Branches: Infantry, Special Forces
Born: June 6, 1937
Deceased: April 16, 1992.
Interred: Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery, Oahu Island, Hawaii (Plot: 82-H 0 5)
Awards: Distinguished Service Cross, Several Purple Hearts, Several Silver Stars, Several Bronze Stars, Combat Infantry Badge, Numerous Service Ribbons.
Honors: Inducted into the Infantry OCS Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, GA.
Captain Edward W. Spinaio – Citation for Distinguished Service Cross
“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Captain (Infantry) Edward W. Spinaio, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Advisory Team 100, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. Captain Spinaio distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 12 January 1969 while serving as advisor to a Vietnamese Ranger battalion at Fire Support Base Dot located five kilometers from the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh Province. Learning that one company had encountered a North Vietnamese bunker complex during a sweep operation, Captain Spinaio quickly organized a relief force and joined the besieged unit. When the indigenous company commander was wounded by fire from a hostile bunker, Captain Spinaio single-handedly stormed the fortification and destroyed it with hand grenades. He then proceeded to move the wounded to the evacuation point. As the men were being loaded on the helicopter, two enemy soldiers charged the landing site in an attempt to damage the aircraft. Captain Spinaio shot both assailants, enabling the extraction to be completed successfully. Captain Spinaio’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
Summary: (Submitted by his friend John Cleckner) I have a lot of Eddie Spinaio stories, but I like this one best. Eddie and I hung out at OCS with the other SF Candidates and talked with Roger Donlon (MOH) on most every break. Roger was going through the IOAC at the same time we were going through OCS and would complain about all of the distractions being a MOH recipient and trying to get his studies done.
Then Eddie and I did the new OCS battalion extension thingy when things expanded before we were able to graduate. Eddie ended up in the 6th SFGA at Fort Bragg and went back to VN shortly before I did.
This is the “Story: and I am sticking to it, because I know it is true. Eddie was a true hero, he had the DSC, Silver Stars up the butt, same with Bronze Stars with V, Air Medals, ARCOMS etc, but the one thing I loved about Eddie was, he had a Purple Heart for almost every Valor Award he had. I had two Colonels I served with in the 82nd and Berlin, who had been S3 in Bn and Bde in VN and these guys had every medal known to man, except the PH, I asked them how they could get that many medals and not a PH. The answer from both was that they got them all in a helicopter flying over the battle area. Eddie got his wearing a rucksack.
He and I also went through the Infantry Officers Advance Course together in 1971. He related this story to me one night when we had our wives out for steaks. Eddie was nominated for the Medal of Honor. Because of the years he had already served in SVN and the PHs he had, General Westmoreland told him that he could no longer serve in Combat in SVN until the MOH nomination was resolved. Westy asked Eddie where he would like to be assigned while waiting for the results of the MOH issue.
“Cool Eddie,” or as he was nicknamed in Special Forces, “Dirty Eddie Spinaio”, told Westy that if he could, he wanted to stay “Close By VN” and would it be possible for him to be the R & R Officer in Australia? Westy said, “DONE”, and Eddie went off to Australia for 6 months and performed his duties there with Great Distinction (I know).
His Medal of Honor was down graded to the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and when the then COMUSMACV (General Abrams) pinned the DSC on Eddie and after seeing his record, he commented to Eddie that he should “TAKE A BREAK” from war and asked him where he would like to be assigned. Eddie looked Abrams straight in the eye and said, “Sir, if it would be possible, I would like to be assigned as the R & R Officer in Australia.” Creighton assigned him to a six month tour as the American R & R Officer in Australia, Now you know the rest of the Story…………
The Edward Spinaio Story
by Pete Cowman
When Ed Spinaio reported to the Officer Candidate School at FT Benning, GA, he was a 28-year old staff sergeant with over 10 years of service. His uniform held three rows of decorations and campaign ribbons along with master parachutist wings, Ranger and Special Forces tabs and the Combat Infantry Badge. He joined the Marine Corps out of high school and after his enlistment, had a break in service before joining the Army and then the Special Forces. Spinaio had a tour in Vietnam from October,1964 to April,1965 and when he reported to OCS in July 1965, his leadership and combat experience were highly respected by his classmates.
At OCS, Spinaio was assigned to the 6th Platoon where he made many friends who looked up to him but he also had friends in the other platoons, especially John Cleckner in the 1st Platoon. Cleckner had a Special Forces background with a tour in Vietnam and while on breaks during classes in Building Four, the two candidates enjoyed talking with Captain Roger Donlan who received the Medal of Honor while serving with the Special Forces in Vietnam. After completing OCS, Spinaio had two additional tours in Vietnam where his name was submitted for a Medal of Honor and where he received numerous awards for his bravery in combat.
