If you haven't already done so, please read http://www.don-valentine.com/gruntp.htm first.
This section covers a tour with the D Company, 1st SF Group which became the 46th SF Company [Ft Bragg, NC and Thailand June 1966-Oct 1967]
Training Group kept assigning radio operators straight out of training to my team. The first three could not send and receive Morse code at the minimum-required speed of 18 wpm and I rejected them. They should have never been allowed to graduate from the radio operator course.
[That is a prime example of what happens when an organization adopts the Affirmative Action Program and the "quota system" that inherently goes with it. Politicians can deny quota systems go with affirmative action until they turn blue in the face, but the truth of the matter is, they do. Thatís the easiest way to make sure that you comply with the program.]
Sometime in September, our B Team set up a field radio net to see how well their communicators could function. They sent me and my radio operator at the time, I canít remember his name, to Carolina Beach just south of Wilmington, North Carolina. We rented a room on the second floor of a flea bag hotel that was about a block off the beach. We set up our Angry 109 radio set and ran our antenna out the window and up across the roof of the hotel.
About the second day that we were there, I answered a knock on our door and there stood two Coast Guardsmen, one was an officer. They were both armed with pistolsóthankfully the weren't aimed at us. They had received information that two possible "spies" were operating out of the hotel. Even though we were both in proper military uniform and showed our military identification cards they still asked a lot of questions and said that they would verify our story with Fort Bragg after they left. They never bothered us again so I guess somebody at Fort Bragg claimed us. This was when I discovered that my third radioman could not operate the radio and decided to replace him.
[He later told me that being rejected ticked him off so bad, he became determined to master Morse code and finally did. He finally got his wish. He was assigned to an A Team and was KIA in South Vietnam. As it turned out, I could have taken any of those recruits because it didnít really make any difference on that particular mission how good they could operate the radio. Oh well, I did what I thought was best for the team and SF at the time and I didnít know that congress would cancel our mission. Anyway, if I had accepted one of them, somewhere down the line another team would have been stuck with an incompetent radioman.]
Just before we left, I finally found an experienced and competent radioman that was also dumb enough to volunteer to go with us, Staff Sergeant George Reeves. Easy-going, fun-loving George was a perfect choice for the last man on our team.
Besides myself, A-432 consisted of:
Captain Roland Greenwood [later lost a leg in Vietnam-I have since lost track of him];
1st Lieutenant Joseph M. Murphy [a former radio operator that worked with Harry P. and I at Fort Stewart];
Master Sergeant Gerald N. "Moose" Brannon [a World War II Ranger who was our Team Sergeant and retired at Fort Bragg in 1972 as a Sergeant Major where he remained until his death in 1995];
Sergeant First Class Forrest K. Foreman [our Intelligence Sergeant and karate black belt who later became Command Sergeant Major of the JFK Special Warfare Center];
Staff Sergeant Louis L. ďLonnieĒ Holmes [our senior medic and body-builder who left the army after one hitch];
Staff Sergeant James J. "Homer" Helm [our assistant medic who retired as a sergeant major and is now a mail carrier in Danbury, Nebraska];
Sergeant Bernard F. "Bugs" Moran, Jr. [our Heavy Weapons Leader, I lost track of Bugs];
Staff Sergeant John P. "Slick" Silk [our Light Weapons Leader; I lost track of Slick];
Staff Sergeant William W. Knuttilla [our Combat Engineer/Demolition Sergeant];
Staff Sergeant William P. "Onie" OíNeill [Combat Engineer/Demolition Specialist who got out of the army and went to college, changed his last name to "Rappa" so his stepfather would include him in his will and took flying lessons. Onie became a jet pilot for Federal Express and also a part-time Golf Pro in Casper, Wyoming and retired in Florida where he died in 2010]; and
Sergeant George B. Reeves [our radio operator who retired as a Sergeant Major and lives in the Fayetteville area].
D company left Fort Bragg in mid-October 1966. Enroute to Thailand, we stopped over for just a couple of hours at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. They had a stuffed polar bear in the operations building that stood at least 10 feet high, maybe higher. It was only early October, but you could see snow in any direction and it was so cold, I was glad that I was just passing through.
When we landed in Thailand and they opened the doors on that big plane, an invisible wall of heat smacked us right in the kisser. It was miserable hot and so humid, it was sickening. The heat was overwhelming and the only relief we got from it over the next twelve months was during the monsoon season. Thailand was the hottest place that I was ever stationed. It was even worse than Laos, Vietnam, Taiwan or even the Philippines. You could just stand still in the shade and you would sweat continuously. Every piece of clothing was soaking wet within an hour. Your feet made a "squishing" sound in your jungle boots when you walked, as if you had walked through a puddle of water.
A large thermometer hung on a nail on a large shade tree just outside our mess hall at Camp Pawaii which was just outside the little town of Lop Buri. One day, at lunch hour, I noticed that the mercury in that thermometer was all the way up in the bulb at the very top and that thing was in the shade. I had never seen a thermometer full to the brim.
Shortly after we arrived in Thailand, a big security flap broke out and the political fallout began. Our mission into Laos was cancelled. My only thought at the time was, that once again, a security leak has cost me a guerrilla mission. That ticked me off. Rumor Control said that Washington Post broke the story and the members of Congress immediately pitched another tantrum. We stayed in Thailand, but we just re-organized a bit and changed our mission. [I found out much later that we weren't going to run a 'guerrilla operation' in Laos anyway, we were going to insert LRRPs targeted against the Ho Chi Minh Trail area.]
It was during this time, I enrolled in the US Army Infantry Schoolís Senior Noncommissioned Officerís Correspondence Course. It was a very long course. As I recall, it consisted of about 120 credit hours and covered a multitude of subjects.
John L. Miller asked me to join the Special Forces Proficiency Course. We were going to help train Recon Teams and also help organize a base station and radio procedure for possible Recon Teams operating inside Laos sometime in the near future. So I agreed and remained at Camp Pawaii where our company headquarters and the Pro Course [Special Forces Proficiency Course] would be located.
John Miller was one of the best combat soldiers our army has ever produced. He loved combat! In fact, he loved it so much that some of the guys who were in Deltaís RTs with him wouldnít even come near him again afterwards because he might be recruiting for another combat mission and they knew that he would always volunteer himself and his troops for the most dangerous jobs.
John grew up in a small West Virginia coal mining town. He started out working in the mines like his father did.
John told me about some trouble that he had with a local bully when he was young. The bully beat John up every time they met and sometimes the bully went out of his way to find John. This went on for many years. One Saturday, a little while after John had graduated from high school and was working in the mines, he decided that he had taken his last whipping at the hands of that bully. He got his baseball bat, wrapped a towel around it and then tightly taped the towel to the bat. He put the bat beside the alley door of his favorite tavern and then went in through the front entrance. Very shortly, the bully showed up and started giving John a hard time. John invited his tormentor to step out back with him which the dumb ass was eager to do. John grabbed the bat as soon as he stepped out the back door and hit that dude everywhere except his head. When the guy finally got out of the hospital, he never went looking for John again. John joined the army shortly afterwards. John joined special forces when it originated in 1952 and went to Germany with the 10th Group.
