From North Philly to Vietnam, and trying to ‘come back normal’

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Ron Ferrizzi, who grew up in North Philadelphia, was an Army helicopter crew chief tasked with drawing enemy fire in Vietnam.

Ron Ferrizzi, who grew up in North Philadelphia, was an Army helicopter crew chief tasked with drawing enemy fire in Vietnam.

For “The Vietnam War” film series, directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick pulled together rare digitally remastered archival footage, photos, television broadcasts, home movies, recordings of three U.S. presidents, and testimonials from nearly 80 witnesses to the war.

The testimonials represent a decade’s worth of interviews, including recollections of two Philadelphia-area men.

Last month on “Morning Edition,” we brought you the story of Perkasie native Marine Sgt. W.D. Ehrhart who first appears in Episode 3.

Now we hear more from Ron Ferrizzi, who begins his testimonial in Episode 1. Ferrizzi, who grew up in North Philadelphia, was trained as an Army helicopter crew chief tasked with drawing enemy fire.

In the documentary, Ferrizzi talked about being interviewed by a female war correspondent just moments after returning from shooting thousands of rounds of ammunition and engaging seven enemy fighters in the Battle of Khe Sanh in February of 1968.

“We landed, and I grabbed my machine gun from the helicopter. She appeared like an apparition. She looked like Jayne Mansfield,” he said.

The journalist told Ferrizzi she had been watching the battle on TV. Then she asked, “What was it like?”

Ferrizzi said he couldn’t immediately answer her with words. Instead he held up his gun and fired a shot over the reporter’s shoulder. Knowing that the shot was loud enough to hurt her eardrums, he uttered, “That’s what it was like.”

What Ferrizzi didn’t reveal in the documentary was a habit he developed to steady his nerves during downtime — he self-medicated with marijuana.

“We never smoked when we flew at night,” he said. “Weed gave you a little bit of the ability to relax a little bit. It took away the war ever so slightly. I had no dreams. The dreams disappeared after the first week. If you didn’t smoke weed, you didn’t come back normal.”

To listen to Ferrizzi, now a retired picture framer living in Berks County, recount these war stories, click on the audio button above.

WHYY-TV finishes airing the 10-part documentary “The Vietnam War” Tuesday at 9 p.m. To view it episode by episode, go to whyy.org/vietnam and click “watch now.”

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