When the American soldiers returned home from World War II in 1945, they were greeted as heroes in the United States. Veterans were met with parades to honor them and recognize the sacrifices they had made. The same could not be said for the veterans of the Vietnam War. There were no welcome-home rallies. Instead, most Vietnam veterans returned stateside to a society that didn’t care about them. Veterans were told to not talk about their time in the war or to even mention being a veteran at all. One of those veterans was Guthrie graduate and former Lighthorse Air Cavalry helicopter pilot Rex Gooch.
“When Vietnam veterans like myself returned home, we were not welcomed and our service in Southeast Asia was not appreciated,” Gooch said. “Upon returning stateside, we learned within weeks—if not days—to not mention that we were in Vietnam or mention that we were in the military. This went on for years and because of that, so many stories of the Vietnam War haven’t been told and a lot of them have probably passed with guys when they died.”
Over the years after returning from Vietnam, Gooch and the rest of the Lighthorse Cavalry would have annual reunions to get together and share war stories. That’s when Ace Cozzalio’s name kept resurfacing.
“We would have reunions on an annual basis and you kept hearing about this remarkable pilot hero that just did amazing things and his name was Ace Cozzalio,” Gooch said. “I kept urging my buddies that someone had to document this stuff because it was just too good. Of course, nobody did. Several years went by and I just took off and started interviewing people. I interviewed 45 of the guys that served with Ace or were saved by him. That was the first book I wrote and it was published in 2015.”
Gooch’s book Ace: The Story of Lt. Col. Ace Cozzalio sold over 7,500 copies and won a bronze medal in the 2016 Annual Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards. With the overwhelming success of the book, Gooch wanted to get more heroic stories from the war out.
“Ace was in the first part of the Vietnam War and I was in the latter part of it and no one had really ever told the story of the differences between the two and what happened in the latter part of the war,” Gooch said. “That’s when I decided to write another book. After toying with it for a long time, I decided to not make it an autobiography because I saw the people around me—the pilots, the crew chiefs, the door gunners—all of which did such incredibly heroic things. I decided to write that book and instead of it being about me, I have stories about people who served with me and what they did.”
Gooch’s second book The Aviators airlifts the reader back in time to the Vietnam War in 1971-72, telling the stories of young pilots and crew members, who gallantly served their country. The book highlights 25 different veterans, each chapter highlighting a particular story of the individual and what they did in the war and closes each chapter with a summary and what each person did after the war. The book was awarded the bronze medal in the 2020 IPPY Book Awards for Best E-Book Design. It’s already sold over 1,500 copies in the first six months since its release.
“The feedback I’m getting from this book is that people really enjoy seeing what happened to those guys that did such amazing things in Vietnam,” Gooch said. “The family members are excited to see all the stories too. The book has really taken off.”
Currently, The Aviators has a five-star review on Amazon. The reception to the book and the stories from a once-controversial war has been the most rewarding thing for Gooch. To finally get the heroic tales of the veterans out into the open for all to read was the reason the book was written in the first place.
“That was one of the things that drove me to get these stories written because there was a 20-year period between the Vietnam War and the Gulf War that the war and veterans were unpopular,” Gooch said. “It wasn’t until 1991 that the first person came up to me and thanked me for my service. That was 20 years that nobody spoke about it or talked about it. I was a little apprehensive myself to start talking about it because I remember the looks on other people’s faces and you could tell it was a look of disgust. Today, we are appreciated, and we hear it all the time. That was the driving force to write both of these books. I wanted to get these stories out there before they were lost.”
To purchase either of Gooch’s books, you can do so on Amazon or www.fifthcavalry.com.