FOTI PAUL JOHN

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Name: CW2 Paul John Foti
Status: Killed In Action from an incident on 03/23/1971 while performing the duty of Pilot.
Age at death: 21.1
Date of Birth: 02/25/1950
Home City: Long Island City, NY
Service: AV branch of the reserve component of the U.S. Army.
Unit: A/1/9 CAV 1 CAV
Major organization: 1st Cavalry Division
Flight class: 69-47/69-45
Service: AV branch of the U.S. Army.
The Wall location: 04W-070
Short Summary: Shot down by outgoing ARVN arty round in Cambodia.
Aircraft: AH-1G tail number 68-15111
Country: Cambodia
MOS: 100B = Utility/Observation Helicopter Pilot
Primary cause: ARVN ARTY?
Major attributing cause: aircraft connected not at sea
Compliment cause: vehicular accident
Vehicle involved: helicopter
Position in vehicle: pilot
Vehicle ownership: government
Started Tour: 05/11/1970
"Official" listing: helicopter air casualty - pilot
The initial status of this person was: no previous report
Length of service: *
Military grid coordinates of event: XU542342

Additional information about this casualty:
My memory of those days are clouded by time and distance. I have forgotten many specifics and, I regret, sometimes even the names of those we served with, but what I have not forgotten is the bond formed between us.

I do however, remember your uncle very well because we became good friends in a short period of time. He was just one of those great warm guys who was immediately likable, trustworthy, and friendly to all. And very much a New Yorker; very Italian. He had a great and distinctive accent.

Here's a typical story about your uncle: I arrived Viet Nam in May 1970 and after a day of processing in the 1/9th Cav rear area, was flown by helicopter to Tay Ninh and deposited between two runways along with my bags and other stuff that had been recently issued me. I had not slept for several days, was very hot, generally miserable and hungry, and didn't know exactly where I was and was quite overwhelmed by the whole experience. And I couldn't get over how bad it smelled... really really bad!

Airplanes and helicopters continued to arrive and takeoff around me and I didn't have a clue where I was supposed to go. After some minutes I watched a jeep make its way around a runway and come to a stop in front of me. The jeep was, of course, driven by your uncle. He had seen that someone had been abandoned on the airstrip and was looking more than a little lost so he came to retrieve me much to my eternal thanks. Had he not done so I think I'd still be standing there. Paul, or Foti, as I always called him, gave me a big smile, shook my hand, helped load my stuff into the jeep and drove me around to A Troop, 1/9th Cav's area. Foti had rescued me on one of his very infrequent off days.

Foti introduced me around, gave me the 10 minute orientation tour of the base, took me over to our supply to draw a weapon, chicken plate, maps, flight survival gear and other stuff, and then drove me up to one of the makeshift "officer hoochs" and helped me move into a area recently vacated by another pilot who had been killed a few weeks before.

Like most of the pilots in the unit, I too had volunteered for the 1/9th Cav as I knew their reputation but once there really wondered what I had gotten myself into. Foti made me feel welcome and we became fast friends. Foti was a warrant officer while I was a new 1st Lieutenant. Normally warrants and commissioned officers don't mix, but this was not normal times and Foti was not a normal guy. He treated everyone with the utmost respect and courtesy and would help anyone in need. And I sure needed it especially during those first few weeks.

Soon, and as a new member of the weapon's platoon (guns), I began flying with the "old" pilots who were the aircraft commanders regardless of their rank (most were warrant officers). Their job was to pass their experience onto the new guys. Foti was one of the old guys even though he had not been in county that long. I'm sure I flew with him while trying to get up to speed and become an aircraft commander myself. He had to have been a very good pilot or else he would not have been made an aircraft commander in such a tough and dedicated combat unit. As such, he had demonstrated the extraordinary ability to multi-task while flying a challenging machine. He monitored at least three radio frequencies at the same time, flew the aircraft, positioned the aircraft to protect his scout (little bird) at all times, could call and direct artillery and air strikes, directed the scout where to conduct reconnaissance (turn left, roll-out, take a heading of ...,etc) shoot rockets, and train the new guy in the front seat all at the same time. Not every pilot was cut out to fly Cobra's but Foti was as good as any of them and was respected among his peers.

Lake all good cavalry officers, it also helped that he had a great dark black mustache which he could twirl with his fingers. It was truly impressive. One of the best in our unit.

Typically most aviation units at that time were under-strength, so there were only eight or nine of us assigned to the weapons platoon instead of the normal twenty which meant that we would each typically fly about 120 to 140 combat hours per month. We flew almost every day, usually two or three sorties per day. As the eyes and ears of the 1st Cavalry Division, we were expected to find the enemy and take him on by ourselves if we could. If our own forces were inadequate to take on the enemy, then we coordinated for larger units to join the battle. We flew in III Corps Viet Nam and into Cambodia. We often went into areas that were known to have heavy concentrations of bad guys and more and more anti-aircraft guns. We were good at what we did and were recognized as the best and most aggressive cavalry organization in Viet Nam. This was our job.

I credit the ability of our unit to fight as effectively as it did to the unwritten, but nevertheless, real "policy" of never leaving anyone behind and of the whole unit being committed to a fight if one of our aircraft was shot down, or our own infantry (blues) was in trouble. You knew, and it was demonstrated on an all too often basis, that if something bad happened, everyone already in the air would be diverted to your location to help you and everyone in the rear area, cooks, bottle-washers, mechanic's, etc., would drop what they were doing, grab their weapons and jump on any aircraft that was flyable to come to your aid. We saved a lot of our own guys that way, and it gave us all the knowledge that if the worst happened and we were shot down, our brothers would come and do everything they could to get us out alive.

