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[This section covers a tour with the 5th Group including PCS to Vietnam: Ft Bragg, NC and Vietnam June 1963-Dec 1965]
It was May 1963 and I was 25 years old. I was now considered to be one of the "old timers" because I was "3" qualified, had served on a real mission and probably had more time in grade as an E-5 than any SF radioman on Smoke Bomb Hill. Well, at least the new guys thought of me as an old timer anyway. Duty with one of Groupís line companies at Fort Bragg was mostly details: private of the guard [E-6 & down], Ash & Trash [garbage men], fireman, police call, burial, demonstrations, etc. We received very little special forces oriented training. About the only training we received was what DA required for all soldiers. The Special Warfare Center had created a huge demonstration area on Smoke Bomb Hill to help promote unconventional warfare and regularly held demonstrations there. The officers named it, "The Gabriel Demonstration Area" after one of the SF guys who had been wounded then captured along with my buddy George Groom and Francis Quinn. Gabriel and Marchand were both wounded and could not travel so the VC executed them.
Naming the area after Gabriel instead of Marchand really ticked off the old SF hands because Marchand was an original member of SF. He had joined SF when it was founded in 1952. Gabriel was on his first-hitch in the army. Gabrielís name was picked over Marchandís because Gabriel was a member of a minority group or at least this was the rumor at the time. This was when "Affirmative Action" had just begun in the Army. Needless to say, the old-time SFers frowned on the affirmative action program after that and I believe they had good reason for feeling that way. The enlisted SF men referred to the Gabriel Demonstration Area, as "Disneyland."
The demonstration area included a parking lot, bleacher area and a trail that circled through the woods and returned to the bleacher area. Each demonstration began and ended at the bleachers in the demonstration area. First the VIPs would view an A Team wearing their field gear, including rucksacks who would each present a canned spiel. Some spiels were in English and others were in a foreign language with a little fun thrown in to put everyone at ease. Next, the VIPs walked through the woods where they would see a variety of presentations. There were several fixed displays, a demolitions area, and a survival area where they could dine on such delicacies as pine bark bread, sassafras tea, and snake meat.
They also saw a rappeling demonstration, a hand-to-hand combat demonstration, a replica Vietnamese village complete with secret VC tunnels and an ambush by camouflaged soldiers. Next to last was a HALO parachute jump and the grand finale was the demonstration of the Fulton Recovery System commonly referred to as 'Skyhook.' The skyhook method of exfiltration used a C-130 Hercules flying at about 120 miles per hour to pick up a person from the ground. It originally used a Caribou and a B-17. The person to be extracted dons a special pair of coveralls into which a harness has been sewn. It also had a nylon rope attached to it. The other end of the rope is attached to a large balloon which is sent aloft. The aircraft flew overhead at about 500-800 feet and snatched the man off the ground by grabbing the rope with a v-shaped device attached to its nose. A winch then automatically wraps the rope around itself, hopefully binding it to the aircraft, cuts the rope "above" where it is bound, which frees the balloon, and reels the man into the plane. That is truly the ultimate Theme Park Ride. If you like Bungee Jumping ó you would absolutely "love" Skyhook. Personally, I preferred the duty at the demonstration area to guard duty, burial detail or post details.
We had one very sharp, Master Sergeant who deserted during this time. The rumor mongers said he deserted because he felt so strongly against what went on in that demonstration area, especially the tunnels in the Vietnamese village. He said that he had never seen any tunnels in two tours there. This was not a part of his canned spiel and the OIC reprimanded him for it which really ticked him off. Anyway, one day he just disappeared and he never returned. I heard that he deserted, but he may have just gone out and found himself another duty assignment or maybe 'desertion' was a cover story for a secret assignment. You never knew for certain in that outfit.
If the Gabriel A Team was short a linguist, they "winged it." The man assigned to that slot just said in his spiel that he spoke [or was cross training in] a foreign language, but he never actually demonstrated his linguistic ability during the demonstration. He also disappeared immediately after the demonstration just in case someone from the audience might try to communicate with him in that language. They eventually changed this practice and played it straight. If one of the guys spoke a foreign language, he demonstrated his proficiency with it, and if some of them did not speak a foreign language they just didnít mention foreign languages. When I was on the Gabriel A Team I said, "I speak fluent East Tennessean and I am cross-trained in English."
I ran into a buddy I knew from the Eighty-second one day and his jaw dropped when he saw me. He told me, "Damn Val, I heard that you had been killed in Laos and that the commies had cut off your head, stuck it on a pole, and was parading it through the villages." I assured him that I was still among the living.
There was a proverb that became popular among SF during this time, "Yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, because I am the baddest mother-f..ker in the valley." Honestly speaking, I never subscribed to that theory, but a lot of SF guys did and you can visit many of them almost anytime that you wish at Arlington Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Take your time, theyíre not going anywhere anytime soon.
Meanwhile Meg had contacted a lawyer about getting a divorce and he contacted me that he had our separation papers completed and I needed to stop by and sign them. When I did, he, one of his associates, and Meg were there. As I glanced through the separation papers, I noticed that it listed her maiden name and "four" previous married names [that was a shock]. It said that she got the trailer and that I got stuck with the payments for the GTO that she had bought in her name while I was gone. Also, I was to pay her $50 per month for each of her four children. Two of her children were born blind, deaf, and mentally handicapped and they were in a home somewhere. When we first met, I had seen all of her kids, but sometime between when she and I had first met and when we got divorced, those two had disappeared. If I had been a multi-millionaire, I would have gladly given every penny to her or anyone else, just to be rid of her and I would have still counted my blessings. Meg had put the wrong date of our marriage in the papers, but I didnít say anything about it because I didnít care ó I just signed the papers and I got the hell out of there.
But my subconscious mind would not let me forget that wrong date. One of the few things that I had learned about women was they always remember the day that they got married. Even if they marry fifty times, I firmly believe that they will remember all fifty dates. If they discover that they hate the jerk they married, they will still remember the day that they married him. It took about a month for me to mentally sort this out. After thinking about it, I recalled that she had still been married at the time we met and her husband was serving a long prison term somewhere in Virginia just across the state line from Mount Airy, North Carolina for embezzlement. Thatís why Meg was in Fayetteville staying with her sister; she was trying to find a way to get away from her husband. Also I recalled, her going to the Mount Airy area just a couple of weeks before I was due to ship out to Okinawa to see about a divorce. She was gone a couple of days and when she returned she said she had taken care of it. We were married a couple of days later, but the date she had put down on those separation papers was about the time that I landed on Okinawa. When I gave all of this information to another attorney and told him that I strongly suspected that I was never legally married to Peggy, he agreed to check it out for me.
During this same period, I also served on the Groupís burial detail and attended the funerals of SF troopers all over the Southeastern United States. Most of them were killed in Southeast Asia. It was a very depressing job and I did not like it one bit ó I knew some of those guys.
In late August, I met Eilene [not her real name] at the Main Post NCO Club Swimming Pool. We met because she flirted with me while I was swimming. By the way, I had also met Meg at that same pool. When I say Eilene flirted with me, I donít mean she glanced at me or "hinted" she might be interested, I mean she flat tried to put the make on me. That's about what it took before I knew a woman was interested in me. Did I already mention that I was a total dunce when it came to women?
Thinking back on it, I donít think that I would have ever known that a female "hinted" anything to me, if someone else hadnít pointed it out to me. In fact, Bob Kaszer, Brer Fox from Fort Gordon, had to inform me that Meg was eye-balling me. That reminds me, I still havenít paid him back for that. Come to think of it, if Harry P. Clark hadnít also played "match-maker" for me and my second wife, I would have never gotten involved in that mess either and I havenít paid Harry back for that either.
You know, if other people had just minded their own business, I may have faired better in my associations with women. After all, I found Dorey, my present wife, all by myself and I knew the instant that I looked into her big "Bambi" eyes that she "would do to ride the river with." Me not having "Bambi" eyes, it was a little more difficult for her to make that decision about me. It may have taken us ten years to finally get together on our own but what the heck, once we did pair-up, weíve done great together. Knock on wood!
Anyway, EiIene was attractive, well educated, tall, slender and originally from Germany. She also turned out to be married to a well-liked Special Forces soldier. Many of the foot-loose and fancy-free women in the Fayetteville/Fort Bragg area were either SF wives, Eighty-second wives or their ex-wives.
About two weeks later, during the 5th Groupís "activation day" ceremonies, I ran into EiIene again near our company mess hall. When she got my attention with a wave, I was headed for the parade field, where most of the activities were taking place. She was talking to another SF soldier at the time. We made small talk for a couple of minutes and the other guy left. He had no sooner turned his back and she grabbed my crotch and invited me to give her a call sometime. Now thatís what I call a hint. Thatís how my affair with EiIene began. Itís very difficult for a healthy young male to refuse an attractive woman when she has a death grip on his "brain," especially if his hormones out number his brain cells even if he is a dunce when it comes to women.
During the next few years, I met several other guys who had a "brief encounter" with horny EiIene. For some reason, Eilene and I kept seeing each other off and on for almost 20 years and so far as I know, we are still friends. At one point, she wanted me to get out of SF, go to OCS to become an officer, and marry her. When I rejected that plan, she was "ticked off" at me for a little while. She never harped about it though, she just suggested it that once. So far as I know, sheís still married to the same guy; I never really understood their relationship. For that matter, I never really understood my relationship with her. Eilene may have slept around, but she was also intelligent, an excellent housekeeper, a classy dresser, not flashy or gaudy, just classy, and a very good cook. Her made-from-scratch soups and stews were especially yummy.
While I was still in the army, there was only one other woman that knew me as well as Irene. That lady was also an SF wife but I had met her long before I ever joined SF. A few years later, after I joined SF, I was on the same team as her husband in Southeast Asia and I really regretted ever getting involved with her. It made that assignment rougher than it should have been. Thatís all I will ever say about her or our relationship.
Eilene was the only other SF wife that I allowed myself to become involved with and only then because it was apparent to me that she and her husband had agreed to go their separate ways, but to stay married for some reason. Maybe they thought that it was for the good of the kids. Personally, I happen to disagree with that philosophy, but that was their business and not mine so I never discussed it with her. Many guys in Group thought that I was a "butterfly" [flittered from girl to girl] and considered any woman to be fair game, but that was not true. It was a figment of someoneís fertile imagination, but I never argued with them about it, after all it might prove to be good advertising. You never know and I needed all the help I could get.
Sometime in September or October 1963 my attorney called me. He told me not to send Meg anymore money because I had never been legally married to her in the first place. The date that she had given her attorney as our marriage date was really the date that her divorce was final and my marriage would be annulled based on bigamy. Sergeant Swanson, a buddy of mine, followed me and I took that gas hog GTO to the loan company that same day. Also with Swansonís help, I found me a 1960 PV 544 Volvo to replace it. Thatís the Volvo that resembled a midget, 1946 or 1948 Ford sedan and it turned out to be one of the best cars that I have ever owned. That Volvo was very reliable and very economical. All I did was put gas in it and drive it for three or four years with almost no maintenance and it never gave me a minute of trouble. When I sold the Volvo in 1967, I got what I had paid for it. That Volvo was such a good car, I felt guilty because I had not treated it better.
In late November or early December 1963, Harry P. Clark and I were assigned to help field test some new SF communication equipment. I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant since returning to Fort Bragg, but Harry P. outranked me because he had been a Staff Sergeant much longer than I. Harry P. was from Norman Park, Georgia. He was about 5íll" tall, with a roman nose, red-headed, freckle faced, and worked out with weights fairly regular and looked it. His older brother, Dave, was a Sergeant Major in SF; they looked like identical twins.
Harry P. was a very cocky person. While he was stationed on Okinawa, Harry P. once got into a fist-fight with a fellow SF soldier who was smaller, but a good boxer, and the little guy gave Harry P. a good thrashing. Harry P. had a couple of drinks and thought about it and just couldnít believe that little guy had beat him so soundly, so he just had to go back and try him again ó with the same results.
Our radio team went out twice. Our first trip was to Fayetteville, Tennessee for about a week or ten days, where we got rooms in a local downtown hotel. We set up our radio in one of our rooms and proceeded to communicate with Fort Bragg.
We were testing the "burst device" and "code machines" that were made to use with the burst device. There were two code machines. One of the code machines was made for use by anyone, no knowledge of Morse code was required. It had a dial, a selector, and a little crank like the ones on hole punches. On the face of the dial were all of the characters in the alphabet, numbers from 0 - 9, and "a blank space" for use between words. You attached this tiny machine to a small tape cassette, selected a letter, a number or a space and hit the crank. The code machine electro-magnetically placed that signal onto the tape in Morse code. When you had went through the entire message like that, you then connected the tape to the burst device and the burst device to your transmitter and when it was time to transmit the message, you just pushed a button and the message was transmitted at 300 words per minute.
The other code machine required a knowledge of Morse code or at least a card showing the Morse Code for letters and numbers. It was the same size as the other encoder, but it did not have a crank and it did not have a dial. It only had three buttons. A "dot" button, a "dash" button, and a "space" button.