While stationed in Germany with the 10th Group, John, who was a Master Sergeant, E-7 at the time, was sent to the Motor Pool on detail to help them prepare for the upcoming IG inspection. Sergeant Clarence A., the Motor Pool Sergeant, assigned them jobs. Before doing so, he told them, "Iím going to assign you duties and responsibilities commensurate with your rank." Sgt A. then told John to clean windshields. John promptly knocked Sgt A. out cold. John then returned to the barracks where he told his commander, "I wouldnít have hit him Sir, if he hadnít told me that washing windshields was commensurate with the duties and responsibilities of a Master Sergeant. Thatís why I hit him, not because he told me to wash windshields, but because he more or less said that was what a Master Sergeant was supposed to be doing."
John left the Pro Course to become the NCOIC [Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge] of the HALO [High Altitude Low Opening] Committee and Master Sergeant Al Friend took his place. HALO is military tactical skydiving with full combat gear from 30,000'. Major James H. Morris was the OIC [Officer In Charge] of the Pro Course. The other members of the Pro Course included Sergeants Willard "Pete" Garner, Jim Powers, Eldon "Duke" Payne, Robert E. Gifford, Walter T. Hawley, Floyd Marshall, Tom Zan, Norbert F. Weber, Jr., Carbon T. Stewart, and myself. Al Friend was replaced in June 1967 by Master Sergeant Felipe Ahumada. Gifford, Zan, and Weber were veterans of Project Delta lurps. They were all great guys.
[Al Friend retired "in place," in Thailand, and went to work for the CIA. He later retired from the CIA and went into Industrial Security until ill health forced him to "really" retire. He lived in Las Vegas, Nevada when he died. Garner, Powers, Gifford, Ahumada, and Hawley retired in Fayetteville. Powers later earned the nickname "one ear" after we served together and then died in 1996. Pete Garner organized the best and funniest SF Association Convention yet and a few months later died from a heart attack. His ashes were spread over the pond on the Special Forces Association's site. Weber retired and went to work for the State of Florida. He lives near Tallahassee, Florida. Carbon T. Stewart went to the 5th SF Group in Vietnam and then got out of the army and lives in Augusta, Georgia.
I lost track of everyone else, except for John Miller. John was later shot in the gut while serving with another special projects unit. It was either Project Omega or Project Sigma. The last I heard, John survived Vietnam and served as an ROTC instructor somewhere near Fort Bragg for a while before he retired. I heard two different tales about what happened to Sergeant Major John L. Miller after retirement. One rumor had it that the baddest-of-the-bad became a preacher of all things and had relocated from Fayetteville, North Carolina to a church somewhere in Tennessee. The other rumor had it that John moved to the Jackson, Tennessee area and became a mail carrier.
The truth is, John did take a job as a mail carrier in Dickson, Tennessee where he still lives. As John recently told Delbert "Big Griff" Griffith, "One day while I was licking stamps and delivering the mail, I saw the light." John is now a preacher. The rumor mongers were right on the money that time. Dearly beloved, if you happen to belong to Reverend Millerís church, I strongly suggest that you attend church every Sunday and you better be on time! As I recall, John dearly hates tardiness and if youíre smart, you will never suggest that Reverends "should" be cleaning windows.]
All of our B Teams along with their assigned A-Teams were dispersed throughout Thailand. Team B-410 was sent to Nam Pung Dam which is about 300 miles North Northeast of Bangkok and near the Laotian border, Team B-420 was sent to the Pak Chang area which is about 125 miles north of Bangkok and about halfway between Lop Buri and Korat. My old B Team, B-430, and all of its A Teams were parachuted, lock, stock and barrel, into Trang which is about 600 miles south of Bangkok. We were really spread out over that country.
All three units had to build their own camp. B-420 had to build a training camp in the middle of the jungle about 18 miles from Pak Chang at a place called Nong Takoo. The Road to Camp Nong Takoo became a legend. It was only 18 miles but it took an average of six hours to drive it and sometimes, the vehicle never made it at all the way under its own power and many vehicles only lasted one round-trip. They were hauled to Korat and turned in as salvage after just one trip over that road. Now that is a bad road. I think only one A Team was billeted at Camp Nong Takoo and the B Team remained at Pak Chang.
There were three things in Thailand that was as bad as the heat: the traffic, the stealie boys, and the snakes. Keeping vehicles operational was a problem for the entire company, not just B-420. During our first year, we replaced every vehicle in the company at least once. However, I believe that Team B-420 accounted for the majority of them. Somebody finally wised up and bought a half-dozen Japanese utility vehicles with right-hand steering. That helped. We didn't lose a single one of those vehicles. We brought the rest of our vehicles from the states with us and you couldnít drive those vehicles safely on the Thai highways without a co-pilot to let you know when it was safe to pass another vehicle. You didnít last long in Thailand, if you drove a left-hand drive vehicle without a co-pilot.
Our vehicle loss ratio was fast approaching 150% when I left Thailand. When driving in Thailand, the two most dangerous maneuvers were passing and turning at intersections, especially on the open road. When we first arrived in country and we were driving our left-hand drive vehicles, you almost always ended up on the wrong side of the road after completing a turn at a highway intersection on the open road. Driving in Thailand took some adjustment. You adjusted much faster, if you drove a vehicle that was built for driving in that country.
The bus drivers were the worst drivers on the road. Every bus driver had an image of their favorite monk in the driverís area of their bus, their bus was blessed by their monk, and they entrusted themselves and their bus to his protection. Those buses literally flew and they were always over-loaded with passengers, baggage, chickens, pigs, vegetables, fruit, etc. People would even be hanging onto the sides and rear of the bus. Many of the roads were built on fill dirt to keep them above the water in the surrounding rice paddies. The roads had no shoulders and the roadbed was always very narrow.
It was not unusual to see two or more buses racing each other at very high speeds. John Miller and I were out together one day and three buses whizzed past us. As soon as they passed us, the second bus pulled up abreast of the lead bus and tried to pass but the lead bus driver was having none of that and speeded up. They continued nose-to-nose. Meanwhile, the third bus pulled up bumper-to-bumper with the one that was trying to pass and laid down on his horn. He wanted to pass everyone. They were still in that formation when they went out of sight and John and I were doing 50-55 miles per hour at the time.
To the best of my knowledge there was no emergency medical service in Thailand much less a 911 system. When an accident happened and they happened very often, the injured and dead were just left lying alongside the road until someone took mercy on them and transported them to a medical facility or a relative came to pickup their body. It seemed to me that the nearest police officer was always about fifty miles away from the scene of a wreck. Other trucks and buses would just drag or push the damaged vehicles and bodies out of their way and then they would proceed on their merry way. When the police finally did show up, they just covered the dead and left the body there until a family member came for it. That might take a few days.
Thailand was also the worst place that I have ever seen for snakes. Snakes were everywhere and almost all of them were poisonous. There was a small zoo on Camp Pawaii that primarily consisted of snakes. They had cobras, king cobras, banded kraits, Russellís Vipers, Bamboo Vipers and just plain vipers. Somebody in SF had agreed to swap them some American snakes for their snake pits in return for some Asian snakes for our Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. They had no room to separate the American snakes from their snakes. They put them in with the cobras and the rattlesnakes started killing the cobras. So they put them in with the banded kraits with the same results. Then they put them in the Russellís Vipers pit and those mean little SOBs killed all of the American snakes. Russellís Vipers are very aggressive snakes. They are not as poisonous as the cobras or kraits, but they will actually charge an intruder instead of trying to flee as most snakes do. King Cobras will do the same when they are guarding their nest.
