Seawolf Combat missions, SEAWOLF Door Gunner AVIATION MACHINIST’S MATE (Jet) 2ND CLASS VINCENT PAONE, DET 6, Submitted by fellow Gunner Petty Officer Dan Higgins who was on the first mission and on the ground helping on the second. Edited by AECS Bill Rutledge
Highly combat decorated Petty Officer Vincent Paone was assigned to HA(L)-3 Seawolf Detachment 6 from Feb 68 until June 69. Paone flew over 700 combat missions with Det 6 from Dong Tam, RVN. Among his many decorations are The Silver Star, 2 Single Action Airmedals (Heroism) Purple Heart, 38 strike flight Airmedals, Cross of Gallantry and many other combat awards.
1. In June 1968, Det 6 was standing by for a SEAL operation. The SEALS were inserted by Navy PBRs (patrol boats) to capture or kill a Viet Cong tax extortionist. The tax collector was killed and the SEALs immediately came under intense heavy enemy automatic weapons fire during their escape. The Seawolf fireteam was scrambled to support them with low level air cover. When his fireteam arrived overhead Petty Officer Paone was at the ready on his free M60 machine gun in the left door of the lead gunship. As the fireteam came in to attack they started receiving heavy enemy ground fire. The SEALS marked their position as the Seawolves rolled in hot. Paone identified multiple automatic weapons positions shooting at the gunships and he took them under fire with his M60. Low on ammo and having silenced many of the enemy firing positions with his devastating suppressive fire, new enemy positions opened up on the birds. Although both gunships had taken multiple hits from the enemy fire, they returned to Dong Tam to hot rearm/refuel. They were not going to leave the SEALS to be captured or killed.
Upon returning to the kill zone, the SEALS were still engaged in a life or death fire fight with the enemy. Paone observed two platoons of Viet Cong advancing on the SEALs position and the fireteam rolled in and made many low firing runs over and around the SEALs. Again, Paone laid down a barrage of accurate fire on the enemy allowing the SEALs to further withdraw. Out of ammo again his fireteam had to make another hot turn around.
Returning to the Battle scene for a third time. Paone caught the Viet Cong in the open and again he unleashed more lethal fire on the enemy positions, killing more of the enemy. His suppression of the enemy fire allowed the SEALs to withdraw to safety with only wounded and no fatalities. It was later learned his devastating fire and damage to the Viet Cong forced them to withdraw from the area.
2. For the following action Petty Officer Paone was awarded the Silver Star for his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action. As a Door Gunner/Crew Chief in the lead Seawolf gunship at Dong Tam, RVN on 26 March 1969. That night, Dong Tam came under a heavy Viet Cong attack with the rockets and mortars landing near the Seawolf gunships which were in close proximity to a large army ammo dump.
Paone’s fireteam scrambled and just as they lifted off, the ammo dump, with 22 tons of ammunition, was hit and the ensuing violent explosion flipped his gunship on its left side. Copilot LTJG Dave Heater was thrown from the gunship and pinned under the aircraft. When exiting from the crushed gunship, Paone suffered burns and wounds from the hot flying shrapnel from the still exploding ammo dump. The gunship’s fuel cell had ruptured and was leaking onto trapped LTJG Heater. Ammunition was exploding everywhere with sparks falling everywhere, any one that hit the leaking fuel could have ignited and engulfed Heater.
Hearing the screams of his trapped copilot, Paone raced to the nearby water pump and dragged the hose to the crashed helo and sprayed the leaking fuel, dispersing it away from Heater. Despite the downed gunship was receiving an unceasing cascade of falling metal debris such as 105 Howitzer shells, belted ammunition exploding in the air and sparks falling all around him, he continued to flush away the spilling fuel until help arrived. He then labored furiously until the gunship was lifted enough to release the trapped pilot. Paone then gave assistance rescuing the crew in the trail gunship which had been blown out of the sky killing one of the Seawolf pilots. Paone's lead gunship caught fire and was completely destroyed.
Three other Seawolf gunners also received Silver Stars for similar heroic actions that night, Neil McDonald, Mike O’Brien and Ron Kingray.