The dial-faced encoder was the only one worth having. If that one works, why bother with the one that required a knowledge of Morse code? That tiny device, if it worked, would totally eliminate the need to train special forces troops or espionage agents in Morse code. They only needed to know how to assemble and use the radio equipment. Unfortunately, neither method worked satisfactory.
When we completed our test there, the other guys headed back to Fort Bragg in the jeep and took the radio equipment with them. Harry P, who had driven his own car, took me home with him on our way back to Fort Bragg. Harry Pís folks were my kind of people, down to earth country folks and boy could his mom cook. Mrs Clark would not let me leave the supper table until I was so full my stomach hurt. I had a habit of cleaning my plate and she had a habit of refilling empty plates ó she won. I finally had to leave the food on my plate to convince that sweet lady that I was full to the brim.
After supper, Harry P. took me to a nightclub and restaurant in Moultrie, where he introduced me to Fran Parton [not her real name]. Fran worked as a waitress/hostess there and her mother, Mary owned it. Her two younger brothers, Gary and George , managed the place. Mary owned the restaurant/nightclub and Gary and George helped her operate it. Gary and George ran a vending machine business out of the back rooms.
Gary and George later expanded their vending machine business to include a mobile catering service for the local factories and then they really started raking in the money. Within ten years, their mom had retired and moved to Crescent City, Florida and Gary and George purchased the restaurant and nightclub. They were both rich by then, but those boys really earned it. This joint venture cost them both a lot of time and hard work and nearly cost them their marriages. The two brothers also had a falling out. I think that it was mostly because their wives did not get along. George sold his half to his brother and left town. Gary and George are both good people and it really hurts to see two people you like, especially brothers, bickering like that.
Shortly after we returned to Fort Bragg, Harry P. and I were sent to Camp Stewart, Georgia [now Fort Stewart] to further test the same equipment. This time we were gone for six weeks. Camp Stewart is only about a two hour drive from Harry P.ís home so he went home several times during our stay there. We were billeted on Camp Stewart in an empty Day Room building. Fran and I also started dating while we were staying there. Group eventually sent another man down to help us out, Specialist 4th Class, Joseph M. Murphy who later went to OCS [Officerís Candidate School].
Three years later, from 1966 to 1967, Lieutenant Murphy was my A Team Executive Officer in Thailand. Rumor has it that Murphy eventually retired as a general. Eilene may have been right about one thing, maybe I should have gone to OCS.
In January, my marriage to Meg was annulled on grounds of bigamy. At last, I was out of that mess and, except for my lawyer, I didnít owe anybody a dime. It sure made me feel like I was one lucky guy. After the test was over, Harry P. and I returned to Fort Bragg. He and I made a couple of trips back to his home town and of course to Moultrie.
Harry P. And I discovered that the base station at Fort Bragg never managed to decode a single message from the field. Part of the problem were the code machines. The code machines werenít putting the correct signal on the tape or they werenít putting any signal on the tape. There was no way for the person using the coder to know it was malfunctioning. Also successfully receiving the signal proved to be more difficult than first thought. The signal had to be taped and then slowed down from 300 words per minute to 15 - 20 words per minute so the receiving radioman could copy it. The burst device flunked the field test and never became standard issue for SF during my time on the teams. That was too bad, it was a good idea.
Harry P. Clark retired, attended college, owned and operated a couple of transmission shops in the Albany, Georgia area, sold the shops, moved to Valdosta and bought a semi-truck tractor and became an independent cross country truck driver. He said he had always wanted to do that and he was going to do it before he died.
A couple of months after we returned to Fort Bragg from Camp Stewart, my Company went on maneuvers at Camp Lejuene for four weeks. Camp Lejuene is a US Marine Corps base on the coast of North Carolina. The last part of the maneuver involved a 50-60 mile cross-country march through swamps and across rivers to White Lake, North Carolina while avoiding capture by the marines. White Lake was about 50 miles from Camp Lejuene. Actually this wasnít too bad, in fact, we were lucky because SF usually marched all the way back to Fort Bragg and that was a 100 miles or more.
Before we departed on our little march, they issued us "Sock Rations" to test. The rations got their unusual name because they were actually issued in a GI sock with the top knotted. It was a new survival ration that the army was testing. After you ate a certain number of meals you would have a fresh pair of socks. It worked out to one fresh pair of socks per week as I recall. Each daily ration consisted of a cereal bar, a candy bar, and a meat bar. They called it a bar but it was actually a disk. My first meat bar was very hard. This was highly enriched, dehydrated food. The idea was that you would eat the cereal bar for breakfast, the candy bar for lunch and the meat bar for supper. The cereal and candy bars were okay, not great, but edible. The meat bar was something else altogether. That meat bar had to be an invention of the devil himself.
The first night of our march, I tried one of my meat bars. First I tried to eat it as is, but my teeth couldnít even dent it. Then I tried to carve it into tiny edible slices with my bayonet, but the bayonet couldnít cut it. Finally, I tried to cook it in a canteen cup of water, but fell asleep while waiting for it to soften. The next morning it was still hard so I kept that same meat bar in that canteen cup of water and carried it in my hand all morning as we marched. Iím a meat man and one way or another, I intended to eat that meat bar. When we stopped for a lunch break, I still couldnít do anything with that meat bar, it was still as hard as a rock. When we stopped for the evening I tried again and got the same results. This continued for the entire march. Have I mentioned Iím a tad stubborn? When we finally arrived back at Fort Bragg, I had eaten all of the cereal and candy bars. I finally threw away that meat bar when we met the trucks. Otherwise, I still had all of my meat bars. I had forgotten they were in my side trouser pockets. I knew better than to assume anything, but I had assumed that all meat bars were the same and that no one had been able to eat a meat bar. The word "assume" is spelled that way because when you assume anything, it always "makes an ASS out of U and ME," and it would bite me again this time. Unknown to me, most of the other guys had managed to eat their meat bars. How they did that I forgot to ask.
As soon as I hit the barracks, we dumped our rucksacks and cleaned our weapons so we could turn them in to the company armorer, that is SOP. When I had turned in my weapon, the Company CQ came in and told me that I had just received a telephone call from Fran. She had just pulled in and was parked at the Smoke Bomb Hill Guest House and wanted to see me.
Well, I was covered with mud; I hadnít bathed or shaved in three days or longer; I was tired and I was a little ticked that she had just dropped in like that. But thatís exactly the way I was when I went to see her. I hoped that she would lose interest and head for home, unfortunately she didnít. She was with her mother, Mary, and they just sat there in her momís car and chit-chatted like nothing was amiss. When I absentmindedly stuck my hand in my pocket, I felt those damn meat bars. Already I had explained to them about me just getting back from Camp Lejuene and I took out one of those meat bars, removed the wrapper, placed it under Fran's nose and said, "If you can eat this meat bar as is, Iíll marry you." I reckoned that would get rid of them both, but, much to my dismay, she ate it, no problem. My jaw must have dropped to my chest as I watched that meat bar disappear. Of all of those meat bars, I had picked a fight with the only one in the bunch that was defective! We were married a few weeks later in Dillon, South Carolina. I should have reneged and volunteered for immediate transfer to Vietnam. It would have been far wiser and much more peaceful, but Big Dummy didnít know how to renege. Sock rations did not become an issued item. Thank God for small favors.
Fran turned out to be the most persistent, insanely jealous, and domineering person that I had ever met up to that point in my life. That came as a complete shock to me because until the day we took those vows, she was one of the most congenial people that I had ever met and I could seem to do no wrong while in her presence. Me, I was still the same Ol' Val, but she had underwent a metamorphosis the day we were married and she expected me to do likewise. She even had a new "me" all picked out ó a civilian me. She hated SF because SF came first in my world. In my line of work, it had to come first. Our mission, even the guys on my team, came first. Fran couldnít handle that one little bit, she couldnít stand playing second fiddle to anyone or anything, but of course not many women can. Thatís one reason why SF men should never marry, but believe it or not we are human just like everyone else. Some folks may find that thought difficult to believe.
Special Forces provided traveling demonstration teams to help promote our image and to promote US military involvement in Vietnam in general. Being on those teams was pretty good duty also, but I only made one demonstration trip and that was one that went to Philadelphia and Aberdeen Proving Grounds. And by that time, I was ready to get something straight between me and Fran, like two or three states for example.
In Philadelphia, all I did was stand behind a fixed display in the center of the downtown business district and answer questions. When we headed for Aberdeen, I figured that I would get the same job there so when a bunch of the guys wanted to go out on the town the night before our demonstration at the proving grounds, I agreed. First thing the next morning, I was informed that I would demonstrate rappelling all day from a 60í tower. I had not yet received any formal rappelling training and I had never rappelled down a 60' tower. I figured I could learn as I went so I didn't mention my lack of training or experience. It was summer, very hot, and I had only gotten a couple of hours sleep and I was still as high as a kite. The medics were stationed behind the tower because it was the most likely spot for an accident and at least I knew, if push came to shove, somebody would be able to drag my remains out of sight before the civilians barfed all over me. Each time I climbed the tower, I first visited the medics and took a dozen big breaths from their oxygen tank to sober me up enough to get me off the top of that tower alive. It never lasted all the way to the bottom.
Sometime during the day, Sergeant Major Charlie Waters decided that we should include the "hasty rappelling" techniques. I had never even heard of the "Hasty Rappelling Technique" so naturally Charlie picked me to demonstrate it. First, I had to get an extra couple of whiffs of oxygen and then I got one of the guys that knew what he was doing to demonstrate these techniques to me when we were out of sight behind the tower. In the hasty techniques, you do not use a harness and snap-link. Itís just you, the tower, and the climbing rope. Instead of a harness and snap-link to control your descent, you use the "friction" [as in rope burn] of the rope against your precious body. Did I tell you that tower was 60í tall and straight up or down, depending on your point of view?
I later learned that the hasty techniques were not intended to be used for vertical descents, except in emergency situations. Demonstrating this technique on a 60í tower was a lot like firing that .50 caliber bolt-action Chinese sniping rifle during SF training ó once was enough. But Charlie kept sending me back up that tower to demonstrate it again and again. After the first descent, I started looking for something to pad my body with. Just that once down the tower and I had severe rope burns that had hurt so much, I had almost let go of the rope just to escape the pain ó while I was still about 30í off the ground. Finally, I found a couple of air force kit bags and stuffed them inside of my fatigue jacket where the rope rubbed against my body. This was my first time rappelling from a tower and it was worse than rappelling down the quarry cliffs had been ó much worse. For one thing, the tower swayed with the wind and the edge was a 90 degree angle which made it more difficult for a beginner like me to get off the top and onto the face of the wall and then the wall was 100% vertical and smooth. My back was covered with painful rope burns for several days. [That trip cured me of any desire that I had for rappelling.
After the trip with the demonstration team and a couple of months of wedded bliss, [and I write that with tongue-in-cheek], a team sergeant whose team had a classified mission approached me about volunteering to go with them. He wouldnít say where we were going or what we were going to do, but he did want to verify that I had prior service in Laos. That told me all I needed to know about that mission, "they were going to Laos" so I volunteered.
I guess they figured that I would have an advantage over the guys who had never served in Laos, after all I already knew that you didnít swim in the Mekong ó it had crocs, donít get too close to Mimi ó she has the crabs, donít sign up for the R&R flight ó just go straight to the White Rose, and donít arm wrestle with a priest ó they cheat. Also, I figured that I would have a better chance in that fight, at least I could shoot any troublesome commies, but the last I heard judges in the US frown on folks that shoot their spouse. If I was going to be in a fight, I figured that I might as well be in one where I could fight back. Besides, we werenít supposed to have any troops in Laos at that time so I strongly suspected that it was a guerrilla warfare mission working with the mountain natives instead of the Royal Lao Army against the North Vietnamese coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail and thatís the SF that I had volunteered for in the first place.
Team sergeants also served as the team recruiter. When an SF team got a mission, the team sergeant would start scouting around for the best SF troops to volunteer to fill the vacant slots on his team. Some team sergeants became quite good at recruiting. Youíve heard of door-to-door salesmen, well these guys became quite good as Club-to-Club Salesman. They roamed from one SF watering-hole to another searching for likely candidates. They would usually ease onto the bar stool next to you, smile, pat you on the back, and order beers for the both of you. After he bought you a couple of beers and the two of you had gabbed for a little while, he would lean over close and whisper something like this into your ear, " Iíve got a Go Team thatís going to be a really good deal. X dollars a day per diem for at least six months, maybe longer. We need a good "....." man, like you. Somebody our guys can rely on, if things get tough. Youíre the first ..... man that I thought of. Are you interested?" You can fill in the "..." with any SF MOS or talent of your choice, communications, demolitions/engineering, weapons, medical specialist, operations/intelligence, recon, etc. I think team sergeants took a course in recruiting. No mission was ever referred to as a "bad deal." Mission teams or "Go" teams and these recruiting pitches became known as the "original good deal."