The kraits and king cobras were the most poisonous snakes in Thailand. The king cobra was so dangerous because they have such large poison sacs. A large king cobra has enough poison in his sac to kill an entire herd of elephants. I saw the grand daddy of all king cobras in the reptile zoo in Bangkok. That snake was 21 feet long and when it was aroused and stood up with its hood spread, it stood 7 feet high. Itís head was as large as my open hand and it weighed over 200 pounds. When spread, its hood was at least two feet wide.
The banded krait was the most feared because its poison attacks both the nervous system and the blood system. The Thai instructor said, "Man who bit by banded krait, is most unlucky man in whole world." The banded krait is a nocturnal animal and non-aggressive. It will not normally bite anything except its prey unless it is scared or hurt. The Thai zoo keepers regularly handled the banded kraits during the daytime. But if a banded krait does bite you, its all over except for the shouting, singing and shoveling. You only have a very short time left in this world. The Thai zoo keepers said that if a banded krait bites you on the hand, the only way to survive is to immediately hack off your arm at the elbow. Not many people have the guts to do that to themselves or to their buddy.
Americans have a problem with stealie boys throughout Asia, except for Japan. Okinawa, yes, Japan, no. From what I have heard and from first hand experience, I would say that the worst stealie boys are probably in Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines. Many GIs say that stealie boys in Korea and the Philippines can steal your socks without removing your shoes. Well, thatís pretty good, but the stealie boys in Thailand can steal your radio and leave the music so you wonít miss it.
When we first arrived in Thailand, we lived in squad tents erected on stilted platforms on Camp Pawaii. They decided that they needed the tents for other purposes so they paid us per diem and we had to fend for ourselves off post. Thatís when we became familar with the local stealie boys. They were good. Stealie boys were usually members of one family or they were street urchins with no family. The smallest one was usually the one that gained entry to the house. American GIs were their favorite target because the belongings of the typical American GI, however spartan, are like treasures to those people. For example, if the typical GI only has what the army issued him, he has two pair of boots and one pair of oxfords. The stealie boys didnít even own one pair of shoes. To them we were all rich and we could easily replace our belongings, if they stole them. Some of them thought that they could steal one pair of boots and we would never miss them because we had another pair. After all, you can only wear one pair at a time. They had absolutely no qualms about taking your belongings and would steal them without hesitation, even if you were lying asleep right there in the room at the time.
They stole clothing, jewelry, field gear, radios, tape decks, furniture, appliances, and motorcycles. If it was moveable, they stole it. They even stole one guyís motorcycle that he had brought into his house for the night. He had chained and padlocked the bike to his refrigerator. Of course, they also took the fridge, its contents and everything else that was in the house.
It was not unusual for a GI to come home drunk, hop in bed, and then wake up the next morning in an empty house. When I say empty, I mean empty. Nothing would be left in the house except for three things: the GI lying on the floor, his pillow, which they had placed under his head so he would be comfortable and stay asleep after they had stolen his bed. This happened to a good friend of mine.
Master Sergeant John L. Miller, Captain Paul V. Dougherty, Sergeant First Class Robert E. Gifford, and I rented a large villa together. Dougherty was the Company Psy-Ops Officer, Gifford and I were instructors in the Proficiency Course and John was NCOIC of the HALO Committee. Our villa was on the Camp Pawaii-Lop Buri Road. My room was on the second floor and my window overlooked the roof of the carport. My bunk was located along the wall beneath that one window and I kept my entrenching tool parked beside my bed.
One night I suddenly awoke to find a stealie boy coming through the window. He leaped back out the window as I grabbed my entrenching tool. When I swung at him, I just barely grazed his skinny little ass because he was already in full retreat. They were gone over the roof in an instant and raced away in a small truck. We were lucky that I had stayed home and was sober that night, otherwise they would have cleaned us out. We hired a maid to stay there during the day when we were on duty and at nights when we were gone on maneuvers. We never had a stealie boy problem again.
We were re-designated the 46th SF Company [Abn] on 10 April 1967.
SF loves to play volleyball, but by SF combat rules. The only similarity between SF volleyball and normal volleyball is the volleyball, the boundary lines, and the net. The defending SF lineman may pull down the net or reach over it and spike the ball while the opposing players are still playing it on their side. When the opposing lineman is about to leap gracefully into the air and spike a setup, the defending lineman may step gently on his foot or grab his belt or shirt tail just enough to spoil his play. I heard that volleyball got so rough in the 10th Group, they had to do something to keep down the fights and injuries. They finally strung the net up using barbwire instead of rope. I would imagine that helped to keep the opposing players separated immensely.
Sometime in 1967, a general from the hospital in Korat visited our camp at Lop Buri because we had all of their crutches. In all honestly, most of the crutches were being used by members of the sport parachuting club. However, the general just happened to witness one of our volleyball games while he was there and he told our Executive Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Roger Pezelle, "From now on colonel, you can find your own crutches." Colonel Pezelle was a great SF officer, a gentleman, and a great guy. He had been a member of the original SF and I believe that he had designed the original SF unit crest. [Colonel Pezelle retired and lived near Washington, DC until he died in 2001.]
The tiny town of Lop Buri is the site of a legend that has provided we Americans with a very common real estate term, "White Elephant." In real estate terminology, a white elephant is a piece of property that is difficult to sell, and it is commonly referred to as property that, "you canít give away."
This definition of the term "White Elephant" dates back hundreds of years to when Burma and Siam [Thailand] were at war. The palace of the king was located on the outskirts of what is now Lop Buri. The king of Siam decided to sue for peace so he asked his wise men how best to proceed. The wise men suggested that the king send the king of Burma a highly prized gift as a gesture of good faith. After a great deal of thought, the king of Siam decided to send the king of Burma three white elephants. These animals were trained war elephants and they were very large, in fact they were the three largest elephants in Siam.
The next time the king of Siam saw those three white elephants, they were leading the Burmese Army as they charged the gates of his palace near Lop Buri. Siam was about to be defeated when, according to history, the "monkey men" came from the jungles and mountains and attacked the Burmese Army from the rear.
Maybe those "monkey people" who were supposed to have tails were actually the aboriginals that lived in the mountainous jungles. They would also be the ancestors of the present day mountain tribes such as the Kha, Mnong, Meo, etc. If you visit Thailand or read a book about Thailand, you will eventually see a statue honoring the "monkey people." Some of the Southeast Asians that live in the low lands, who are probably descendants of Chinese, still believe that the mountain natives have tails.
The invaders were defeated and the king of Siam rewarded the "monkey men" by building a shrine to them. Supposedly, he took his bow and shot an arrow into the sky and where it fell, is where he built the shrine. The arrow supposedly fell where Monkey Circle is now located in downtown Lop Buri.
Monkey Circle is enclosed by a tall wrought iron fence that rests atop a low masonary wall. It is also a traffic circle. Inside the circle are a couple of very large and very old mango trees, a buddhist shrine and hundreds of monkeys. The street circles this shrine and crosses the railroad tracks which are adjacent to the shrine also.
