined by his high school for a zero-tolerance policy against "profanity." The title was proclaimed obscene by David's
teacher, Ms Faulk (English Department), and Mr. Mike Arnold (Special
Needs Coordinator). To read a letter of protest by David's Vietnam Veteran
father, Richard Cunnare (who's
life was saved by David's hero, Dexter Florence), Click Here.