After you had been on a couple of these good deals and nearly bought the farm, if you had any sense, you raced for the nearest exit when a team sergeant eased into the bar stool beside you at your favorite watering-hole. All the team sergeants seemed to know that I was a sucker for the "My guys need a good commo-man that they can trust when things get tough," line. That line worked on Big Dummy every time. Personally, I believe that technique is immoral and it should be ranked with the sales techniques used to sell time-share condos and campground memberships.
They transferred me to Charlie Company where the Go Team was. Actually there were five Go Teams; a B Team and its four A Teams. Mission training began almost immediately after they issued us our field equipment, including two pair of new jungle boots. I already had two pair of perfectly good jungle boots. During the next few months, I wore out both pair of my old jungle boots on speed marches while carrying full rucksacks through the Fort Bragg sand. Apparently I wasnít the only one to wear out their boots so the company issued us two more pair of jungle boots, but nobody gave us any new feet to put in them. Now I had six pair of jungle boots: two brand-spanking new pair, two used pair and two worn-out pair that I tossed in the nearest dumpster. I didn't think it was possible to wear out a pair of jungle boots.
Eventually, I discovered that my original deduction was true, we were going back to Laos. The A Teams were going to be inserted into the Laotian mountains near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We were to join up with the mountain tribesmen that some of our White Star Mobile Training Teams had worked with earlier and hopefully recruit them to help us interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We may be required to stay there for the duration of the war. That meant that we were going to operate as guerrillas for once against the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army and we got to do the ambushing and raiding instead of being ambushed and raided all the time. I liked that idea. Thatís the SF that I had volunteered for in the first place. I thought, "Finally, I get to do to the commies what they have been doing to us for years."
In addition to the training on duty, I ran with a 50 pound rucksack through the woods near our home and did timed 40 meter low crawls around our back yard. Low crawling is much more difficult than running, if you donít believe me try it. Our dog, Lucky, loved all of this. She followed me on the runs and hopped on my back and went for a ride when I was crawling. In her previous life, Lucky must have been a drill sergeant that God had sent back as a dog in this life to haunt me. If I slowed down on the runs, that little dipstick would nip at my heels and when I was crawling she would yap in my face as she hopped backwards out of my reach. That dog definitely had drill sergeant potential.
Because Fran did not have the proper security clearance nor an official "need to know", I had not yet told her that I was on a Go Team . That was the proper procedure. After all, she was not a member of the team and the entire mission was classified at least TOP SECRET. Being only cleared for SECRET at the time, I didnít even know what I was doing. We were all being processed for TOP SECRET clearance. There wasnít much that I could tell her anyway, just that I was leaving and I would probably be stationed somewhere in the Far East for at least six months. Thatís about all and I was still trying to figure out the best way to do that. As it turned out, I didnít have to tell her, she told me. She knew something was up because my habits had changed. She had noticed that I was coming home dirtier than usual and almost always sober plus other members of the team werenít as security conscious as I was. Apparently they had blabbed to their wives who were busily spreading the news to the rest of the world. See what I mean about telling a wife a secret?
One day when I came home a little hostile interrogator was awaiting me. She was determined to break me and to know all about what I was up to. During this interrogation, I learned what her impression of my secret assignment was. She visualized me lying on a white sandy beach sipping a cool drink while a string of beautiful, half-naked, brown-skinned ladies in hula skirts wiggled their supple hips in the sunset to the tune of "Tiny Bubbles." She sweated me for hours to no avail. Even though I had a terrible headache and I didnít get much sleep ó I didnít crack. The interrogation started every evening when I came home.
That mission was soon cancelled due to security leaks. That didnít surprise me one bit. It ticked me off because I had gone through hell keeping the mission a secret, but it sure didnít surprise me. Congress had gotten word about our intended mission and all kinds of political hell was breaking loose. Come to find out, some of the young officers on the teams had been the ones who had been bragging about their mission to their wives and girlfriends. We scrapped one good guerrilla mission and I was thoroughly disgusted.
Back to B Company I went and the same day we were informed that the entire 5th Group was being shipped out to Vietnam. The 5th would remain in Vietnam permanently, but the individualís tour would only be 12 months. My team would be leaving in December. That wasnít too soon for me. They issued me two more pair of jungle boots and mission training began immediately. I remember thinking, "I hope I can out last another couple of pair of jungle boots."
That night when I got home, I broke the news to Fran. I said, "Remember that secret mission that I was going on for six months?" "Yes," she replied. I said, "Well, Itís cancelled, Iím not going for six months. Iím going to Vietnam for a year instead!" Iíll be damned, if she didnít pitch a fit again. You just canít please a woman. She had no idea where Vietnam was or what it was like, but she still had those damn hula girls on her mind and I thought December would never arrive. When we finally departed early one morning before daybreak, I was relieved. Thank God, peace and quiet at last. All I had to endure for the next twelve months was a little gunfire, artillery, mortars, rockets, wholesale slaughtering, and such as that. No sweat! It would be good just to get away from Fran. My only fear was that Fran would still be waiting for me when I returned. That may sound rotten, but itís true.
Even though several radiomen in the A Teams that were under our B Team outranked me, I had been made the B Team Radio Operator Supervisor. One of my radio operators was shipped out for some reason and our B-Team Team Sergeant, Sergeant Major Charles T. McGuire, replaced him with Staff Sergeant Keaton who was naturally nicknamed "Buster." Buster outranked me due to his date of rank [the date when he was promoted] and had much more radio experience than me and officially, and by all right, he should have been the Radio Operator Supervisor, but McGuire left me in charge of communications for some strange reason.
I did not like that situation, but I wasnít about to complain ó at least I was on a Go Team. If Keaton wasnít going to pull a radio shift, McGuire had left us short-handed, but I kept my mouth shut ó at least I was on a Go Team. Buster Keaton was an okay guy, but it was obvious that he wasnít in our team just to work under me. Apparently, Buster and McGuire were buddies and McGuire was just trying to get Buster into Vietnam and then Buster would find himself a job and disappear leaving me short one radio operator. My other three radio operators were Sergeant Leonard J. Karp, a short ,dark-complexioned, chunky-built married man, Specialist 4th Class Larry E. Meltzer, a short, slim, good-looking, brown-haired, dark-haired single young man from Jacksonville, Florida, and Sergeant William D. "Bill" Pool, a tall, lanky, blonde, single young man.
The five radiomen on our A Teams that outranked me did not want the job and pulled strings to stay where they were. I couldnít blame them, almost everyone in SF wanted to be on an A Team. Sometimes we got it and sometimes we didnít. This was another time that I didnít.
When we arrived in Vietnam, our B Team was re-designated as "Detachment B-52," and we were put in charge of Delta Projects or as some called us Project Delta. We just referred to it as just plain Delta. My Team Commander was Major Arthur "Art" Strange and our Team Sergeant Major was Charles T. McGuire. Deltaís base camp adjoined the 5th Special Forces Group Headquarters camp and the airbase in Nha Trang. This was the first time that I had heard of Delta. Delta had only started about six or eight months before we arrived in December 1964. Deltaís original mission was operating lurps [long range reconnaissance patrols] in support of the 5th Group throughout Vietnam. Then we were given any job that was not covered by any other unitís mission anywhere in Vietnam and that was how MACV-S3 finally got involved and screwed-up the whole works.
Major Strange was a very tall, lanky southern man. At 6í 9" tall, he stood about the limit for airborne duty and he weighed about 250-260 pounds. Art had hands like Grandpa Valentine ó about the size of a ham, but because he was so tall he was still lanky. Sergeant Major McGuire was a barrel-chested, burly Irishman and he stood about 5 foot 10 inches or 6 foot tall, weighed about 220 pounds, and loved to drink and sing Irish ballads.
The SF Team that originated Project Delta was an A Team that was composed of hand-picked volunteers from the teams that were in Vietnam at the time TDY. As I recall, the Team Leader was a Captain W. J. Richardson, Jr. and the Team Sergeant was Paul Payne. Paul Tracy, Bill Edge, and Tony Duarte were also on the team along with several others. I did have a list of the members on this page, but lost it somehow while I was editing this page earlier. I will find those names again and add them to this paragraph as soon as I can. Larry Dickinson, Norbert Weber, and Harold "Catfish" Dreblow joined it very soon afterwards in the fall of 1964. I believe they came over with the 5th Group also, but were among the first units to arrive, but they may have been TDY from the 1st Group on Okinawa. Our detachment was among the last units to arrive for some reason.
Captain Charles H. Thompson, Jr. was our Executive Officer. Thompson was a loud-mouthed, obnoxious, over-bearing s..t head. On our first operation we worked out of our base camp because the area of operations was near Nha Trang. Our officers planned the operation and were about to infiltrate the team before I even knew that there was an operation underway that I had to support. No one informed me about the operation, they just showed up wanting radio equipment. "This is a hell of a way to run a railroad," I said to myself. As it turned out, the staff officers had decided to use HT1s on the ground and a Prick Ten [AN/PRC-10] in the chopper. I warned them, "One radio set is AM and the other is FM. It might work and it might not. If it did work it would be at short distances only." They went with their plan anyway and fortunately, the radios worked okay, but there could have been a tragedy on that operation.
After the lurp team was on the ground, we were having trouble copying a Morse Code message from Paul Tracy. His signal was very weak and there was a lot of stronger static over-riding it. As the radio operator on duty was struggling to copy the signal, Captain Thompson came roaring into the commo-tent and started raising hell because we werenít copying the message fast enough to suit him. He caused so much ruckus the radio man couldnít hear anything but him. Try as I might, I could not get that s..t head to understand that he was jeopardizing the lives of those men on that patrol by interfering with the base station radio operator. That s..t head seemed to think that if he could yell loud enough the radio signal would somehow become stronger and the operator could copy better. The commo tent was directly connected by field telephone line to our headquarters tent which was in the same camp. Thompson could have used that, but he was a dumbass. He finally left and we went back to concentrating on the incoming message. He was on my back from that day on and tried his level best to make my life in Delta as miserable as possible. For some reason, I remained "outside the loop." I was never advised of any staff meeting, mission planning or mission briefing. I should have seen the hand writing on the wall, but didnít.
Thompson was the only American officer that I actually hated. I didnít even hate Captain Queen from my 511th days, but Captain Queen had not singled me out for "special treatment" either. As far as I was concerned Captain Thompson was as worthless as tits on a boar hog. A few days after that fiasco, McGuire informed me that he had decided to put Buster Keaton in charge of communications. You can either be Busterís assistant or transfer to any unit of your choice." I told Mac, "That was the way it should have been in the first place because Keaton outranks me." Up to this point, Keaton did not have a job. I also said, "I would prefer to stay with the guys that I started out with." So I stayed with Delta.
Originally, Deltaís field teams were all indigenous personnel and the Americans were merely trainers and advisors. The first teams were code-named "Road Runners" because thatís what they did. They were dressed like NVA [North Vietnamese Army] or VC [Viet Cong ó a communist guerrilla] and after being inserted into the area of operations, they traveled on the trails. No Americans were inserted with the Road Runners. This tactic did not last long. For some reason when our Road Runners encountered an enemy unit on the trail, the enemy would open fire immediately. Our guys never figured out how the VC knew the Road Runners werenít VC so tactics changed. Two Americans were assigned to each RT [Delta referred to their lurps as RTs which stood for recon team] and they began to develop lurp tactics for Southeast Asia by the trial and error method. A Battalion of Vietnamese Rangers was assigned to Delta. Delta had its own air force. The Vietnamese Air Force assigned two C-47ís with crews and four H-34 Helicopters with crews permanently to Delta. They were under the command of the Delta CO [Commanding Officer].
The Vietnamese aircraft and crews were under the direct command of Deltaís CO. Our Vietnamese chopper pilots were very good. They did some pretty wild and hairy flying for our RTs. They used their blades as a lawn mower to clear out elephant grass a foot or so at a time so they could pick up our teams. They put one wheel down in the fork of a tall dead tree on a very steep slope so a lone patrol survivor could climb the tree and into the chopper. They flew rescue missions through fog that was so thick in the mountains they literally flew up the dirt roads and between the trees where they were far enough apart or slightly above them.
Delta also started a "Rough Terrain Jump School" which used the same basic gear and parachuting techniques as Smoke Jumpers. Delta personnel experimented with silenced weapons, both factory-made and home-made. Only two silencers were found acceptable, both were factory-made. One was made for the Swedish K submachine-gun and the other was made for a .22 caliber automatic pistol. This all happened before our team arrived.
Deltaís mission was greatly expanded after we arrived. If a situation arose anywhere in Vietnam that wasnít specifically covered by any other unitís mission, it automatically became Deltaís responsibility. We traveled all over Vietnam while I was with Delta. We ran operations out of Nha Trang, Pleiku, Bien Hoa [twice], Vung Tau, Ban Me Thout, Quon Nhong [twice], Vung Ro Bay and Hue and probably a couple of other places that I have forgotten. Delta also went on other missions during that time without me because they left me to operate our Base Camp Radio Station. Believe me by that time, I was glad to be left behind.