As for the day Foti was killed I'll tell you what I can recall. It was around mid-morning and we were to perform visual reconnaissance in an area of Cambodia about 10 or so miles across the border. South Vietnamese Army soldiers had pushed across the border and had been engaged in serious fighting with the North Vietnamese regulars.

Because we had been running into heavy anti-aircraft fire in Cambodia, we were not flying with our little birds that day, but rather two Cobra's would be flying together to give one another fire support. I was flying the second ship behind Foti and Don Osborne's sircraft. We had left our base area early in the morning to stage out of a little place on border. The plan was for us to refuel and wait for the clouds to burn off before conducting visual reconnaissance of our assigned area across the border. Foti finished refueling first so he elected to take off and head out to check the weather which at that time of year could be bad. I finished refueling and took off about 10 minutes later. After taking off we called Foti to let him know we were on our way and to ask about the weather, but we did not hear any reply. This was not of an immediate concern as we sometimes experienced radio problems for one reason or another.

The weather was pretty good in Cambodia and as we flew about 10 miles across the border, my gunner (co-pilot) and I could see smoke rising from a clearing in the far distance close to a rubber plantation we had worked previously. We headed straight for the smoke as we were still not able to raise Foti on the radio and feared the worse. Due to the bad guy anti-aircraft guns in the area, we had been flying a little higher than usual. As we approached the smoke, we could see an intense fire burning and what looked like ammunition cooking off. We immediately dived down to within a few hundred feet of the fire and could see that it was the burning wreckage of a Cobra. It was obvious by the extensive damage to the aircraft, the intense fire, and the ammunition cooking off that the crash was not survivable. As I recall, we could see that the rotor head and blades had separated from the aircraft and was some distance from the main wreckage area. We called for help and it wasn't long before we had our own people on the ground who did their best to recover the remains. In the meantime, we had Cobra's covering the folks on the ground but no-one reported taking any fire in that particular area.

Over the years, some of us have debated what brought that Cobra down. Most of us believe it could only be one of three things. We learned that there was a South Vietnamese artillery unit in the area which means it was possible (although still not very unlikely) for an outgoing artillery round to strike the aircraft causing catastrophic damage or, Foti's aircraft may have been hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire which caused the rotor system to separate from the aircraft. There's always the possibility that there was some other mechanical failure as well. Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure.

Whatever happened, it happened very quickly. Both pilots died instantly upon impact.

Of course we held an appropriate memorial service a few days later attended by all personnel. I'll tell you know that I remained at the very back of that group because I was having trouble keeping myself together that day. Foti and Osborne's death was very hard for me as they were both close friends and people I looked up to every day. Their death also brought home to me for the first, but not the last time, that we were in a serious situation and more folks were going to get killed. It hardened me in a way I don't often like to think about it still affects some of us today.

I still think of Foti and Osborne, Lilly, and Smoot, in particular and, all the others who will remain forever young in my mind. I think of all they have missed since their untimely deaths. I don't think however you should dwell on how Foti died, rather dwell on how he lived and the fact that he was a respected courageous American Army officer who gave his life freely when his country called.

Every few years some of us from A 1/9th Cav come together and hold a reunion. The bonds we have can never be broken. Few understand that except those who have been in similar circumstances. Each reunion ends with a memorial service and a calling of the roll. Those present respond with, "Here First Sergeant." When Foti's name is called, he does not answer, not the first time it is called, nor the second time, nor the third time. But we know he hears us. And we know he, like the others killed in Viet Nam, will not be forgotten by those who fought alongside them.

I've attached a few pictures. I don't have many, but I did find a good one of Foti standing beside his Cobra. Several photos show some of the guys who lived with, flew with, and knew Foti very well.....guys like Jim Thomas, Don Osborne, Michael King, Jim Medina, Charlie Cochrran, Powell, Cross, Ron Glass, Larry Lilly, Jeff Houser, Max Evans, Bo McAllister, Carl Roseappe, John Bartlett, and Jerry Boyle among others.

If you look closely at the picture with 8 young guys in it, I'm the skinny guy on the end without a shirt.

If you want to know more about A 1/9th Cav and operations in Viet Nam, may I suggest you find a copy of Jerome M. Boyle's book, "Apache Sunrise." Here's a quote from Boyle's book. "I can't ever recall seeing Paul Foti without a smile on his face or a laugh in his voice. Wherever he was, you could always find someone laughing." That's the Foti I remember too.

I don't particularly enjoy reminiscing about Viet Nam but I could not ignore your plea for information about your uncle as I can imagine how hard it is for you to understand and appreciate what was happening in those days and why he had to give his life. I hope in some small way I have helped fill out the picture. Foti's country called and he stepped forward. Freedom is not Free. Foti paid the ultimate price and deserves our eternal thanks and respect. God Bless.

From: Jeff Cromar, Apache 29, Lieutenant Colonel, (US Army retired)

Reason: aircraft lost or crashed
Casualty type: Hostile - killed
married male U.S. citizen
Race: Caucasian
Religion: Roman Catholic
The following information secondary, but may help in explaining this incident.
Category of casualty as defined by the Army: battle dead Category of personnel: active duty Army Military class: warrant officer
This record was last updated on 10/09/2008


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Date posted on this site: 09/23/2017


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