The monkeys that live in the shrine at Monkey Circle are wild. They are considered to be sacred monkeys. The monkeys came to that spot on their own and they have been there longer than any living person can remember. They are protected by both law and religion. People bring food to that shrine and leave it as an offering. The monkeys never refuse an offering of food. When the offerings provided insufficient food, the monkeys raided passing buses. Those little devils emptied the baskets that were tied atop the buses of all of the fruit and vegetables that the hapless owners had intended to sell at the market. That always ticked the farmers off and they shouted at the monkeys and probably gave them a good cursing out, but thatís all. They never harmed the monkeys and the monkeys seem to know that they would not harm them. The monkeys also sneaked into the adjacent hotel and stole food off the restaurant tables and from the guest rooms.
Observing those monkeys was a favorite pastime of mine. While sitting at that hotelís restaurant, I have watched those pesky monkeys for many hours. They are magnificent ambushers, muggers and thieves. Their sentry sounds the alarm when he spots a victim approaching. This victim will invariably be carrying at least two baskets of food each basket suspended at the end of a long pole which they are supporting on their shoulder. They may even be carrying such a pole on both shoulders.
The monkey raiders operate in two teams. The front team and the rear team. The front team leaps into the path of the victim and reaches for the front basket. The front team also makes a lot of noise, chattering whatever it is that monkeys chatter at such times. The victim halts and raises the front basket which also "lowers" the rear basket. Meanwhile the rear team very quietly scoots out from behind the fence and begins emptying the rear basket. When the victim discovers the trick, they lift the rear basket to avoid the rear team while of course the front team is busily emptying the lowered front basket. In just a matter of seconds, other monkeys will join in and pretty soon the poor victim is completely surrounded. I never saw it fail. If the victim was dumb enough to walk close by that fence, they would clean him out in just a matter of seconds.
The monkeys even jump on the passing trains and go for a ride. Scientists followed one distinctive monkey that was known to ride the trains often. He went to Bangkok where he got off and wandered around for a while and then he returned to the train station and caught the correct train back to Monkey Circle in Lop Buri. They said he made that trip frequently.
Shortly after arriving at Camp Pawaii, we discovered the "Vieng Peng" which was a bar, restaurant, and house of ill-repute in Lop Buri. One night when my A Team had caught the shuttle bus back to camp, Knuttilla decided that we would jump off the bus and go for a swim in the fields which were flooded by the monsoons. We were just drunk enough to go along with the idea. We started stripping on the bus and pretended that we were bailing out of an airplane. When the driver stopped the bus, we 'bailed out' of it and into that filthy water. The bus driver left us there and went on to camp with the rest of the guys who had better sense. We eventually clambered out of the water, dressed and caught the bus on its next pass to camp. The next day when we rode by those flooded fields, I counted no less than ten snakes swimming in that same area. I guess we made so much noise we had scared them all away the night before. Maybe God really does take care of fools.
Naturally being SF, we quickly established a club on Camp Pawaii. The Thai soldiers who were stationed there were also welcome at that club. The two favorite pastimes there were playing liarís dice and poker. You learn a lot more about a person by playing Liarís Dice with them than you do by playing poker with them. You would not believe some of the sales pitches that some of those guys could come up with. No offense intended, but the late Al Friend was the best con artist of the bunch. He would take ten minutes telling you about how good he was taking care of you before he told you the lie! And most of us fools would believe him and take the frigging cup! After they peeped at the dice under that cup, you could almost see tears well up in their eyes as they were thinking how their buddy, Big Al, had just screwed them good and proper when he had passed them garbage and called it five fives.
The all time favorite card game in SF was Army Pinochle. Army Pinochle involves a double-deck of cards, two sets of partners, the deck contains no nine cards ó just the Ace through the Ten were used in each suit and they usually played for money. Many a team sergeant has used pinochle playing ability as "additional criteria" for selecting men for a mission. The minimum goal for the team was six Army Pinochle players. That way you could always keep a game going in your spare time, if you had any spare time. Some of those guys were uncanny at playing Army Pinochle. Very few card players in civilian life play partners and I never found any that play Army Pinochle. There were even some hustlers at Army Pinochle. At Fort Bragg the hustlers played at the Main NCO Club Stag Bar. You could pick those guys out at a glance ó they were always the only guys in uniform that looked like a used car salesman.
Later we rented the Rojana Nightclub next to the hotel at Monkey Circle in downtown Lop Buri. This quickly became the best and the busiest night spot in town. While I was there the place was managed by Staff Sergeant William W. Knuttilla and Sergeant First Class Delbert P. Griffith, each at different times. Knut and Griff were big guys.
Knut was a former heavyweight Golden Gloves boxer and Big Griff was just a very big and very strong former cop and street fighter. These skills came in handy now and then because the manager was also the bouncer.
Knut stood about 6í 5" and weighed about 250 or 260 pounds. Knut was brought back to Lop Buri to be an assistant instructor in the Jumpmaster Course and took the club job as a sideline. [Knuttilla stayed in SF until he retired then he moved to Deland, Florida where he bought a restaurant and lounge. I heard that Knut died sometime in the late 1970s, I think maybe it was 1978.]
Big Griff was from Marion, Virginia where he had once been a Deputy Sheriff. Griff had been shot and left for dead on the side of the road by two local bad guys while he was a deputy and he later killed two bad guys with his bare hands. Whether they were the "same" two bad guys who had shot him, I never knew. A grand jury dismissed both cases as self-defense and Griff joined the army.
One day Big Griff was sitting with some of his team mates in the teamhouse bar in Pak Chang when some Air Force guys, who were just passing through, also dropped in for a beer. One of them was an Air Force Kick Boxing Champ and he was feeling frisky. He apparently wanted to see just how tough the Green Berets were. His big mistake was picking Big Griff for his test. He walked over to Griffís table and punched Griff in the face while Griff was still sitting down and then it was Katie-bar-the-door time. The "Champís" fancy kicking kept Griff at a distance until Griff eventually cornered him. Griff kept crowding the man until he finally backed him into a tiny space where there was no room for fancy kicking. The fight only lasted a few seconds after that and it ended with Griff holding his antagonist upside down by his legs and driving his head into the floor. According to rumors, the "Champ" spent the next few weeks recuperating in the Korat Hospital. [I heard two different stories about this fight. I think this one is correct. Griff retired and returned home to Marion, Virginia where he was a guard in the local state penitentiary. I saw Big Griff at the SF Association reunion in 1996 and he was even bigger han he was then, but still as solid as a rock. Griff died about 2005.]
Sergeant First Class James C. Hooper [not his real name] was also an instructor in the HALO committee and he was also from the same home town as Griff. One day when they were both in the Rojana, Hooper was running his mouth off at Griff while Griff was trying to talk to John Miller. Griff just turned around and popped Cooper in the chin and then he immediately turned back around and continued his conversation with John. Hooper dropped like a rag doll. He was out cold for about thirty minutes. John asked Griff, "Why did you treat Hooper so harshly?" and Griff replied, "He used to thump me when I was a little boy."