The Air Force B-52 bombers and the C-47 gun ship commonly referred to as "Puff the Magic Dragon" were two of the most devastating weapons available to our forces at this time. The B-52s were code-named "Arc Light" and if you wanted a C-47 gun ship to support you, you just asked for "Puff." They were both appropriately nicknamed.
The 2,000 pound bombs dropped by the B-52s made a huge arc of light when each bomb exploded. Each one of these bombs would make a crater about 10 to 15 feet deep and 25 to 50 feet across and threw shrapnel about a 1,000 yards.
As I recall, Puff was armed with six mini-guns. These mini-guns all fired into the same killing zone and didnít have any distinctive individual muzzle blasts, just one long "burp" and a solid string of red tracers were strung out from the barrel all the way down to the ground! According to what I was told, if Puff was flying at optimum altitude and speed and fired a one second burst, the guns were zeroed to place about one bullet in every square foot of an area the size of a football field. When Puff was working at night, all you heard was a dull roar and all you could see was one solid red string [tracers] that waved and wiggled as the gun ship turned and banked in the sky. Each gun fired 2,000 rounds per minute and only every sixth round in each gunís ammunition belt was a tracer. When Puff was working at night, it looked as if the Jolly Green Giant was flying a giant kite on a red string. The effect of Puffís mini-guns on the ground was awesome. A couple of passes would completely destroy all of the trees in the killing zone and would reduce a masonary building to a pile of rubble.
Our first operation away from Nha Trang after we arrived was in Vung Tau and I believe this was in January 1965. Vung Tau is a very popular beach resort. In fact, the beach was so nice there it was the in-country R&R spot for both our side and the VC or at least that was the latrine rumor. We set up our Forward Operational Base in squad tents beside a small American air field. We were camped adjacent to the warm-up ramp where all of the planes parked to check their engines just before take-off. We had to tie everything down to keep it from being blown away. Everything and everyone stayed covered with sand. The worst planes for blowing dust on us were the Mohawks. They were a very small fixed-wing plane. Somebody told me that they used the same engine as a C-130 Hercules. That plane really covered us with dust and sand.
One night while we were in Vung Tau, I sat outside with some guys and watched a fighter practicing strafing runs on a nearby bombing range. It made a couple of dives and each time it pulled out between 300 and 500 feet. Then he dove again. That time he dove right into the ground with his machine guns still blazing. It didnít look like he had even tried to pull up. According to latrine rumors the next day, there had been two USAF in the plane and both were killed. They were apparently victims of "target fixation." If I had been in the back seat, I think I would have beat the back of the pilots head hard enough to jar him out of his target fixation mind set.
While we were at Vung Tau, we lost one US SF Recon man because of wounds, I believe his name was Frazier or something similar, and another SF man who was a member of the headquarters element because of love. The latter was a first-hitch Specialist Fourth Class, who was away from home for the first time, overseas in a strange country for the first time and in combat for the first time. I think his last name was House. The prostitute that he was smitten by was probably his first sex partner. The young soldier told Sergeant Major McGuire that he wanted to apply for permission to marry a local girl. Within twenty four hours of Mac finding out who the lucky girl was, the groom-to-be found himself sitting bag and baggage at the front gate of the A Team Camp in Ashau Valley and thatís where he spent the rest of his tour. Ashau Valley was thick with VC and NVA troops. Mac figured even if that idiot didnít survive Ashau, he would be better off than being married to that woman. Every soldier in that perdicament that was considering marriage needs a Sergeant Major like Mac. Where was Mac when I needed him?
Sometime after Vung Tau, the Delta ranger battalion was sent on an operation along the coast north of Nha Trang, I believe it was the Vung Ro Bay operation. An observation plane had spotted a camouflaged NVA supply ship in a small inlet. The guys that actually saw it said the shipís camouflage included potted plants, even small trees, on its deck. When our troops finally reached the ship, it was sunk in shallow water and all the supplies was stacked on shore.
I originally thought our recon teams had also gone on this operation, but found out later that none of them had been involved.
I believe the entire force was inserted by landing crafts. Another SF sergeant that was assigned to the ranger battalion and myself were sent with a company of the rangers in a landing craft. We were to land on the coast, I believe north of the target, and act as a blocking force. The ship had one American officer as advisor and the rest of the crew were Vietnamese. That ship was a mess. Either somebody had forgotten to instruct the Viet sailors how to use a commode or some of our ARVN Rangers had beat me to the latrine. Whoever it was had squatted on the seats instead of sitting on it and then threw the toilet paper in the floor instead of in the commode and flushing it. It was bad, very bad. Sea sickness is bad enough without that kind of thing. The two of us were the only USSF assigned to go on this ship.
The landing craft was too large for the beach and it could not get close enough. Our navy officers finally decided that we had to disembark. They lowered the ramp and laid the largest plank they had out into the water for our guys to walk on. The other SFer and I led the way. The water was up to my shoulders. We watched our little rangers unload and all you could see were their hands holding their weapons up out of the water. Thank God, we had no welcoming committee on shore. We never made contact with the enemy.
According to buddies in the other element, they made light contact with the enemy. Later, I saw three Vietnamese men in black pajamas that had been captured and tied up, but almost every peasant wore the same clothes. They included thousands of brand-new [never used] German Mauser bolt-action rifles from World War II. The weapons were still packed in cosmoline grease in their original cases. I do not recall hearing anything at that time about any other beach landing, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't one. I just knew what my job was and assumed that the rest of our outfit was being inserted by choppers, which was the norm. It has been a long time and my memory is far from perfect. I never spoke with any of the ARVN Ranger battalion advisors from Dong Ba Tin that went on this operation, except the one sergeant that I went ashore with and I can't even remember his name.
[In late 1981 or early 1982, after I retired and was living in Palatka, Florida, I read a very small article in the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union that brought back old memories of when I was with Delta. The article was an exposeí of our CIA. It provided one example of how the CIA was used to manipulate the media and the generalís reports in order to help President Johnson justify the USA increasing their troop strength in Vietnam.
According to the article in the paper, the reporters had gotten this information from CIA files - I believe through the Freedom of Information Act. Anyway, the article told about one CIA operation in particular that concerned a ship load of weapons and ammunition. The more that I read, the more it dawned on me that was the same operation Delta had went on at Vung Ro Bay.
The report said that the weapons had been captured by the US during World War II and stored in warehouses by our intelligence service (first the OSS then the CIA) for future use. The observation plane was in that area because of an intelligence report they had received from the CIA. I did not like SF being used to hoodwink our government into sending conventional troops to South Vietnam. I would have really been against that stupid war a lot sooner, if I had known of the truth about that operation back then.
At the time, I was unaware of any fighting to take our objective. However, I learned much later that there had been VC near the ship and the other troops had to fight to reach the supplies and at least one SF sergeant received the silver star for his actions that day. I never heard a shot fired the whole time. Apparently, I was farther from the target than I thought. SGT Louis Hernandez who was from Southern California went with the men that captured the ship and he told me after I retired that there wasn't any resistance to speak of. I have no idea how far my company of rangers were from the ship, but the battle was out of my hearing and I could hear very good back then.
That was not the only time that SF was used to hoodwink our government and our citizens into supporting President Johnson sending more conventional combat troops to Vietnam. Many years later, an SF buddy of mine told me the CIA and special forces had been involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident. He told me that troops from a special operations unit [which were controlled by the CIA at the time] were sent by boat to raid a North Vietnamese island in the Gulf of Tonkin. He believed that it was Project Omega which was also known as Detachment B-50. The North Vietnamese torpedo boats that attacked our fleet were responding to the raid on their island. Apparently the North Vietnamese thought the raiding party had came from those ships. Meanwhile, the raiders were silently slipping back south to safety.
The army refused to admit that any such unit as "SOG" had ever existed until sometime in the late 1970s.
Many years later, I read about this operation in SOG a book written by John L. Plaster written about MACV-SOG [Military Advisory Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group] which was the cover name for their Special Operations Group and he reported on this raid also. His investigation revealed that the raiders had came from OP34A, another code name for CIA-controlled special operations unit manned primarily with Navy SEALs. And that these raids along the North Vietnam shoreline had been made by Norwegian civilian sailors and troops indigenous to the Republic of South Vietnam. If you are interested in learning about exactly what the special forces troops who were assigned to SOG did, I highly recommend Mister Plasterís book.]
After we were in country about two or three months, an MP unit was assigned to Nha Trang and I think I was the first one they stopped for speeding. At the time, I was driving along Beach Boulevard enroute to the PX during lunch hour. When the MPs caught up to me in the PX parking lot. They claimed that I was doing 65 miles per hour. Me and the MPs were the only two jeeps on the road. Hell I had been speeding, but I didnít think that floppy-fender jeep would do 65 miles per hour and I wasn't paying any attention to the speed odometer. They gave me a ticket for speeding anyway and I delivered it to First Sergeant William Fuller in 5th Groupís Headquarters and Headquarters Company. Deltaís personnel came under Head and Head for administrative purposes. All the way there, I was thinking, "This is going to be one hell of a war." Fuller was about 6í 6" tall and must have weighed at least 300 pounds ó he was also a black belt in karate. That speeding ticket upset Fuller more than it did me. He started cursing and snatched that ticket up and headed for the MP Station. Fuller told me later that he had torn up the ticket and threw it on the Desk Sergeantís desk and told them they might as well shove it up their ass as to issue anymore to anybody in the 5th Group and walked out. So much for our MPís contribution to our war effort.
About six months after we were in Vietnam, the first marine units landed at Danang and our troop buildup was underway. The Stars and Stripes reported that the first marine to be killed in Vietnam was killed by his own troops. It seems that he was standing on the beach when a landing craft came ashore and dropped the ramp on top of him. The first several marine casualties were, according to latrine rumor, caused by scared, trigger-happy fellow marines. Later, this became known as 'friendly' fire. Actually there is no such thing as incoming fire that is 'friendly.' It looked as if I was right, this was going to be one hell of a war.
Navigation, map reading and communicating were very big problems in that terrain. While traveling cross-country in rough mountainous jungle terrain, counting paces to determine the distance that you had traveled was a total waste of time because much of the time you were sliding or crawling. It was better just to count the number of ridgelines and streams that you crossed and check this against the map. Usually in flat terrain, the team leader just picked the center of a grid square [1,000 meters x 1,000 meters] as his location. Thatís as close as they could come. [Now, in the computer and satellite age, hand-held computers the size of a calculator can pin-point your location to within 27 feet in a matter of seconds. The A Team or Recon Team radio operator can now communicate just about anywhere in the world using a portable satellite up-link system and with the new voice-encryption equipment they don't even need to use Morse Code. I understand that is why special forces communications men are no longer required to master a minimum of 18 words per minute in Morse Code. I don't know what the new requirement is, but allegedly it is less.]
During my entire tour with Delta, I was assigned to the Communications Section of the Command Group. When I first went to Delta, I wanted to be on a Recon Team. With almost seven years in an airborne infantry rifle company, I had more experience related to that type of work than most of the men in Deltaís Recon Section. For a short time I felt guilty because I thought I should be doing the recon work, but I soon accepted the situation and did the best that I could at my assigned rear echelon job. The members of the Reconnaisence Section were not selected on experience, they were selected because they were "known" to each other to be trustworthy and reliable in a tough situation, which really isn't a bad way to operate.
McGuire and Major Strange disagreed about some policy and McGuire was still nursing a grudge when Delta had our first party in the mess hall tent of a nearby American helicopter unit. During the party, McGuire decided that the only way to settle his problem was to invite Major Strange "outside" and "duke it out" with him. Mac challenged Major Strange, but Major Strange refused and told him to go back to the barracks and sleep it off. As usual, Mac was drunk. For some reason that I can not remember, McGuire deeply felt that he had to stand up for the enlisted men about something, I never knew what that something was. Apparently it couldnít have been all that damn important. As I recall, it wasnít that big a deal, but it was to Mac. A very dejected Mac left, but within a minute or two he tramped right back in and made some stupid statements and challenged Major Strange again. This time McGuire said something that gave Major Strange the definite impression that this was very important to Mac and he was not going to go away.
Major Strange told Mac that he really didnít want to do this, but Mac insisted, so Major Strange went outside with him. They squared off and then Mac attacked and that was the end of the fight. Major Strange avoided Macís attack, took him down to the ground and then put a very painful arm lock on Mac and held his face in the sand. About this time an armed guard from the chopper unit waltzed by on his rounds of his unit area and got all bent out of shape. He rushed up to the two fighters and ordered, "Knock it off you two! Get up from there!" Delta people wore sterile tiger fatigues that bore no insignia of rank. The only exceptions were our officers and Sergeant Major McGuire, who wore the metal insignia of their rank on their collars. We knew who we were and what rank we were, but no one else did. When Major Strange raised up and faced the young enlisted guard, his rank was visible to the guard. Major Strange told the guard, "Go on about your business sonny or I will kick your ass too!" The guardís jaw dropped down to his chest when he saw the ranks of the two combatants and he beat a hasty retreat around the corner of the mess hall. Major Strange asked Mac, "Do you want me to break your damn arm?" Of course Mac said, "No sir!" and that was the end of that.
