Flag flies for Dick Crescenzo

Flag flies for Dick Crescenzo photo thumbnail143782

In continuing its mission to take history out of the textbooks by honoring a local veteran each month of the school year, the Hampton Bays School District is paying tribute to Vietnam veteran Dick Crescenzo of Hampton Bays by flying an American flag in his honor throughout the month of December. 

“The district is proud to honor Mr. Crescenzo for his bravery and service to the United States,” said Superintendent of Schools Lars Clemensen. 

Crescenzo was recognized at a ceremony on Dec. 6 at Hampton Bays Elementary School, where high school students in the district read his biography and sang. The event culminated with the raising of the flag on the school’s flagpole. 

Crescenzo was born in Brooklyn in 1946 and moved with his family 10 years later to Huntington. He attended Half Hollow Hills High School, where in addition to his studies, he ran track, and graduated with a New York State Regents Diploma in Industrial Arts.

After graduation, Crescenzo went to work for the Environmental Testing Laboratory in Hicksville, where he received several deferments that eliminated him from the draft. Although he could have continued in this manner, he eliminated his deferment out of a sense of patriotism and was drafted into the U.S. Army in May 1966.

Upon entering the Army, Crescenzo found himself in a unique situation. Instead of being trained individually for his assignments, he became part of a newly reinstated Army division that was to be his “home” for the foreseeable future. This new unit was the 9th Infantry Division, known as the “Old Reliables.” The unit was formed at Fort Riley, Kansas, where Crescenzo completed both his basic and advanced individual training. Upon graduation, he was awarded the military occupational specialty of 13 Echo 20, Artillery Fire Direction Center specialist.

In January 1967, the entire 9th Division was loaded onto transport vessels and shipped out to Vietnam. The division disembarked at Vung Tau, then moved out into the countryside. They set up their main base, named Bear Cat, several miles northeast of South Vietnam’s capital city of Saigon, near Tan An. 

Crescenzo was part of the Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 4th Artillery. Part of their responsibility was to provide fire support for Navy SEAL and Army field units and to be available to replace any of the other three batteries destroyed by enemy fire. During this assignment, Crescenzo broke the old Army rule of “never volunteer.” He volunteered for an experimental artillery unit in September 1967 that attempted to make the artillery pieces more mobile and flexible to meet fire support demands. The guns were mounted on portable platforms and airlifted by Huey helicopters, flying cranes and big Chinooks, closer to the troops in the field. The biggest problem was that it left the soldiers on the platforms exposed to enemy fire.
During one such experiment, the unit airlifted the platforms with Crescenzo and 79 artillerymen into the Mekong Delta, where they found themselves next to a 480-man battalion of North Vietnamese regular army troops. The communist troops attacked the 80 Americans and almost immediately overran them. Crescenzo and his men fought the enemy to a standstill, even lowering their big guns to fire at point blank range into the assaulting enemy troops. It was as a result of this battle that Crescenzo’s close friend was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Despite heavy casualties, no U.S. troops died, but the North Vietnamese Army suffered 125 killed in action. Crescenzo’s unit was the most decorated artillery unit in the entire 9th Division. In total, the division participated in 22 major combat operations against communist troops while in Vietnam.

Crescenzo returned to the States in January 1968 and was assigned to Fort Irwin, near Death Valley in California. The heat and humidity of Vietnam prepared him for the location. In addition to his Vietnam campaign and service medals, he was awarded the U.S. Army Commendation Medal with a “V” device for valor in combat. Unfortunately, he was exposed to Agent Orange while in the delta and suffers from that exposure today, 50 years later.

After separation from the Army, Crescenzo returned to Long Island to work in the environmental industry and obtained his degree from Suffolk County Community College. In 1980, he started his own environmental company, which he still runs today. He has three sons, two daughters and six grandchildren, with his youngest grandchild just born in November. He is also a lifetime member of the VFW, active as a Scoutmaster for many years with the Boy Scouts, and an elder and deacon in his Presbyterian church.