The company had several members who were from Hawaii. They and several of our Hispanic members hosted a party that was held in Phil Ahmadaís back yard. The Hawaiians were great guys, even greater hosts, and every one of them was a good cook. They really outdid themselves on this party. The food was a mixture of both cultures and it was delicious. They dug a pit and placed large stones in it. Then they built a large fire on the stones and when the stones were just the right temperature, they placed a large pig into the pit above the stones and covered it all with palm leaves. That was the best tasting pig I have ever eaten.
Of course there was an abundance of whiskey and beer available for those that drank alcohol. Very few people were drinking from the rum bottle because it was 140 proof. Chief Warrant Officer Donald Sackett [not his real name]., from the companyís signal section, braved the rum once too often and passed out in the serving line. Chief Sackett sported a very long handlebar moustache that he had been patiently cultivating for several months. Someone immediately produced a razor and shaving cream and then they proceeded to shave off one side of his fancy moustache. Then more fun-loving guys helped him drag and roll Sackett under the serving table where it was nice and shady and nobody would step on him. When Sackett awoke it took him a while to realize that he was missing half of his moustache. In fact he wondered around for quite a while in a stupor wondering why every where he went the guys broke out in laughter. When he did discover his loss, he became hostile, but nobody ever identified the barber and I have forgotten who it was.
The members of the Pro Course [Special Forces Proficiency Course] were responsible for conducting LRRP [Long Range Recon Patrol] and Jumpmaster training. First we conducted a lurp class for both US and Thai Special Forces and then we did the same with the Jumpmaster Course.
[My duty station in Lop Buri, Thailand was the best duty assignment of my career. We spent about half of our time in garrison and the other half in the field or parachuting. It was great duty and I have mentally kicked my ass every day since because I was married and had to leave when my tour was up. If I had been single, I would have stayed with that outfit as long as possible. If I had any sense, I would have written my wife at the time a Dear John letter and stayed anyway.]
The lurp course included training in Infiltration and Exfiltration Techniques [including the McGuire Rig], Tactics, Communication, cryptography, E&E [Escape and Evasion], Quick-Fire, Equipment, Recon Patrol SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures], firing on a Jungle Transition Firing Range, and participating in a graded patrol in the jungle. The subjects were first taught in the classroom.
The instructors taught the students exactly how to dress so every one would carry their maps, compasses, first aid kit, etc. in the same identical place. If another patrol member had to retrieve something off a buddy's body, he could do it very quickly because he knew exactly where to look or, in case it was pitch dark, to feel. This also made it easy for a buddy to treat a wounded man. The instructors taught them how to prepare and carry their field gear, rations, weapons, ammo, and other gear.
The ammunition pouches are a good example. The army issued these pouches with the M-16, but they were not made specifically for the M-16. I guess thatís why the Army called them "Universal Pouches." Delta lurp men had developed a way to make them as efficient as possible under combat conditions. The pouches were too deep for the M-16 magazines. Our guys filled the bottom of each pouch with some useful item, such as a magazine of ammunition laid flat or a small piece of a nylon emergency signal panel. This panel could be spotted from the air and each patrol member had their own signal panel in case they became separated from the rest of the patrol. This fill would push a vertical magazine up where you had easier access to them, but not all of the way up to the top of the pouch. You then stuffed four vertical 20-round magazines into the pouch and laid a another magazine down flat on top of the four vertical magazines. A 20-round M-16 magazine, when laid flat, fit the pouch perfectly.
The vertical magazines were placed bottom-up and fit the pouch very tight so a piece of green duct tape was placed on the bottom of at least one vertical magazine in each pouch to make it easier to extract . You used the top magazine first and the taped magazine next. If you used a magazine for filler in the bottom of the pouch, you also taped it the same way.
The M-16 was another good example. Our lurps never took the army issue rifle sling into the field. In its place, they attached some nylon parachute suspension cord ó it wasnít as pretty, but it was silent. They also tightly wrapped more parachute suspension cord around the pistol grip of the M-16 as part of their survival kit. They were taught to stuff survival items into the hollow pistol grip and seal the bottom of the grip with more green duct tape. You then put strips of green duct tape on the stock and front hand guard of the rifle to break up its outline. This is an example of just how detailed the instruction was.
The students practiced what they learned in the brush on Camp Pawaii and then they went on a field exercise. It was so hot and humid, a typical student would go through two gallons of water in two or three hours of slowly walking through the brush at Camp Pawaii.
Quick-Fire Training was just that, learning how to fire quickly and accurately without using the rifle sights. The Jungle Transition Firing Range was set up by Gifford and Weber, both were lurp veterans of Delta Projects. They designed the course as realistic as possible. They placed targets behind bushes and in trees along the route which was cross country though the jungle. There was no trail for the student to follow through the jungle but each student was closely followed by an instructor and told them in which direction to proceed. At several places the student had to crawl and sometimes fire at a hidden target while crawling. The instructor would pull a hidden rope to jiggle a target or cause it to pop up. Most of the targets were hidden and the student had to fire at the sound the target made when it was moved. The student repeated the course until they became competent at hitting those "invisible" targets.
Willard "Pete" Garner was given the responsibility of developing and operating the E&E training. Pete was having a problem coming up with any ideas so I told him about the E&E training that the 8thInfantry Division NCO Academy included in its course. He liked that idea and adopted the same concept. The E&E course boundaries were about twenty miles long and two miles wide and it included a variety of terrain such as cleared fields, grassy fields, steep hills that were covered with boulders and rough brush, and of course tropical forests [jungle].
The students were dropped off in pairs near one end of the course at just a little before noon and they had to find their way to a point at the other end that we had designated as a "safe" area without being captured by a certain time the following morning. Instructors and a detail from company headquarters would act as the enemy and we set up in phases along the route. Each phase line was along a permanent terrain feature such as a stream, road, trail or ridgeline that the students may choose to follow because it looked like an easy way to travel through that area or one that they had to cross in order to reach their goal. If a student was captured, they had to undergo hostile interrogation.
They put me in charge of one group of the troops that acted as aggressors for the first E&E Course. We stopped at a small cluster of huts in a small valley while moving between pre-designated screening positions. There was a hand-dug well there and the villagers insisted on me drinking some water. Our canteens were empty and I was thirsty, but I still didnít want that water because it was straight out of a well and had not been purified. Finally, I gave in and took a sip out of the dipper. Then they let us fill our canteens and we all put purification pills in our canteens. The next day, my body began to rebel against my stupidity and I had very painful stomach cramps and then diarrhea. At first, I thought that it would go away on its own, but after two days, I re-thought the situation and went to the company dispensary.
Master Sergeant Edward "Monty" Montgomery, the dispensary NCOIC, was so glad to see someone who was sick and who would actually take the time to tell him the symptoms, he almost cried. About a week earlier I had been on my way to the mess hall for dinner when Monty roared out of the dispensary. He was cursing a blue streak. I asked, "Whatís wrong Monty?" Monty said, "Val, these SF guys come in here and tell me what they need and get pissed off, if I even ask them what their symptoms are. They just want the treatment, they already know what they have. Theyíve had it before. Theyíve had every disease known to man and every injury you could possibly incur. I tell you Val, one of these days you guys are going to be walking down the street and parts of your body are going to start falling off, maybe an ear here and an arm there. Youíre going to just disintegrate on the spot. Wonít even let me or my medics examine them. It just pisses me off good."