After his tour with Delta, Sergeant Major McGuire was stationed at Fort Bragg. I heard that two of his better NCOs went on leave and were a day late returning and Mac was pissed. When they finally reported in, McGuire sent everyone else out of the orderly room, including the CO and XO. McGuire then locked the doors and told the two sergeants that he was going to kick their asses which he promptly set about doing. When the fight was over the two sergeants, who each had a couple of good knots on their heads, called the hospital and ordered an ambulance for Mac who was beat all to hell. Oh well, you have to admit that Mac had a warriorís spirit.
McGuire retired and now lives near the coast in Supply, North Carolina. McGuire gave up drinking booze and singing Irish Ballads. Instead, he now sings in the choir and acts as part-time preacher for his church. Wonders never cease! Art Strange retired in the Fayetteville, North Carolina area where, rumor has it, he bought a lounge.
Delta was responsible for combat testing some proposed SF radio equipment. We had the only six prototypes of the HC-162 radio sets. The HC-162 was a portable, Single Side Band radio with Morse code and voice capability. It had a re-chargeable, wet-cell battery, a doublet antenna, a whip antenna, a head set, and leg key, a telegraphic key that is mounted on a clip that clamps onto your thigh just above the knee for field use. The transceiver and battery weighed about 50 pounds. The battery was the biggest pain in the ass. It seemed to weigh a ton and always needed repairing, cleaning or charging. The battery weighed more than the transceiver.
Periodically we would set up a 162 at our base camp at Nha Trang and test it. We would use the fold-up whip antenna which was about eight feet long as I recall and a doublet antenna strung only three feet above the ground for these tests. We called the US Air Force control tower at Bangkok, Thailand and Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Our signal was normally loud and clear. Just in case you donít know anything about radios, thatís pretty darn good for a man-portable, high frequency radio set that only has a 12 watt output. When the men on the RTs took those radios to the field they had to rig a demo charge to each set because they were classified SECRET or TOP SECRET. That just added more damn weight. Besides, everything we did was classified SECRET. Eventually, the RT guys stopped attaching demolitions to the radios.
Speaking of weight, foot soldiers, also known at various times as gravel-agitators and grunts, learn to travel light very quickly and SF were referred to by some as "super grunts." The toilet articles that I took with me on field training exercises in SF consisted of a towel, a bar of soap, and a toothbrush. That saved a little more space for the important things in life such as, ammo, food, water or a decent first aid kit. I don't know of anyone that took any toilet articles on combat operations.
On field operations with Delta, I didnít even carry my handy-dandy spoon from my infantry days. We didnít need a spoon because most of us ate the same field rations that we issued to our indigenous troops. With those rations, you just squeezed the "goodies" out of its plastic bag directly into your mouth.
According to the rumor-mongers at the time, when SF first got involved in that war way back in the late 1950s [yes you heard me right, in the 50s], they were under the "operational" control of the CIA. This lasted into the early 60ís. We could not get adequate support from the conventional supply chain so they got approval to develop their own supply chain under the CIAís Civilian Irregular Defense Group [CIDG] program.
They hired a civilian on Okinawa to produce field rations for all of our indigenous troops because our field rations were not suitable for their diet. The Okinawan came up with a dehydrated meal based on rice. Each meal was contained in one packet. Each packet consisted of a plastic bag of rice, a meat that was either sugar-cured beef jerky or dehydrated shrimp and minnows, a dehydrated vegetable, usually green beans, and dehydrated and well ground hot red peppers that were really hot. Most of us preferred the Indig-Rations to our C-Rations. Hereís how we used it: Before going on an operation, you sliced open the top of the rice bag and emptied into that what you wanted in addition to the rice, such as meat, vegetable and/or peppers, then you added water and sealed the top with a rubber band. You stuck one of these in the thigh pockets on your tiger fatigues and this was your first meal. It "cooked" while it was in your pocket. When you were hungry, all you had to do was untie the top and squeeze the contents into your mouth. If you just wanted a "snack," you could re-seal it with the rubber band. We called the thigh pockets on our field trousers, jungle fatigues and tiger fatigues "jump" pockets because when we wore a parachute and had all your field gear and weapons attached to you, it was the only pocket that you could reach.
If hard put, you could get by on one bag [meal] per day, especially in very hot weather. Some guys prepared two meals, before infiltration, one for each jump pocket. Before you ate your first meal, you had to prepare its replacement so you were never without at least one meal on your immediate person at all times, the rest being in your rucksack which you were subject to lose in a fire fight. Many of us threw the jerky away because it made you too thirsty. Believe it or not the dehydrated shrimps and minnows [complete with eyeballs and entrails] were better. Well, at least I preferred them. The US Army caught up a few years later and developed lurp rations [similar to the indigenous rations, but they required too much water] and then from that came todayís MRE (Meals Ready To Eat) rations.
The army only issues the infantryman one tiny field bandage. This field bandage has two strings on each side so it can be tied to the patient but it is too small for where the shrapnel or bullet exits and most times there are at least two wounds: an entrance wound and an exit wound. Theyíre primarily for minor arm, head, and leg wounds and just to make-do until your unit medic reaches you, but thatís all you are supposed to get.
Many SF devised their own survival and first aid kits. The first aid kit might include two of the above bandages, and at least one larger bandage for belly or chest wounds, maybe two and, if you were lucky, some morphine.
SF had the best medics in the military. The current Physicianís Assistant Program came into being because of the effective work of SF medics. However, SF units never had a medic with them on combat operations because SF medics were soldiers first. If your medic was with you on an operation, he would be in a leadership position, he was never just a medic when on an operation. He was only a medic when he was in base camp where he had his dispensary. Iíll bet you are wondering how any of our wounded survived. Well, to be honest, I donít have the foggiest idea. Just lucky, I reckon. But the primary reason were the Med-Evac choppers. In my opinion, the Med-Evac chopper crews were the bravest men in Vietnam, bar none.
We recommended several changes for the HC-162 radio set. Some changes that I recall were a lightweight, disposable dry-cell battery for field use; a power converter/transformer for 110 volt ac, 220 volt ac, 12 volt dc for vehicle battery or a hand-cranked generator; add receptacles so it could be attached to the "burst" device; an insulated wire for the doublet so it could be used in thick foliage without grounding out but keep it light and strong; change the doublet reel to an enclosed spool with a handle, like some measuring tapes and leveling lines; and the antenna reel should include an eyelet for attaching supporting lines. Delta Recon Teams used metallic deep sea fishing line as an antenna and it was attached to an empty surveyorís plumb line spool. It worked great except, the antenna wire wasnít insulated.
We were trying to cover all of the possible situations that you could encounter in guerrilla operations, counter-guerrilla operations and direct-action operations. Some examples of what the SF Officers called "Direct-action Operations" are the Iran Raid and the POW raid into Son Tay, North Vietnam.
Hughes Aircraft Corporation did a great job. From the HC-162, Hughes produced an excellent radio set, the Prick 74 [AN/PRC-74]. The 74 was almost exactly what Delta recommended ó almost. Hughes did not modify the doublet antenna system. But as far as I was concerned, the 74 was still ahead of its time.
The 74 was eventually adopted as the standard SF Teamís radio set. The 74 replaced our Angry 109, which was a hand-me-down from the CIA that had replaced the RS-1, which was another CIA hand-me-down that had replaced the Angry 87 [AN/GRC-87], which was a standard army-issue radio set. The 109 was a good clandestine radio set, it was a slightly modified version of the RS-1. The best thing about the 109 was its transmitter. It could use just about anything metal for an antenna, such as a wire coat hanger, a metal clothes line, a jeep and barbed wire. Most radios are very sensitive to the length of the antenna and for best results, the antenna must be the exact prescribed length for the radio frequency being used ó not so with the 109 or RS-1. You could also store it just about anywhere, even underwater.
Delta also used VHF sets that were like World War II walkie-talkies except it was black and weighed about half as much and were AM not FM. They were civilian radios made in Japan called HT-1s. You could carry the damn thing in one hand and it had a greater range than the Armyís conventional field man-portable radios at that time. It also included an earphone that made it especially dear to our guys in the field. That reduced the noise to almost nothing. Noise is the biggest danger to radio communications in recon work. The biggest noise with the HT-1 was when you spoke into it. Before the earphone, it was the other way around. The most noise was the squelch and incoming voices that you could only control by turning the set off and that left you with no communications at all. In a fire fight, everybody shoots at the radioman or at a point just below the radio antenna, if thatís all they see, or at the sound emitted by radios.
A Delta radio operator rode the choppers when teams were inserted and when they were extracted and relayed messages between the team and base camp. They flew two commo flights every day that teams were on the ground. The teams were scheduled to communicate by radio three times a day. The third was by the 162, usually by Morse code. They had to make at least one out of the three scheduled contacts or we considered them to be in trouble. If they misused their team code name in a message, that meant that they were captured and forced to transmit.
During that tour, I really got sick of helicopters. Deltaís radiomen made many trips on the choppers when inserting and extracting Delta RTs and on our C-47 commo flights. In fact, I had enough flight time during my first six months with Delta to qualify for three air medals. It seemed like the whole world shot at those things and I donít know how chopper crews lived as long as they did, especially the Med-Evac crews.
Years later, after the Cobra gun ships came out, Sir Charles stopped firing at choppers, if there was just one Cobra with them or even if they suspected a Cobra might be lurking about. One Cobra brought pee, but a flock of Cobra gun ships could really smoke their ass. It sure beat door gunners firing free-wheeling light machine guns.
The Delta Commo Section had to develop a mobile base station radio because Delta operated all over Vietnam. We had to communicate with our field teams and headquarters where ever we went.
We used a TR-20 at our FOB [Forward Operational Base] to communicate with the HT-1s on insertions, extractions, and commo flights. Our mobile base station Morse Code radio set had to be protected so it wouldnít be damaged during all of our moving around. Instead of the standard issue field single side band [SSB] radios, we chose the KWM-2A to communicate with our 162s in the field. Ham Radio Operators loved the KWM-2A. It wasnít made as sturdy as field radios, but it was much better otherwise. "Buster" Keaton and the 5th Groups Signal Platoon solved our problem. They designed a plywood box that served as a trunk for transporting the radio and it also served as a permanent radio console because the sensitive equipment was permanently mounted on shock absorbers inside the box. It even had a small fan mounted in the back to keep it cool while it was being used. The top unlatched and raised up to help ventilate the equipment and the front unlatched and hung down horizontal on two chains and served as a desk top. The telegraph key was screwed to the desk top. It worked great. McGuire did the right thing when he finally put Buster in charge of our Commo Section. With my limited communications experience, thereís no way that I would have thought of that rig.
On one night commo flight, the radioman called and called for the recon team. Finally the team answered, but he was whispering and the man in the air could not make out what he was saying for all of his Vietnamese teammates chattering in the background. The man on the ground was using the HT-1 with an earphone. The radioman in the plane radioed, "Speak up! I canít hear you for all of your troops talking." A very slow faint voice whispered, "T-h-e-y a-r-e n-o-t m-y t-r-o-o-p-s!."
On many instances, our recon team could not or would not answer our commo flight radio man. Some of them would just "break squelch" by pushing the "Push-to-talk" button. The first time that this happened to me, I told the man on the ground to hit his push-to-talk button three times for "yes" and two times for "no" and then I only asked him direct questions. That flight seemed to last forever because I had to dream up the questions as we went. The next day, I sat down and devised a list of direct questions that a radio operator on the commo flight could use in such situations and get all of the information that he needed, including map coordinates. This became SOP from then on for this type of situation and it was used frequently by Delta Radio Operators on the commo flights.
Larry, Catfish, and Don, a Japanese-American from Hawaii, were in a downtown restaurant in Nha Trang one night chowing down and sucking up some cheap Bam-me-ba Beer [Beer-33]. All three of these recon members got as drunk as skunks. At that time, Beer 33 was aged with a lot of formaldehyde and it didnít take much beer to get you drunk out of your ever-loving mind. Two flip-top bottles maybe. When our three warriors got ready to leave, they discovered that they didnít have any money. Not to worry, Larry had a plan. Larry went outside and fired his hide-out pistol into the air a couple of times and yelled, "VC! VC!" Catfish yelled, "Everybody out" and ran for the door. Don was the drunkest of the bunch, but he had his own plan. He stayed put. Don was dressed in one of Deltaís sterile Tiger Suits with no insignia, stripes or patches. Well, pretty soon here came the American MPs. The owner had wised up and called them to get his money. They approached Don and questioned him about Larry and Catfish. They also tried to get Don to pay the bill, but all Don would say was, "Me donít know nuttiní. Me just be interpreter. Ask GI, dey say dey pay." He got away with it.
