Jerry Chirichigno was born in 1937 in Piura, Peru. He emigrated to the United States on January 4, 1959, and was granted his U.S. citizenship on May 22, 1964. Jerry enlisted in the U.S. Army on August 3, 1960, and after completing basic training and advanced infantry training, he served with Company D, 2nd Airborne Battle Group of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from December 1960 until he left active duty and joined the Army Reserve on August 3, 1963. Sgt Chirichigno transferred to the Alabama Army National Guard on November 15, 1964, and served with the 20th Special Forces Group (Reserve) in Birmingham, Alabama, until returning to active duty with the Army on May 25, 1966. During this time, he was commissioned a 2nd Lt through Infantry Officer Candidate School on September 8, 1965. His next assignment was with Company C, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, from May 1966 to January 1967. After completing U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, Lt Chirichigno deployed to Southeast Asia, where he served with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division in South Vietnam from June to August 1967, followed by service with the 5th Special Forces Group in South Vietnam from August 1967 to May 1968. He next completed Army Aviation School and Helicopter pilot training at Fort Wolters, Texas, and Fort Rucker, Alabama, in February 1969. Capt Chirichigno served as Commander of A Company, 32nd Aviation Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg from March to July 1969, and then deployed to South Vietnam, where he served as an AH-1G Cobra gunship pilot with B Troop, 7th Squadron of the 17th Cavalry from September 1969 until his helicopter was shot down over South Vietnam and he was taken as a Prisoner of War on November 3, 1969. After spending 1,241 days in captivity, Capt Chirichigno was released during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973. He was hospitalized at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to recover from his injuries from March 1973 until he was medically retired from the Army on September 12, 1974. After leaving the Army, Jerry served with the U.S. State Department for many years.
His Distinguished Service Cross Citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Company B, 7th Battalion, 17th Cavalry, 1st Aviation Brigade. Captain Chirichigno distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 2 November 1969, as Platoon Commander of an aero-weapons Platoon while on a reconnaissance mission southwest of Duc Lap, Quang Duc Province. Captain Chirichigno's platoon of two light observation helicopters and two attack helicopters were searching for an enemy force of at least battalion size. One of the helicopters drew unexpectedly intense enemy fire and sustained excessive structural damage, necessitating a crash landing. Its sister ship followed the damaged aircraft down to extract its wounded crew. While attempting takeoff, the second aircraft also was shot down. All four crewmen were wounded. The downed aircraft had come down in an open field directly in the enemy's field of fire and subject to the full force of his reactive capability. Captain Chirichigno arrived overhead at the crash scene and with the other remaining airborne helicopter began to deliver suppressive and protective fire upon the enemy but without much success as the enemy fire both at the circling aircraft and the crash scene continued to increase in intensity. To more fully protect his downed companions, Captain Chirichigno moved his aircraft at low speed and altitude to assault the enemy at the tree-top level, destroying at least one machine gun position and its crew and inflicting significant other casualties among the enemy. Observing that an enemy platoon was advancing to within meters of the crash site, Captain Chirichigno maneuvered his helicopter through the fusillade of ever-increasing enemy fire to hover between the enemy and his comrades. In the presence of devastating enemy fire power and seemingly insurmountable odds and disregarding all personal risk, he challenged the enemy face-to-face at less than 20 meters. He exchanged machine gun and grenade fire with the enemy, killing at least seven of them and forcing the others to withdraw. Although seriously wounded in the exchange, he remained on station to defend his comrades and meet successive onslaughts until his gunship was silenced by overwhelming enemy firepower. Captain Chirichigno's exceptional bravery, determination and courage under fire gave his comrades sufficient time to escape the immediate enemy threat and inflicted vastly disproportionate damage upon the enemy in terms of the relative strengths of the opposing forces.