Apparently Montyís medics needed something to keep them busy so they started collecting stray dogs and using them to try out different treatments to counteract snake venom. None of their brainstorms worked. Montyís boys did keep the local hookers clean, if they worked out of any of the local "cat houses." They checked them regularly and treated them free of charge. As old Ben Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Monty pronounced that I had nothing more than diarrhea and gave me a small bottle of paregoric to tide me over until the symptoms ran their course. As long as I had a good dose of that paregoric in me, I didnít have any pain and the period of time between bowel movements increased from every 30 minutes to about every two hours.
The students were organized into teams and each team had to go into the jungle on one or two patrols. On one patrol, some Pro Course students were silently creeping through the jungle just as they were trained to do when suddenly a monkey sitting on a limb high in the trees made such a clamor, the entire patrol stopped and watched. The monkey was sitting on a limb about sixty feet above the ground and he was masturbating. Suddenly he went spastic, lost his grip and fell to the ground. The entire team, instructor included, broke out in laughter.
They were so broke up over this hilarious scene, the instructor had to call an administrative halt until they could regain their composure and continue the field exercise properly.
On the same patrol, the team was creeping through a small valley that was thick with bamboo and had very steep sides when they heard a tremendous rumble and the ground began to tremble beneath their feet and they heard trumpeting. Somebody shouted, "Elephant stampede!" A herd of wild elephants was crashing through the bamboo and heading right down that very same valley. All of the students immediately turned to the instructor, as if this was a common occurrence and he would automatically know what to do. The instructor shouted, "Climb up the slope out of the valley! Elephants canít climb steep hills!" They fought through the brush and to the steep side of the valley where they discovered that the best way up the steep incline was to follow the elephant tracks. They made it out of the valley and avoided the elephants, but only because the elephants werenít going in that direction.
[Feedback from the students following the SF Pro Course training indicated that the students thought it was the most practical and realistic combat training that they had ever received. Many years later during SF reunions, graduates of this course would still be thanking the instructors because that training had saved their lives later in Vietnam. They even thanked me and I just instructed commo subjects and helped other instructors.]
While I was on field training exercises with the lurps, I passed a pile of crap that was pure white. I mean it was white as snow. Finally, I ran out of medicine and when the medicine wore off, my symptoms were even worse so I returned to Montyís dispensary, but I didnít tell Monty about that white stuff. It might mean that I had something that would get me kicked out of SF. So I decided to take my chances and hang in there until I found a medic buddy with some ideas on the subject. Monty gave me more paregoric. This time, I got two bottles because I was in the honor guard representing the American contingent in a SEATO [Southeast Asia Treaty Organization] parade at a Thai military base near Bangkok.
Before we left the Opera Hotel in Bangkok to parade, I chug-a-lugged one of those bottles so I wouldnít crap in my Class A pants in the middle of the parade field. The medicine barely lasted me until I got back to the hotel and I mean barely.
After I finally got out of the latrine and had another swig of that paregoric in me, I went down to the tiny hotel restaurant to eat and there sat the answer to my misery, Sergeant Mixon Crosswell. He was a medic buddy of mine when I was assigned to B Company, 5th Group at Fort Bragg in 1963. That sawed-off, little black rascal was grinning from ear-to-ear when he saw me. The place was full of guys from the 46th Company, but I was the only one that he knew. To say that I was glad to see him would be putting it mildly and not just because we had served together and I liked him either; he was a medic.
First we had to have a couple of beers, then we scarfed up some chow. In the meantime we got re-acquainted. All the while, I was hoping my bowels would cooperate. After I told him where I was assigned and what we were doing, he gave me the lowdown on himself. He was on loan to the CIA on a top secret assignment. He was kicking bundles on resupply flights over Laos. He was also in charge of medical supplies and had unlimited access to any kind of medical equipment or medicine that he needed. Am I lucky or what?
That was my cue to tell him about my problem. He immediately diagnosed it as amoebic dysentery. Mixon immediately reached under the table and came up with an AWOL bag that he placed on the table. He took a huge bottle of tetracycline pills from the bag and gave me a pocket full of them along with dosage instructions. He must have been right because my problems disappeared shortly after we returned to Lop Buri.
[Mixon made it to retirement and now lives in Farmington, New Hampshire. Monty retired as a Sergeant Major, went to college, graduated with a degree in Geography, and now lived in Florida where he died.]
During our first lurp class, Al Friend asked me to go with him into the jungle to search for an area that, on the map, appeared to be a clearing and that was remote enough to make a good secret launch site for teams infiltrating Laos and operating along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Our headquarters enlisted men never got to go anywhere and they were very bored so I suggested that we take some of them with us. Boredom was my worst enemy and I figured most soldiers were about the same way. Four young troopers from headquarters volunteered to accompany us into the jungle. The clearing that Al was interested in was in the middle of the Kingís private hunting grounds. The King even had a large resort built at its entrance for him and his staff when he was there hunting.
We signed out a ĺ ton truck and headed north, towards Pak Chang because the Kingís hunting grounds were very near that area. There was a paved road through the jungle well into the hunting preserve. It ended near a large stream where there was a fairly high and very beautiful waterfall. We arrived there at about noon. This area was very beautiful and showed no affect from human interference. Beautiful wild orchids grew in the forks of the larger trees and everything looked clean, green and lush.
We had to leave our truck at the falls and from there we hiked. We decided that the easiest way was to follow the large creek upstream to where two streams met and take the branch towards our objective. This was a mountainous area and those streams were full of large boulders which reminded me of the Great Smoky Mountains back home. We climbed over the boulders and where necessary, waded through the stream for about three or four hours and then Al decided that we should leave the tributary because it was headed away from the direction that we needed to go. We climbed the finger of a ridge to its top where we found a well-worn animal path through the jungle. The pathís general direction appeared to be towards the clearing that we sought. We followed the trail for another hour or so and Al had to stop. He had come down with a fever. Twenty four hour fevers are common in the jungle. Some guys still had them after they returned to the states. Al had to rest. He sent me and one of the headquarters men on ahead to see if the trail led to the clearing. Al instructed me to return before dark so we would all camp together for the night and no one would become lost.
My buddy and I dropped our rucksacks and proceeded up the trail wearing just our belt and harness and carrying our M-16s. We followed the trail for about an hour and it came to a dead end at a stream. The jungle canopy was very thick here and that stream bed looked like a tunnel through the foliage. We could see about 50 yards in either direction up and down the stream, but we could not see any sign of a trail on the opposite bank. Downstream from us about 50 yards or so the stream curved to the left. I told the soldier with me, "Maybe the path exits the stream around that bend. Weíll wade in the stream to that bend and see if we can spot the path from there." Then I led the way into the water. That creek was about 25í wide and there were no rocks protruding above the water. It was slower moving than those other, larger streams; it wasnít as steep, but it was deeper. We had gone only about fifteen or twenty yards and we were in water almost up to my ribs. It was higher on my buddy because he was about six inches shorter than me.