Don was quite smart. He retired from the 10th SFGA at Fort Devens. Just before he came up for retirement, he got permission from his company sergeant major to go to school on his own and acquire a civilian trade "before" he was due to be discharged for retirement purposes. The sergeant major agreed and covered Don administratively. Don, who was also an SF radio operator, went down to the local telephone company and requested to be trained as a cable splicer. In return, Don would not expect any pay during training and he would not even expect to be hired after he completed the training. In my opinion, this was absolutely brilliant, maybe even as good as his "interpreter" plan. Of course they hired him when he graduated their cable splicing course with flying colors. Why didnít I think of that? He was working in Iran during the 70s for $40,000 per year [tax free] until just before the Ayatollah came back into power and then Don came home. Don then lived and worked in Winter Park, Florida. Don died in 2010.
During my tour with Delta, the Ballad of the Green Berets became popular. Barry Sadler wrote it. Barry was an SF Staff Sergeant at the time and had served part of one TDY tour in Vietnam. He was med-evaced [evacuated due to an injury] when he stepped on a punji stake. Some guys who served with him swore that he was a sorry soldier and filthy because he did not bathe regularly even when in garrison. Others said that he was okay. Also, I heard that the army sent him around the country on tours for propaganda purposes, but they had to assign an SF Sergeant Major as a chaperon to make sure that he was clean and in proper uniform. Barry, I believe, was a one-tour soldier.
Regardless, not many of the old SFers liked that song. At the time, mostly only head & head types [admin and support] played it on the jukebox at the Playboy Club in Nha Trang. The head shed kids [5th Group Headquarters] played that song so much, Delta members started unplugging the jukebox and flipping the young trooper a quarter.
Now, every business meeting of the SF Association begins with that song. Iím still wondering what the hell happened.
The book by Robin Moore, The Green Berets, also became popular while I was with Delta and Robin Moore even visited the 5th Group after his book was published and became the Number One Best Seller.
Robin Moore and I bumped into each other at the old Playboy Club one night in 1965. I told him, "I donít like your book." He asked me, "Have you read it?" I said, "No! I donít have to read it. I donít like it because of the kind of attention that itís getting SF and the trouble that itís causing us."
That book [and the song] was causing us a lot of trouble or at least that was my opinion. It drew too much of the wrong kind of attention to us and brought us a wave of young volunteers who thought that they wanted to be heroes. It also made other military units very jealous and I believe that jealousy caused generals in other parts of the military, especially the army, to do their best to get their guys "into the action" and get some "glory" for themselves in the process. And all of this had to have helped persuade President Johnson to send conventional US troops into that stupid war. Later, I did read Robin's book and it was pretty good. It was a lot better than the John Wayne movie that was based on it. Actually, I think what made the movie so bad was the location where it was shot, Georgia. Each scene in the movie showed more pine trees than were in all of Vietnam. Also, John Wayne forgot to hook up before his character jumped from the plane in the movie.
Delta was tasked with bringing in a prisoner from a certain area of operations. They inserted several teams. One team crawled into the midst of a NVA battalion bivouac area and just lay there waiting for a target of opportunity. Finally, one NVA soldier strolled towards them and dropped his pants and squatted to crap within armís reach of the brush where one of our men lay. Our man eased his silenced .22 pistol muzzle through the brush until it touched the soldierís temple. When the enemy soldier slowly turned to see what had him, our man said the guy's eyes bulged to the size of saucers and he dropped his whole load in one big squirt.
Our RTs did a lot of crawling. They sometimes spent the entire day crawling on their bellies, inching along now and then. They learned to stay away from ridgelines, roads, trails and streams ó everyone else traveled those routes. Many old native and animal trails follow ridgelines in the mountains, the Appalachian Trail is the best example that I can think of. Our RTs chose to travel slowly along the side of steep slopes and through the thickest, roughest brush possible. They slept on the steepest slope they could find while straddling a tree trunk to keep them from sliding down the hill or they slept in the largest, thickest briar patch that they could find. They slept on their lightweight indigenous poncho which they would spread out on the ground to keep the moisture away from their body. In the pitch dark nights they could hear leeches crawl across the poncho towards them. One SF man had to be evacuated because a leech crawled inside his penis and took up residence there preventing him from relieving himself. This was long ago and this man may not have been on a Delta RT, but perhaps on a SOG RT.
When they were full of blood, the giant leeches were six to eight inches long and as big around as your finger. Many a lurp man has awakened to find two dozen giant leeches attached to his skinny ass. You could always tell the lurp men from everyone else when they were in the shower back at base camp because of the quarter-sized scars from their numerous leech bites. These scars were permanent. Fortunately, the army scientists came up with a fantastic tick and leech repellant that worked and we all used it. We soaked our socks, the canvass in our jungle boots, our trouser cuffs, and our waistline with the stuff before going anywhere near the boonies.
If they were spotted and chased, the RT fled up the steepest slope available or through the largest, thickest briar patch or used maneuvers that they had rehearsed over and over to confuse or ambush their enemy. They were more motivated to escape than their pursuers were motivated to capture them.
Adrenalin made the difference ó and sometimes, with some guys, a pep-pill made the difference. Our medics provided "pep pills," I believe they were called "green hornets," to the RT members who wanted them. They were supposed to be used for diet control as I recall, but each RT man was told to save it for emergencies only. A joke soon started around about the recon team that reached the base of another steep mountain and one SF man turned to the other and asked, "Is this a one-pill or a two-pill hill?"
One new RT member in MACV-SOG took the pills to stay awake from the very beginning. He never slept on patrol, even on seven day patrols. That boy was really scared. Once he refused the pep pills before going on a patrol and when asked why, he said, "One night on the last patrol I saw thousands of NVA coming through the night sky on chariots drawn by horses that were breathing fire. Iíll never take another one of those pep pills as long as I live."
When Delta was experimenting with infiltration methods for our recon teams, we tried using beacons to help assemble the team after they parachuted into the thick jungle. We packed all of the rucksacks into a bundle and rigged a radio beacon to the bundle with its antenna taped to one of the parachute suspension lines. After the teams reached the ground, they were always scattered and disoriented. First of all, they had to survive a night tree landing in very tall trees, which is very risky, then they had to climb down the tree to reach the ground. We issued each man a small civilian transistor radio to help them locate the beacon. We had the frequency range of the radio "stretched" so it would pick up the beacon signal. When you held the radio right side up with its narrow side pointing towards the beacon, the beacon signal was the loudest. Unfortunately, either narrow side produced the same results so you could not tell which way was correct. The only way to know for sure was to walk a good distance and aim your radio again. If the signal was getting stronger, you were okay. If it was getting weaker, you had to turn around and go in the opposite direction. It took three days to assemble an RT using this method. Delta dropped that idea and kept experimenting. Try as we might, we never came up with an effective way to surreptitiously insert an RT into a thick jungle canopy. The lurps had to find open spaces large enough for the chopper to land or blast an LZ with 2,000 pound bombs.
Delta helped develop all of the lurp techniques used in Vietnam. RT leaders from MACV-SOG came to Delta to study our recon tactics and equipment. Delta personnel also established and taught the MACV Recondo School at Nha Trang that was used to train all recon troops for all in-country units, but that was after my tour with Delta.
Delta tried inserting RTs into triple-canopy jungle by conventional parachuting with smoke-jumper suits, they tried low-level [400í] parachuting into the same terrain using smoke jumper suits, and they tried rappelling from hovering choppers. Delta tried just about everything except free fall parachuting.
Originally, Delta was as concerned with how to extract our teams as they were about inserting them. Delta developed a method of extracting teams without the choppers landing, using something called a "McGuireís Rig." The "McGuire Rig" was named after its inventor, Charles T. McGuire, Deltaís Sergeant Major. Mac rode in the chopper and observed while the recon boys tested it. It was a "make-shift" harness that was built into the rope. It beat dying ó but not by much. In fact, if you were really religious and truly believed that you were ready to meet your maker, you would probably have stayed behind and fought to the death.
Speaking of religion, I know that you must have heard the saying from World War II, "There are no atheists in foxholes." I served six plus years in paratroop infantry rifle companies and during that time I saw several soldiers who appeared to be very religious. I remember one sergeant who always blessed his meal whether he was in garrison or he was in the field eating a can of c-rations.
However, during my ten years with SF, with one exception, I never saw anyone pray, anytime, anywhere, whether in combat or in garrison, in good health or dying. I doubt they were atheists, I guess they just figured a good plan and a clean, loaded weapon would do them more good or maybe they were just too pre-occupied.
When Group lost a member the commander had to call a mandatory formation so they could march them to the chapel for services. Otherwise, his buddies would all be at the nearest watering hole ordering an extra beer for him and then drinking it before it got cold. Priorities are priorities you know. SF showed respect or disrespect while you were alive.
The number one rule in SF was, "Never let your buddy down!" and for the most part, they lived up to that, at least most of the enlisted troops did. Now, we have several ex-SF guys, mostly retirees, who are religious. Some are even preachers. The ironic part is, the ones that are now preachers used to be among the rowdiest, roughest, and least religious guys in SF.
The same basic extraction technique is still used today except they have greatly improved the equipment and now I think they call it STABO. Whatever that means. Originally, each McGuire Rig only consisted of a mountain climbing rope with two loops sewn into one end. One loop was a large fixed loop and the other was a very small adjustable loop. The big loop was at the very end of the rope. You stepped through it and sat in it. The smaller adjustable loop was farther up the rope. It was for your wrist so you could lock yourself in just in case you slipped out of the large loop or were shot out of it. I believed your wrist would slip through that loop because of the weight. Later on, I understand that some teams were shot out of the rig during extraction and the wrist loop did not save them. The other end of the rope was secured to a D Ring in the floor of the chopper. The chopper had to rise straight up until you cleared the trees or brush. Only then could it carry you dangling at the end of the rope to a safer place so they could land and let you aboard.
To the best of my memory, when they went in to extract a team, each of Deltaís H-34s were equipped with three or four McGuire Rigs. H-34s only have one door. While developing the McGuire Rig, some of our guys were injured, one seriously. Sergeant Frank Badaloti suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung when he was dragged against a stump and he had to be med-evaced. He locked-down his wrist before he had cleared the ground. Jack "Dawg" Long was hooked up to the same chopper, but Dawg was so scared he not only kept his footing, he outran the helicopter long enough to loosen the wrist loop and escape. Thatís the truth. Trust me, you did not want to ride this rig for fun back then. It was strictly for life or death situations only.
Badalotti returned to Project Delta and was killed in January 1966. Dawg and I served together two more times before we retired. How that crazy Dawg survived to retire is beyond my comprehension, but he did. Jack "Dawg" Long moved to Northern California where he bought a lounge and thatís where he died in 1997.
When it comes to Theme Park Rides, the "McGuire Rig" would be #2. The ultimate Theme Park ride would be the Fulton Recovery System commonly referred to as "Skyhook." Never did I volunteer for a skyhook. Come to think of it, I never volunteered to ride the McGuire Rig either. Sometimes you just have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to enjoy fun like that.]
For its size, Delta was probably one of the most decorated allied units in the Vietnam War. MACV-SOG for its size was the most decorated unit in the Vietnam War, but their losses were many times that of Delta's. Delta received the US Army's Presidential Unit Citation [PUC], the US Navy's PUC, and the Valorous Unit Medal [VUM]. The PUC is the equivalent of awarding every member of the unit a Distinguished Service Cross and the VUM is the equivalent of awarding every member of the unit a Silver Star. MACV-SOG was awarded these same decorations, but the men assigned there received more medal of honors than any other unit of similar size in that war.
All of the Americans in Delta were SF. Delta had minimal losses as long as they operated by their original rules. Some of those rules were: lurp members decided who would be lurp members. Members were selected on a personal, one-on-one "I personally know and trust him with my life" basis. No officers were allowed on the teams. Delta lurp duty was strictly volunteer. The most experienced recon man on the team was in charge on the ground, regardless of rank. They also had an agreement with our Delta Commander, Major Strange, which went something like this, "If you donít trust us, donít use us. But if you use us, trust us. If we request to be extracted, donít question it, just come get us. We can discuss it later." The enlisted men came up with these rules and they proved to be good rules.
The monsoon season hit while we were still in the old Delta camp. That camp was located in the lowest spot in that area and the water rose about three or four feet. Our sleeping tents had the only floors in camp that were still above water only because they were erected on wooden platforms supported by stilts. Even so, the water was so high it was lapping through the cracks in our floor. A monsoon rain is not just a rain storm. Itís more like a damn hurricane without the wind. If youíre driving a jeep, you might as well drop the windshield because you canít see through it anyway. The wipers just didnít work that fast. Without the windshield, you could at least see as far as the front bumper. Nothing flies during a monsoon. Monsoon season is perfect weather for guerrilla soldiers because you canít see ten feet and tanks, artillery, mortars, and aircraft support are mostly ineffective, if they can move at all.
The beginning of the end for the original concept of Delta occurred during the summer of 1965 when we were operating in a very bad area north of the Bien Hoa Air Base near the Cambodian border. For the first time, we were put under the operational control of MACV-S3 [Military Assistance Command Vietnam - Operations] in Saigon. I later learned that MACV was the same jerks that SOG came under. It seems like the name of that area was "Iron Triangle" or "Some-kind-of Forest" or "War Zone C or D," but I may be wrong. Regardless of itís name, it was a very dangerous place for our troops to be. As I recall, we were the first American troops to venture into that area. The ARVN [Army-Republic of Vietnam] units would not go near the place.
