Warrior Care Month "Show of Strength" Feature: Highly decorated Airman still serving troops

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Woodruff
  • Staff Writer
(Editor's note: November is the Department of Defense Warrior Care Month and all this month the Take Off will feature a Tinker warrior who has stepped up with a great "show of strength.")

If you ask him, William "Pete" Piazza will tell you he was just doing his job. He'll simply say he didn't think about it at the time, but in doing his job, he became a true American hero.

The retired senior master sergeant is one of the highest decorated Security Forces individuals in the Air Force. He earned the Silver Star on Feb. 9, 1968, for gallantry in action during his tour in Vietnam.

"It is no exaggeration to say Senior Master Sgt. Pete Piazza is an Air Force icon, an American hero in the truest sense of the word in a time when that word is used too frequently to describe people who have not met Pete's standard of service," said Col. Christopher Azzano, 72nd Air Base Wing and Tinker installation commander. "It's an honor to know the real deal."

In the early morning hours of Jan. 31, 1968, a rocket and ground attack was launched by hostile Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces, thus beginning the infamous Vietnam Tet Offensive against Bien Hoa Air Base and the 3rd Security Police Squadron.

Then-Staff Sergeant Piazza drove through a hail of machine gun and sniper fire to resupply the defenders of Bunker 10 who were quickly running out of ammunition and slap flares.

The enemy was some 100 yards away from Bunker 10 inside Bien Hoa Air Base. On that fateful night, 30-40 Airmen were in for one of the longest, most terrible nights of their lives.

"It was scary," said Mr. Piazza. "We didn't worry about that at the time because your mind was going in different directions."

Mr. Piazza said the Airmen were all in a circle in the bunker when someone looked up following a big boom.

"We looked up and saw a B40 rocket-propelled grenade flying overhead, and I thought at the time, it looked like superman," he said.

"I remember it was like cops and robbers or like the old westerns. You hide behind the bunker, and when you hear the bang, you would lean out and shoot back at them, and that's what I did with 'Charlie' for about 10 rounds from my XM-148, 40mm launcher."

He said the funny part was after every shell hit, all the guys in the bunker would yell at one another, "Are you OK?" "Yeah, I'm OK. Are you OK?"

After the officer-in-charge was killed, Sergeant Piazza assumed command and rallied with his troops in a show of stamina and force while they counter-attacked during an eight-hour assault. The position was held and, in the end, a number of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars in aircraft and supplies were spared.

Through some miracle, Mr. Piazza was not injured, but what he saw that day was something no one ever hopes to see. Mr. Piazza says he does not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, though he said there is always a chance it could come back to him.

Mr. Piazza is still very active within Security Forces. In 2001, he established the Oklahoma "Heartland" Chapter of the Air Force Security Police Association. He also remains active as the president of the Vietnam Security Police Association, and was awarded the Warrior Medal of Valor in 2009. The Air Force Security Forces Association also awarded him a medal for their Hall of Fame in 2011.

Mr. Piazza is married to Gloria and has one daughter, Sarah. He also has four children, David, Tiffani, Jeffery and Mary from a previous marriage.