Suddenly, I heard something rustling around in the tree limbs above us. I immediately recognized that sound from when I was a kid paddling down a creek in a homemade boat beneath the willow trees that were near my home. It was snakes! A chill went up my spine as the sky suddenly began to rain snakes down all around us. All sizes, colors and kinds of snakes literally poured down from above and they all landed in that creek with us. That creek was full of kraits, banded-kraits, cobras, bamboo vipers, and Russellís Vipers. I saw snakes that I had never even heard of before and they were all in that creek with us. We were completely surrounded by snakes. That creek was so full of snakes, the water looked like it was alive with them. Iím talking maybe five hundred to a thousand snakes. Thatís a lot of snakes!
Learning how to control fear came in handy here. In as calm a voice as I could muster, I told the kid behind me, "Get back-to-back with me and keep the snakes away with the butt of your M-16. Then slowly start working your way back to where we came into this creek." I hoped that the young soldier wouldnít panic on me and he didnít. He did exactly as I said and we finally made our way back to the trail. If that kid had panicked and tore out of there on his own, thereís no telling what would have happened to us because quite a few of those snakes came very close to us ó they were so close we had to push them away with the butt of our rifles. Only teamwork kept them at a safe distance from us. Of course we couldnít see what was going on beneath the surface of the water and I for one had tried not to think about that at all. Perhaps those snakes were more afraid of us than we were of them, but in all honesty, I donít think they could possibly be that afraid.
After we had reached the trail again, I asked the kid, "Do you still want to see whatís around the bend in that creek?" and he said, "No Sarge, not really." That sounded like good sense to me, so we headed for camp. We arrived back at camp just barely before dark. After giving Al the lowdown on the trail, we made camp where we were. Al and I strung our hammock a little higher that night and I also tied my boots to the hammock high above the ground. I was figured if those snakes got into my boots, they would have to climb the tree and onto my hammock support lines. Just before it became too dark to see anything, I noticed that all of the headquarters guys were sleeping on the ground. They were lying on their poncho liners and using their ponchos as a ground cloth. They hadnít thought to bring their hammocks. Their buddy had told them about the snakes and I noticed that all eight eyeballs were on Al and I hanging nice and high in those comfy hammocks. When I awoke during the night, I heard them whispering amongst themselves. They didnít get much sleep that night.
Personally, I canít say that I blamed them either. Al was well enough to walk by the next morning so we hiked back to our truck the same way that we came and went back to camp. Nobody else from headquarters volunteered to accompany us on any future ventures into the jungle. I guess they preferred to be bored to death.
Snakes were such a problem, the point men on the patrols took to leaving their M-16 behind and carrying a shotgun instead in case they might encounter snakes while breaking trail.
One of the Thai ladies that frequented our nightclub in Lop Buri wasnít a lady. In fact, "she" wasn't even a "she." The local English slang for such folks was "he-shes." We nicknamed this he-she, George. One of the favorite pranks that our guys pulled on their buddies coming in from the field to Club Rojana for the first time was to sick them on George then watch their reaction when they discovered the truth. Some pranksters had to flee for their lives.
One of the biggest laughs George provided was when Staff Sergeant Burle M. Clawson [not his real name] first visited the Rojana and met George before anyone could introduce them. The local English slang for oral sex was "smoke." Shortly after Clawson had bumped into George in the Rojana, George told Clawson he wanted to "smoke" and Clawson offered him a cigarette. The whole place broke into laughter.
For some reason, more USO tours came through that tour overseas than I had ever seen before. The ones that our guys enjoyed most were Bob Mitchum, James Garner, and Roy Acuff.
They preferred Roy Acuff and his band over all of the other musical groups that visited us because they were just plain folks. The electricity in our club on Camp Pawaii failed frequently and almost always when the bands plugged in all of their electrical equipment. Royís band was the only USO musical group that performed anyway. The rest could not perform without all of their electrical gadgets. Roy told the guys, "No problem boys we were picking and singing a long time before we even had microphones." The guys loved them.
Every time two guys from the original 46th Company get together, sooner or later, Bob Mitchumís USO tour becomes the subject of the conversation. This story went the rounds and got even better when repeated, but I think that I finally got the correct version.
Bob was scheduled to visit our company headquarters for 45 minutes enroute to B-410 where he was to spend about two hours. As soon as he showed up, the commander and staff officers took him and his escort, a young officer from Bangkok, inside the headquarters building and gave him some kind of briefing which lasted about thirty minutes. When Bob came out again, one of the sergeants asked Bob, if he would like a drink and Bob lifted his dark sunglasses to expose two bloodshot eyes and said, "I thought no one was going to ask," and that was the beginning of the fun. After what happened then, maybe some people might say that it was the "beginning of the end."
The enlisted men took Bob to their club on Camp Pawaii and one thing led to another. Someone from the camp zoo heard that Bob was there and he brought a small bear and an albino King Cobra to the club. One of the zoo keepers de-fanged that big ass cobra and brought it into the club on a leash. Fangs or no fangs and leash or no leash, a very long white King Cobra slithering across a club floor attracts attention. The customers quickly evacuated the club. Bobís visit lasted about two hours and Bobís young escort was fit to be tied, but Bob had a grand time.
Finally, Bob and his escort departed for Detachment B-410ís camp where Bob was supposed to stay only two hours. Bob remained there for two days, bar-hopping around town with the guys and having a grand old time in general. His aircraft crew deserted him the first day and returned to their base when it was apparent that he was not going anywhere anytime soon. His young officer escort gave up sometime that first night at B-410 and got commode-hugging drunk also.
While they were still on the camp at their small club, Bob got into a "gross-out" contest. Larry "The Cook" Dickinson finally won the event when he caught a large cockroach, threw it in his mouth and let it buzz around in there before he chewed it up and swallowed it. Bob simply said, "You win."
They finally got another crew to take Bob back to Bangkok, he had spent his entire allotted time in Thailand with SF. When Bob landed in Bangkok, he was met by our liaison team in Bangkok and escorted to their team house where he spent some more time before finally finding his way onto a plane that was headed back to the US. Yes sir, when one of us relates the story of Bobís USO tour to Thailand, it still gets as many laughs now as it did back in 1967.
The guys liked Jim Garner because he was a regular guy and he had a good sense of humor. We had a Prop Blast Party already planned when Jim showed up. A Prop Blast Party is an initiation of troopers who have just graduated from Jump School into the paratroops. Many outfits had outlawed the Prop Blast Party because some guys had died of alcohol poisoning following the initiation. The commander asked Jim if he would like to be initiated and Jim agreed on one condition, that he would not have to drink any alcohol. Jim told us, "Bob warned me about you guys."
A Prop Blast Party goes something like this. A jump manifest is typed up and it includes the names of all of the inductees. The inductees form for the jump, usually at the party site. There they go through the jump preparation and a mock jump, usually blind-folded into an inflated rubber boat full of water and then they get their "airborne spirit" from a chrome-plated steel helmet that has three .50 caliber shells attached to it for legs. No one but inductees drink the "airborne spirit" because it usually consists of about a dozen different alcoholic beverages poured into one tub. It tastes awful. Only a fool will actually try to drink the entire contents of that helmet.
For that Prop Blast Party, I was the jumpmaster and I was dressed like a VC with black pajamas that were two sizes too small and a straw hat. We had a detail of medics that stayed sober and monitored the inductees. About a dozen passed out and were laid out in a row in the grass beside the club. Shortly afterwards, the Department of the Army outlawed "Prop Blast Parties." In my opinion, that was the right thing to do.