We inserted one team and it was hit shortly afterward and scattered. As soon as they could break contact with the enemy, the team notified base. They reported, "Sergeant Morley [Staff Sergeant Peter G. Morely] and an ARVN Special Forces Medic missing and I believe that some of the remaining team members had been wounded." The remaining SF Sergeant requested immediate extraction. Major Strange informed MACV-S3 and was told, "Major, tell that team to continue its mission. This is just the first day of the patrol. They are scheduled for six more days."
Major Strange told MACV-S3 that he was extracting his troops and he did. We had choppers out every day searching for the two missing team members. I don't think we knew it at the time, but Morley had been wounded. The search went on for a couple of days with no luck.
By the third day, we had pretty much lost hope of finding them alive, but we sent out two more of our choppers to search for them. They needed one more man on one of the choppers and I was not on radio watch at the time so I volunteered to go with them. The other two SF men on my chopper were Sergeant Major McGuire and Master Sergeant Shaw. Shaw spotted Morleyís small emergency panel near a river that flowed towards the Bien Hoa Area. As soon as our chopper started to circle we began to take ground fire from automatic weapons. Our other chopper was several miles away. Captain Thompson, was on the other chopper. Our FOB and the two choppers were linked by radio. I notified home base, "We have found our two MIA. Weíre taking heavy automatic weapons fire from the ground." To avoid the ground fire, our pilot decided to "dead stick" the chopper and send it twirling, straight down to the ground, where, just before impact, he intended to pull up and level out.
I radioed, "Weíre going in after our troops." By that time, I was yelling at the top of my voice to make sure that I could be heard over the sound of our gunfire and of the bullets slamming into our chopper. Thompson radioed, "No, no wait for us to support you." About that time our Vietnamese door gunner was hit in the shoulder.
At least at the time, I thought he had been hit because he jumped back from the door and grabbed his shoulder, but I later discovered that he had not been hit at all. He had been burnt by the leaking hydraulic fluid.
He leaped back from the door and stopped firing so I dropped the radio and started firing at the enemy on the ground. As far as I was concerned the time for talking was over. My M2 Carbine began jamming after the first couple of rounds. After that it jammed almost every round and basically I was then armed with a single shot carbine. Shaw and McGuire were both armed with AR15s and they were working just fine.
Later, I discovered what caused my weapon to jam. I had just got the weapon and magazines and the magazines were already loaded. The problem was, the magazines had been left fully loaded too long and the magazine spring had lost its tensile strength. The spring was simply too weak to push the rounds up so the bolt could push them into the chamber. From then on, whenever I left ammo in a magazine for a prolonged period, I never fully loaded it. The rule of thumb that I used was, "Omit one round for every ten rounds the magazine would hold." Never again did I have a problem with a magazine spring.
We took a lot of hits. In fact, we took so many hits our chopper sounded like a crowd of leprechauns were pounding on the outside of it with ball peen hammers. Bullets cut the hydraulic lines and the flammable fluid covered us and the floor of the chopper. The helicopter leveled out about four feet above the elephant grass and our two guys slowly began making their way towards us. Morley appeared to be in bad shape. He was slowly hobbling along using his M-16, muzzle-down, as a crutch while leaning on the RVN medic for additional support.
They were moving entirely too slow and we were taking too many hits to suit me so I jumped out of the chopper to go help Morley. When my head went below the top of the grass and I was still falling, thatís when I realized the chopper was about four feet above the elephant grass and that the grass was about 8-10 feet high. Because I was expecting to land immediately, the impact when I finally hit the ground jarred my eye teeth and I was lucky that I didnít break a leg because I wasn't prepared for a jump from that height. After I ran to Morley, I grabbed his now useless weapon and threw it away then I helped Morely back to the chopper. The chopper had blown the tall grass down by then and it was only about four or five feet off the ground.
After I threw both Morley and his teammate up into the chopper, I jumped in also with no problem. Right then I probably could have set a high-jumping record because I wanted to get the hell out of there. You could say that I was a tad anxious.
Our chopper was so shot-up, the pilot couldnít get it over thirty or forty feet high so we flew down that river back to Bien Hoa. As we departed the area our other chopper arrived and started firing on the enemy and shortly afterwards some of our fighters arrived and started clobbering them. This was the third day of the patrol. Morley had been shot through the thigh about five minutes after being inserted. He and his medic buddy had managed to break contact with the enemy and made it to the river bank. They found a log and used it to float down the river at nights and hid in the brush during the day.
We heard later that Morely recovered from his wound and was an instructor in the SF Medicís Course at the Dog Lab at Fort Bragg, but I never saw him again.
While we were at Bien Hoa air base one day, a couple of us stopped at the NCO Club to eat and we had a couple of beers before we left. Several air force sergeants joined us at the table. Sometime during our conversation, the topic turned to rank because the air force guys had noticed that we had more rank for our age than they did. One air force Buck Sergeant in particular complained about how hard it was to get promoted in the air force. I said, "Well sarge, I can tell you how to get promoted fast." "Howís that," he asked. "Next time youíre up for discharge, transfer to the US Army and volunteer for SF duty. From then on all you have to do is survive long enough to get promoted. And, I guarantee the VC will do everything they can to make a few vacancies in the ranks." He didnít like my idea.
During the summer of 1965 while Major Strange was still the commander, Delta was sent to Pleiku in the Central Highlands to support a convoy that was supposed to travel from the coast to Pleiku. This would be the first convoy from the coast to Pleiku since the French had lost Vietnam, assuming that the convoy made it. In 1954, a French convoy tried it. There is a monument erected in a mountain valley near Pleiku in memory of the French Group Mobile 100. That should tell you how they made out.
Somebody decided that Delta needed a radio relay station during this operation. With a relay station, if the patrols got in trouble, they could use their portable radios to call for help instead of the heavy, cumbersome HC-162s. They flew me and Staff Sergeant Donald Hyakawa to a tiny Vietnamese Ruff Puff [Regional Force/Popular Force] outpost on a very steep, bald mountain top just above the valley where that French convoy was ambushed. We could see the monument from our tiny outpost. That is where Hyakawa and I stayed for the duration of that operation. We were the only ones on that very tiny outpost that spoke English. Neither of us spoke Vietnamese and we had no interpreter. That outpost was only about 50 yards wide at most.
Delta put RTs on each side of the route to hopefully provide an early warning of any impending ambush. Staff Sergeant Fred Turner [not his real name], a well-liked and very competent radio man, and Master Sergeant Galahad [not his real name]. were on one of those teams. As I recall, their team was sent out to the north of the convoy route. A few days later radio contact with them was lost. Delta choppers went out to search for them and finally spotted one indigenous member of that patrol crouched in the fork of the trunk of a large dead tree on the side of a mountain. They finally managed to save him by resting one wheel of the chopper on a tree limb and keeping it there while he climbed up the strut and into the chopper.
According to that survivorís report, their team violated several patrol rules. They chose to follow a trail [WHICH IS A NO-NO], the trail followed the ridgeline [WHICH IS ALSO A NO-NO], and they stopped on that trail to eat [WHICH IS A DEFINITE NO-NO]. While they were stopped a VC unit walked right into them. Galahad was wounded in the first burst and Fred went to the aide of his buddy and refused to leave him.
That was 1965 and there has been no evidence that either were captured. They were both later listed as KIA.
Delta pitched another party. We held it outdoors across a drainage ditch from the old Playboy Club on the SF Headquarters Compound at Nha Trang near the tents where we slept. There were a couple of concrete picnic tables and maybe there was a parachute canopy strung up as shelter from the sun.
What we ate, slips my mind, but I do recall what we drank ó two gallons of 180 Proof medical alcohol mixed with Hawaiian Punch and fresh fruits, some of which were un-sliced. Larry "The Cook" Dickinson helped prepare the punch and when one ate with Larry, one never dared to inquire as to the specific ingredients of the recipe.
The only outsiders that we invited to this party were our two US Air Force trading buddies, Sergeants Simpson and Tufin. Somewhere during our party, we decided to adopt our two air force buddies and we started their jump training by having them practice PLFs [parachute landing falls] off of the concrete picnic tables. After we finished our "punch" those remaining party members retired to the Playboy Club and PLF training continued from the bar and bar stools. I believe that Sergeant First Class Ayers was the one that dreamed up this scheme to adopt our buddies and to include a parachute jump in the initiation.
When the Playboy Club closed, the remaining party members retired to the Bamboo Bar in downtown Nha Trang where the training continued for our new-found brothers until daybreak. At dawn, we took our air force brothers back to camp to awake Cowboy, one of our Vietnamese chopper pilots, for a parachute training mission. Some of the guys picked up the parachutes.
Meanwhile, as the appointed DZ Security and DZ safety officer, I went to the DZ. Somebody had to drive me there because I was too pie-eyed to drive. The DZ was an open field directly across from the main gate to SF
Headquarters. Exactly how I notified the jumpers that it was safe to jump, I donít remember. I must have had a radio set. Regardless, apparently I did because they jumped. They had one of our guys jumping first, then an air force dude, one of ours, another air force dude, and then one of ours again. The SF guy to our trading buddyís front was to demonstrate how to jump and the one behind him was to make sure that he jumped. By the time they jumped, I was so drunk, I could not look up and stay on my feet so I lay on my back and watched. How I got it, I donít know, but I had my .45 pistol to secure the drop zone with and under the circumstances, it was an excellent choice because its effective range definitely matched my vision at the time.
All four jumpers exited the chopper as planned but shortly after he jumped, one of the jumpers began churning his legs and pumping his arms like a madman. He continued this until he hit the ground and the way he hit, I thought he had broken every bone in his body. As luck would have it, this was the nearest jumper to where I lay so I staggered over to where the jumper lay. He hadnít moved since he landed. It was Sergeant Simpson. I asked him, "What the hell did you think you were doing?" and he told me, "Val, I did just like you taught. I counted to four then I suddenly thought what the hell I was doing and I tried to climb back up to that damn helicopter." Simpson was as sober as a judge and as white as a sheet. Simpson never attended another Delta party.
After that, Sergeant Tufin attended every Delta party he could. I reckon Ole Tufin was a little touched in the head, but we took a liking to him anyway. We even pinned jump wings on both of them right there on the spot. Now thatís what I call a real party. Like I already said, SF had a very keen sense of humor.
Another of our air force friends, also a sergeant, invited several members of Delta to a BYOB [bring your own booze] dinner at his pad. He lived off post in downtown Nha Trang with a Vietnamese girl. Before going to the dinner Larry M. and I stopped off at the Class Six Package Store on base for some booze. Larry picked out a fifth of Irish Whiskey and I advised him to get something else. He asked why and I explained, "Larry the Irish have been fighting all over the world and amongst themselves for thousands of years. I think its because they drink their own whiskey." He laughed and bought the whiskey anyway.
Our host had a very lovely girlfriend and the more of that damn Irish Whiskey that Larry drank, the prettier she became. Larry and I were the last guests to leave the dinner and Larry was pie-eyed drunk and horny for our hostís girlfriend. Larry told our host, "Iím going to f..k that woman before I leave." Our host replied, "No youíre not. You best leave." Our host was about six feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds while Larry stood all of five feet six inches tall and weighed maybe 150 pounds, if he was soaking wet. I said, "Larry, you best leave the man alone. Youíre drunk and out of order here. Youíre also out of your league. Letís go home." "Hell, no," said Larry, "Iím going to whip his ass and take that beautiful woman. She has the hots for me." "Larry, youíre making a big mistake," I repeated, "Letís go home."
Larry ignored me and assumed his best karate stance and our big host just stood there and looked at him as if he didnít believe what he saw ó as did I. Then Larry asked, "Are you ready big boy?" Our host said, "Yep," and Larry attacked with a lightning fast right lunge punch. Thatís the fastest that I had ever seen Larry move. Larryís tiny fist caught the big guy in the chest while he was standing flat-footed. Much to everyoneís amazement, Larry knocked our big host right on his butt. However, all Larry really did was tick him off because that big ass bounced right back up and immediately charged Larry and took him down to the ground. In about two seconds our big host was sitting on Larryís chest and arms and was pounding his face into a pulp. After two or three good licks, I squatted down beside our host and asked him, "Hold off for a second and let me see if Larry has come to his senses yet." He stopped pounding on poor Larryís face and I said, "Larry, I told you not to drink that damn Irish Whiskey. Well, have you had enough fun for one night?" Larry peeped at me from one of his badly bruised eyes. "Yes, I believe I have," he said through his broken nose and smashed lips. I told our host, "Let him up. Heís had enough." While Larry staggered to his feet and brushed off his clothes, I thanked our host and his girlfriend for their kindness and then took Larry by the arm and marched his little ass out of there. I left the remainder of Larryís whiskey with our host and advised him, "If I were you, I would pour that stuff out."