As Cleckner wrote in a biography submitted for an OCS class reunion book, “Eddie was a true hero; his two Silver Stars, two Bronze Star Medals, two Purple Hearts as well as his other awards and decorations are a matter of record. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor but was informed by General Westmorland that due to his time in country and his Purple Hearts, he could no longer serve in a combat zone until the Medal of Honor was resolved. When the general asked Spinaio where he wanted to be assigned, Cool Eddie asked if it was possible to be the R&R officer in Australia. ‘Done’ said Westy and Eddie went off to Australia for six months where he served with great distinction. I know, I was there.”
The Medal of Honor was downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and by then there was a new commander in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams. Cleckner’s story continues. “When General Abrams pinned on the DSC and after seeing his record, he commented to Eddie that he should take a break from the war and asked where he would like to be assigned. Eddie looked Abrams straight in the eye and said, ’Sir, if it would be possible, I’d like to be assigned as the R&R office in Australia.’ “
Spinaio’s Special Forces overseas assignments included serving as XO of Det A-429 and as A Team Commander, 5th Special Forces Group, Senior Advisor to the Vietnamese 34th Ranger Battalion (see DSC citation), battalion advisor with the US Military Assistance Command and Recon Company Commander, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces. He also had a tour in Hawaii as Assistant G-3 with the 25th Infantry Division and from 1975-76, served as Special Assistant to the Commander, 267th Chemical Company, Johnson Atoll in the South Pacific. Returning to Hawaii in 1976, he served as a Special Assistant in the USA Support Command at Fort Shafter until his retirement on June 30, 1976.
After retirement, Spinaio suffered with diabetes, liver, kidney and heart valve failure and he passed away after extensive surgery at age 55 in 1992. He is buried at Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery on Oahu, near Kanehoe, Hawaii.
The Distinguished Service Cross
“….Captain Spinaio distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 12 January 1969 while serving as advisor to a Vietnamese Ranger battalion at Fire Support Base Dot located five kilometers from the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh Province. Learning that one company had encountered a North Vietnamese bunker complex during a sweep operation, Captain Spinaio quickly organized a relief force and joined the besieged unit. When the indigenous company commander was wounded by fire from a hostile bunker, Captain Spinaio single-handedly stormed the fortification and destroyed it with hand grenades. He then proceeded to move the wounded to the evacuation point. As the men were being loaded on the helicopter, two enemy soldiers charged the landing site in an attempt to damage the aircraft. Captain Spinaio shot both assailants, enabling the extraction to be completed successfully. Captain Spinaio’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping…”
The Silver Star
“First Lieutenant Spinaio distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 19 May 1967 while serving as executive officer of a Special Forces detachment during an attack on his base camp at Ba-Xoai. A reinforced Viet Cong battalion launched a savage ground attack on his camp with cover from their heavy weapons, but Lieutenant Spinaio braved withering fire to take a position on the front wall. Ignoring his own safety, he exposed himself to the heavy fire time after time to rally his men and direct their fire on the hostile onslaught. He was seriously wounded and knocked unconscious by an exploding recoilless rifle round early in the battle, but he returned to the perimeter under a hail of flying shrapnel as soon as he regained consciousness. He moved one hundred and twenty meters up an open hillside under a fierce barrage to put a mortar into operation and direct friendly fire on the Viet Cong positions. Running out of ammunition, he dashed to a recoilless rifle position and directed the crew to fire on enemy concentrations. Although the position was raked by machine gunfire, he exposed himself to enemy weapons to fire rockets at the onrushing insurgents. He noticed three wounded men nearby and raced to their aid. Continuing to brave intense fire, he carried the men to safety and directed their evacuation. Throughout the battle, he remained in the open to direct and inspire his men against overwhelming odds. First Lieutenant Spinaio’s gallantry in action was in keeping…”
The Bronze Star Medal
“Second Lieutenant Spinaio distinguished himself by valorous actions on 10 October 1966 while commanding a combat patrol during an attack by a numerically superior enemy force. Lieutenant Spinaio was serving as point observer for his search and destroy patrol when the Viet Cong initiated their offensive. It was early in the ensuing battle when he was wounded by a hand grenade explosion. Ignoring his wounds and keeping the mission foremost in his mind, Lieutenant Spinaio moved from position to position among his men and directed the tactical movements to establish a defense. Only when he was thoroughly satisfied with the emplacements did he take cover for himself. Lieutenant Spinaio then directed mortar fire upon the enemy. When the insurgents placed the force of their attack on him, Lieutenant Spinaio commanded his patrol to fall back and regroup. Heedless of his own safety, he moved back, regrouped his men, and initiated a successful counterattack. Second Lieutenant Spinaio’s personal bravery and devotion to duty were….”