While I was in Thailand, I helped conduct one Jumpmaster Course. As an instructor, I taught classroom subjects, operated the 34í jump tower and I was also the Chief Grader in the airplane for their qualifying jumps. They jumped C-47s and C-123s. This was the only opportunity that I ever got to jump from a C-47 and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Each student had to jumpmaster one night jump. The night jumps were made from a C-123. The C-123 that flew us for the last of the night jumps did not have any interior lights. The only lights inside that plane were the tiny red and green jump lights beside each jump door. It was pitch dark in there.
After we had finally made the last pass and the last student had jumped, it was time for my two assistants, Staff Sergeant William Knuttilla and Sergeant First Class Pete Garner, and I to jump. First we had to retrieve all of the static lines from outside the plane, unhook them from the anchor line cables, pack them into a bundle that we had brought for that purpose, attach a parachute to the bundle and hook it to the cable, remove our air force free fall parachutes, don our standard army parachutes, rigger check our chutes, hook up to the anchor line cable, and kick the bundle out. Then, after all that, we could jump behind the bundles.
We had to work by feel because we could not see in the dark. If that wasnít bad enough, after we had put the last student out, the crew chief told me, "Sarge weíre running low on fuel. We have to head right back to Bangkok so we only have time for one six-minute turn around." That only gave us six minutes to accomplish everything and be ready to jump!
As we started working on that bundle, I thought, "How am I going to explain to Major Morris how we ended up in Bangkok. Thereís no way that we can do all of that in six minutes in total darkness."
We went at rigging that bundle like we were fighting fire. While we were rigging the bundle, I heard big Knut say, "Keep your hands away from this bundle or Iíll pack your ass inside it and take you out with us." Our problem had been the crew chief was trying to help. The crew chief was going behind Knut undoing buckles as fast as Knut was fastening them and in the darkness Knut had grabbed his hand which was in the process of undoing another buckle. The crew chief backed off and let us finish rigging the bundle. We got the bundle ready and I supervised the guys swapping chutes and checked them and made sure they were hooked up to the cable just in time to see the green light come on. After I made sure they got out okay from the left door, I whirled around and jumped out of the right door.
In a standard military tactical parachute jump, immediately after the jumper exits the plane, he puts both feet together, places his hands on each side of his reserve parachute, and then slowly counts to four while he waits for his chute to open. When I think back to that night, I can still hear that engine roaring and I can still feel the heat from the exhaust. In my mind, I can still see the lights scattered over the ground where there was a house with electricity. Those memories are so distinct because for me time stopped the instant that all of my body except for the ball of my right foot had cleared that aircraft. At that instant, I could remember removing the Air Force parachute, but I could not remember donning my army parachute.
My mind was whirling at warp speed. It is amazing how fast your mind can work at times like that. That split second of doubt scared me senseless. Even after my hands touched my reserve, I wasnít sure that I had hooked up to the cable in the plane or that the harness was attached properly to my body. In the four seconds before my chute opened, I felt every inch of that parachute harness at least four times. After I hit the ground, I had to wait a minute or two for the adrenaline to wear off before I got out of my chute. Anyway, my knees were so weak, I couldnít have gotten to my feet any sooner, if I had tried. That was the most fear that I have ever felt in my life.
Over the years that I had been jumping, donning that harness had become a habit. Without giving it a thought, I had quickly thrown that chute on because I was in a hurry and concerned about the safety of my two buddies. I was glad it was pitch black because if my buddies had seen me flailing the air like that, it would have been a long, long time before I lived that jump down. If I had been smart, I would have told Knutt and Pete to sit back and relax, weíre going to spend the night with the girls in Bangkok. If I had it to do over, thatís exactly what I would do.
After we completed the jumpmaster course, we got word that we would have to conduct a Basic Airborne Course. We had several non-jumpers assigned to the headquarters element at Lop Buri so I figured that the class would probably consist of them and some Thais. Wrong! Our one and only student was to be Sergeant First Class Douglas S. Blank [not his real name] who worked in the S-2 Section. Blank was short and fat. One look was enough to tell you that he couldnít pass the physical or the PT Test, but he was a nice guy so somebody in the head shed, probably our CO, Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Bartelt, had decided to give him a "candy ass" course. It looked like SF was about to have another "mascot." I blew my cork and headed towards the head shed to have my say. As luck would have it, I met LTC Roger Pezzelle who came out of the head shed as he headed for our PX. I asked him, if we were really going to be ordered to conduct a special "candy ass" jump school course for just one student. He said he would check, into it and that was the last we heard of that idea.
Colonel Pezzelle was a great guy, competent, and well respected by everyone in SF who had ever served with him.
Sometime in the summer, John Millerís committee was between classes and so was my committee. John was assigned the task of searching the jungles near B-410 which was near the Mekong River and the Laotian border, for a good place to build that secret launch site. Headquarters asked me to test a tiny radio while we were gone, I believe it was the Prick 64 [AN/PRC-64] but I wouldnít swear thatís correct.
Anyway, it was about the size of a shoe box and it was powered by a dry cell battery. It had a very tiny and flimsy telegraph key built-in and a very tiny microphone that attached to your throat. It supposedly would transmit whispers. John took me with him and we combined the two jobs into one trip. We drove one of those new Japanese utility trucks with the steering on the right hand side. Every hundred miles or so, we would stop and I would string an antenna and try to contact base station at Lop Buri. No luck. We never made contact with them on that radio the entire week that John and I were gone.
We went to the same area again later in a ĺ ton truck. This time we were checking a specific area out that had pretty much been settled on as "the" site. The road into it would be somewhat similar to B-420ís training camp but slightly better. We drove as far as we could go with the truck and stopped where we had room to turn around and walked awhile. We walked until we spotted very large and very fresh cat tracks in the sandy trail and then we returned to the truck. We werenít properly armed for tiger hunting. Somewhere in this area is where MACV-SOG eventually established a forward operations base camp for launching recon teams into Laos.
As my tour in Thailand drew to a close, I was very frustrated because I dearly wanted to stay there. If I had been single, I would have stayed there forever or until the army drug me out by my heels. It had already dawned on me that the marriage wouldnít last much longer and I considered extending my tour of duty in Thailand and telling my wife to go ahead and get a divorce, but I couldnít find a way to tell her that seemed suitable. If I returned to Fort Bragg, I figured that I would be sent PCS to the 5thGroup in South Vietnam within a year and, if I went to the 1st Group on Okinawa, I would probably be sent TDY to South Vietnam within six months. In order to get assigned to the 10th Group in Germany, you had to be in the 10th Group "clique" or at least thatís how it appeared to me. Because I had spent almost all of my SF time in the orient, I definitely was not in the 10th Group "clique." I didn't think I stood the chance of a snowball in hades of being assigned to the SF unit in Panama because I didn't speak Spanish and definitely didn't look latin. Besides, I hated duty at Ft. Bragg.
Finally, someone in the company began a rumor that the 1st Group on Okinawa no longer sent teams TDY to the 5th Group in South Vietnam. What the heck, I decided to take a chance and I asked to be transferred to the 1st Group on Okinawa. I left the 46th Company in October 1967.
Return to Don's Home Page