Book tells about Tarentum native’s Vietnam War rescue mission |
Valley News Dispatch

Book tells about Tarentum native’s Vietnam War rescue mission

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
Courtesy Peter D. Shay
“Triumphant Warrior” tells the story of a Vietnam War rescue mission undertaken by Navy pilot Allen Ellis Weseleskey, a Tarentum native.

Allen Ellis Weseleskey says he would do it all over again.

In the same way.

Facing the same imminent danger.

Weseleskey, who was born in Tarentum, lived in Springdale and currently resides in Virginia Beach, Va., is a retired Navy captain.

On March 9, 1968, in Vietnam, he rescued a man named Jack Jacobs, an American adviser assigned to the Vietnamese Army, who was with an American sergeant with the last name of Gonzalez.

“I would not leave any American behind dead or alive,” Weseleskey says. “And for that I was punished. I would do it all over again. I have lived to tell about it. I survived. I have a survival instinct.”

About the mission

The mission took place on the outskirts of Sadec, a small city in Kien Phuong Province in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam, according to the book “Triumphant Warrior” by Peter D. Shay. The book is available on Amazon.

Weseleskey was in charge of a fire team of two helicopters borrowed from the Army. He and his helicopter team were caught in crossfire. Weseleskey was signaled to clear the area and abort the mission, but he chose to complete it, the book says.

On that March night, he asked his crew if any of them wanted to get off the aircraft before he underwent the mission. Weseleskey, 84, who was 33 at that time, says he was not going to leave any American behind.

“It was such a dangerous flight,” says Shay, a retired Navy pilot, who lives in Manhattan. “Allen’s commanding officer held a bitter feeling for him. Allen was a polarizing figure. There was some bitterness and some people loved him.

“It was his mission. He was the pilot in charge.”

Long-awaited recognition

When Weseleskey left Vietnam in April 1968, he was under investigation by the Uniform Code of Military Justice because the officer in charge told him he didn’t want the helicopters shot up or anyone injured, but Weseleskey went ahead anyway.

That left him “under a black cloud,” he says, so he never got an end-of-tour award. He eventually received the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star.

When Shay was researching his book, he met Jacobs, who told Shay he wanted to meet the man who saved him. Weseleskey also wanted to find out if Jacobs had survived.

The two met eight years ago.

Weseleskey is responsible for saving others as well during his 450 combat missions, which included being shot down and wounded himself. He says he has a “guardian angel.”

Comrades forever

Tom Crull of Dallas, Texas, was one of the co-pilots under Weseleskey for eight of 12 months he was in Vietnam. Weseleskey said Crull’s commitment to serving his country really stood out so he took Crull under his wing — for which Crull is grateful.

“He deserved the medal in my opinion,” Crull says. “He saved another American. That is what we are supposed to do. I won’t forget the day. That was a part of war.”

Volatile childhood

Weseleskey was inspired to join the service by his Springdale High School music director Dr. Dwayne Wareham, a World War II pilot. Wareham knew about a scholarship program at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pa., where he finished high school and completed two years of college.

Weseleskey left home at 15½ after a rough upbringing. He got thrown out of the house by his father, he says.

“My childhood was a disaster,” he says. “Males 13 or 14 years old were expected to drop out of school and go to work.”

So he went to work at Allegheny Steel Mill in Brackenridge. He says his father took his son’s paychecks.

Weseleskey enlisted in the Navy in 1955. He left the service in 1985.

Today, he helps veterans get the health care they need. Crull says Weseleskey, who is combat disabled, has done more for veterans than anyone Crull knows.

“He has a heart of gold,” Crull says. “I would fly with that guy anywhere.”

A life partner

Weseleskey says he never would have made it through everything without the support of his wife Sally, an Arnold native whom he met as a teenager at a Springdale nightclub. On their second dance, he asked her to marry him.

They wrote letters while he was overseas and plan to compile those thoughts into a book.

“She was there for me from the moment I met her,” he says. “During every mission I thought of her and when we would be back together.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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