At the MASH unit, the doctors straightened Larryís nose and patched up his cuts. While the doctors were working on him, that drunk ass Larry was giving them his diagnosis of his injuries. About a month later, Larry came to me and told me that his father had won a Silver Star during Korea and that he wanted to go to an A Team so he could get more combat time in the field. He didnít want his dad to out do him. I sent him to see Sergeant Major McGuire and Larry was transferred to the team in Ashau Valley. Larry got his wish, they put him on their tiny outpost and Ashau Valley was thick with VC and NVA.
At that time, the camp in Ashau Valley was the most dangerous SF camp in Vietnam. Larry survived the war and got out after only one hitch and the last I knew, he lived in New Jersey.
Because of the Bien Hoa incident, Major Strange was being transferred out of Delta. At least that's the reason the rumor-mongers gave. We decided to give him a going away party. He had won our respect when he went against that idiot at MACV-S3 and saved Morleyís recon team.
Earlier, the Delta enlisted men had decided to rent a former French restaurant/ hotel that was on Beach Boulevard in Nha Trang. Vietnam is literally covered from one end to the other with beautiful sandy beaches. This was where Major Strangeís going away party was held.
In order to make our club legal, we had to establish written by-laws. One man from each section was selected to represent his people in the club committee. John Miller represented the RTs, Sergeant Dunbar represented Supply, I represented the Commo-Section and thatís the only guys that I remember. Thatís how I know the following details.
Here are some of the actual rules we put into the by-laws:
Uniform Regulation: Something on your feet and something on your ass. Shower shoes and jock straps shall suffice.
Guests: Any female is to be allowed entrance whether accompanied or not but no female shall be allowed to exit the club without permission of a club member.
Associate members were allowed from any branch of service."
All of the tiny motel units were rented the very first day, all to Delta members. The restaurant was open 24 hours a day seven days a week and served food and booze of any kind at any time but Delta Members ate regularly scheduled Breakfast, Dinner, and Supper meals there. Our little "business" thrived and the Delta Club quickly became the most popular watering hole in Nha Trang.
To get food for Major Strangeís party, we organized fishing and hunting expeditions. I volunteered for both. Delta had its own air force. We had two C-47s and four H-34 Choppers, all manned by Vietnamese crews. They were all hotshot pilots, the best the Vietnam Air Force had. We got two choppers for the hunting expedition and they flew us to an area that used to be strictly reserved for hunting by their former King. That was before the French colonized Southeast Asia, screwed everything up and caused that damn war.
We also spotted a tiger chasing a deer that we were chasing and shot it. Not me, I couldnít shoot it. It was just too beautiful and I knew we werenít going to eat it, besides it was just doing what we were doing ó looking for a meal. When somebody hit the tiger we landed to pick it up. The deer it had been chasing was long gone. The tiger was still thrashing about in the elephant grass the last we saw just before we sat down about 30 yards away. We discussed who was going to wade through that thick grass to finish off the tiger. I asked, "Who thinks that they shot it?" Sergeant Henry Keating said, "I did." He had been stationed in Alaska and had taken up big game hunting while there. I said, "I didnít even shoot at it so I suggest you go finish it off." He eagerly accepted the job and hopped out of the chopper armed only with his .45 pistol. That elephant grass was so thick, he stepped on that tiger before he saw it. Henry jumped straight up about three feet and fired two or three rounds into it almost before he hit the ground. If that tiger had not already been dead, it would have had him for breakfast. It was about nine feet long from nose to tail. I donít know how much it weighed, but it took five of us to load it into the chopper.
We also got a huge Mule Deer. It took everyone from both choppers to get that mule deer in a chopper. That was the first time that I had seen a mule deer; we only have white tails in East Tennessee. All the way back to Nha Trang, I stared at that big-ass deer. It was difficult to believe it was just a deer. Both choppers were filled with game when we returned.
That was in the morning, in the afternoon some of us went fishing. We took an outboard motorboat, our swimming suits or PT shorts and a case of grenades out into the Nha Trang Harbor. We wreaked havoc on the fish that afternoon. Not one fish floated to the surface. We were out near an island that was just off shore from Nha Trang beach. The water was crystal clear and we could see all kinds of fish that were killed from the blast, but they were on the bottom. We tried and tried, but none of us could reach the bottom. If I had brought some large rocks with us, I might have been able to do it.
I had used that trick when I was a kid to reach the bottom of a shallow part of Norris Lake, just to see what was down there.
A boat of Vietnamese fishermen came along and a couple of them were spear fishing. We called them over, pointed down below us and to our grenades and with hand and arm signals we finally struck a deal. We would split the catch, if they could bring them up. This deal worked great because those little rascals brought all of the stunned fish up. We really had a great feast.
As far as I was concerned, I never had a better officer responsible for my life since I joined the army. That was the best party anybody ever got under such circumstances. Maybe the best party anywhere for anybody period!
SF lived like animals when in the field, especially their lurp men, but they believed in living as good as possible when they werenít. Delta made it their mission to set the example for both field duty and camp life. Most lurp members and some of the ranger advisors stopped wearing underwear and some stopped wearing socks. Underwear and socks tended to restrict air circulation and were always soaking wet, all of which encouraged jungle rot. Some guys put sand in their jungle boots while in camp and wore them that way to toughen up their feet. The most comfortable clothing in the world is loose fitting, light weight jungle fatigues with no skivvies under them. It canít be beat. But they don't last three days if you wear them in the jungle. Many of the SF guys stopped wearing skivvies, especially those that had served on SOG or Delta lurps.
The original Delta Club was only operational for about 45 days, then the Inspector General shut us down at the request of the 5th Group Commander. It seems that one of our extra-curricular recreational activities attracted the attention of a local reporter, Master Sergeant Donald Duncan, who found our sense of fun both newsworthy and repulsing. His news article concerned the antics of two members of Delta, whom I shall merely refer to as "Hewey" and "Dewey." It seems that these two yahoos decided to have a contest to settle an argument between themselves as to which one was the best "pussy eater."
To the best of my recollection, one of those two, I honestly donít recall which, sold tickets to any and all interested spectators. Apparently the reporter bought a ticket. According to a Delta member who supposedly witnessed the contest, Hewey won! Hewey reportedly didnít come up for air for an hour. I was not present for that contest. Honest!
As I recall, Duncan had been Heweyís recon patrol leader. Duncan quit recon and Delta after his team blundered into a couple of unarmed villagers while on his last patrol. The team took them prisoners because they were afraid that they were either VC or would tell the VC about seeing them. Duncan reported it by radio. According to Duncan, Deltaís Headquarters ordered him to kill the villagers and continue the mission and he refused. Duncan wanted exfiltration along with the villagers. I am almost positive that this happened while Major Strange was still commanding Delta.
Duncan always carried a pair of "utility pole climbers" with him so if he found a suitable tree, he could have a good observation post and would also be better able to determine where the hell he was at. Duncan impressed me as being a very good soldier. He was a very young Master Sergeant. Duncan, like many others, just did not have a stomach for that stupid war.
The last that I heard about Duncan, he quit the army and took a job as a reporter with some anti-American west coast magazine that specialized in bad-mouthing the US and our involvement in that stupid war. He later wrote a book, I believe it was called, The New Legions and I think he also had articles published in Life Magazine. Many of the SF guys, especially those in Delta, despised Duncan for what he put in his book. I have since read it and I didn't see anything in it that isn't reasonably accurate.
In the short period of time that the original Delta Club existed, it made enough profit to pay the civilian labor and buy enough material to build the most beautiful club in Vietnam. They built it on our new campsite. Our club didnít cost the taxpayers a red cent. Many club managers during that time frame skimmed money off the top and many left their club in debt. Some never paid a single beer company the entire time they were manager. Our camp was classified Secret and no reporters were allowed inside. The Delta Club became famous throughout SF and units that Delta worked with. It was the place to go for fun and good drinks and food at reasonable prices, unless you were a non-SF officer or a reporter. Really, it became a "Class Act."
Because each SF team did not have a mess sergeant and cooks assigned, we received extra pay so we could make arrangements to feed ourselves. We were not issued food through normal channels, so we made-do. In Delta, we supplemented our rations by trading as did many SF teams.
Delta issued each lurp member a .25 caliber pistol for an emergency hideout gun. The guys referred to these pistols as "cat house pistols." According to the way I understood the system, everything Delta was issued was dropped from the records and the Delta Supply Sergeant, Sergeant First Class Marvin Dunbar, was only accountable to the Delta Commander for it after he received it from Group. Every now and then after an operation, some of the hideout guns were turned into our Supply Sergeant and new ones issued. The old ones were listed as "lost during combat operations." They were really traded to some air force contacts for food, usually steak or some other choice cuts of meat. When we ran low on pistols, we traded anything of value. As I recall, Kelly Ellison and Dom Campos were our Assistant Supply Sergeants, but I'm not positive about Campos.
All of my trading material was stored under my bunk because it wouldnít fit in my wall locker. At one time I had stored under my bunk: twenty US Air Force survival rifles [these rifles had a .22 Hornet barrel mounted over a .410 gauge shotgun barrel]; and one never-used 1903 Springfield rifle. My trading material was piled so high I had to rearrange it so the bolt handles of the rifles wouldnít poke me in the back while I was trying to sleep.
If SF had nothing of trading value, many times they created it. According to rumors at the time, some SF profiteers established a factory that produced "genuine" VC and NVA flags complete with bullet holes and blood [chicken blood] which were in great demand by our USAF buddies. The factory was manned by montangards.
There have been several TV shows, movies and books produced about special forces over the years, but mostly they emphasized and exaggerated their training and combat skills, none of them even hint at their sense of humor. SFís sense of humor was inspirational, creative, and sometimes even awe-inspiring. SF humor deserves a place in history just for itself. Practical jokes were considered a sacred mission and cooperation and assistance by all SF was expected and usually provided. Practical jokes were targeted at SF officers and SF enlisted alike. Usually, if a fellow SFer pulled a really good prank on you, he liked you. Good pranks take a lot of effort.
But sometimes, very few times, it was done for revenge and usually the target of this type of prank was a non-SF type, a goof-off or an officer. If an SF man screwed up, his fellow SF buddies took great delight in pestering the hell out of him about it. He usually took more punishment from his buddies than the powers-to-be gave him. The common saying was, "Just hang in there until the next guy screws up!" It usually didnít take very long for the next guy to "step on his dick," as the saying went, and he would immediately become a fresh source of entertainment. In my opinion, their sense of humor released a lot of pent-up stress and probably helped keep SF emotional casualties to a bare minimum.
The promotion system was based on points and you got points for certain things. A medal for valor was worth so many points, a combat infantrymanís badge was worth so many points, etc. and for an officer being in a command position in combat was worth a bushel basket-full of points.
Some brilliant general/politician had just conceived the idea of the "up or out" system for the officers. The army officerís corps liked it so much they made the enlisted men play the Up or Out Game also. "Up or Out" meant that whether officer or enlisted, you had to achieve a certain rank by a certain number of years of service or you could not re-enlist. The officers also had to have a certain amount of experience in certain types of duty assignments and SF duty, in any assignment, was not high on that list.
This was another stupid decision. There were many excellent platoon sergeants who were well qualified for that job and loved it, but they did not want to be a first sergeant or sergeant major. They loved field duty and working with the troops and in our new army, first soldiers and sergeant majors are only "figure heads" and they seldom spend any time in the field or with the troops. Especially command sergeant majors, that rank seems to have become more of a political position than anything else. In SF, some sergeant majors are assigned as low as the B Team level and on special missions they can be assigned to an A Team. This program was the armyís way of justifying getting rid of "unique" officers. Many times, "unique" officers were the ones who got the job done in wartime and inspired trust and loyalty in their men and remained longer in SF than the Pentagon thought was good for them.
Sometime after Delta had moved to their new camp, Captain Thompson called me on the field phone one day and ordered me to come to his office at once. The tone of his voice made it obvious that he was not a happy camper. Thompsonís "office" was in a squad tent that was erected on wooden pallets. It was full of field desks and filing cabinets and served as office and workspace for both operations and intelligence sections.
As soon as I arrived at his desk, Thompson commenced chewing me out ó I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. It had something to do with what he had told Buster Keaton to do or had expected him to do and, as usual, he was ranting and raving, virtually frothing at the mouth, screaming at top of his lungs and pounding the little field desk with his big fist. This was his normal way of dealing with a problem. Besides us, the only ones present in the tent were Master Sergeants Felix Z. Padilla and Clyde Watkins.
After a couple of minutes of this tirade, I interrupted Thompson and reminded him, "Captain, Iím no longer the supervisor of the Communications Section and I havenít been for quite some time now. Sergeant Keaton is the supervisor and I have no earthly idea what you are talking about." I added, "You should be talking to Buster. He might have some idea what you're talking about." "Hell No!" he screamed. "Iím telling you and you can relay it to Sergeant Keaton," he added.
Any military leader will tell you that this is not the way the chain of command works. Ass-chewings always goes from the top down the chain of command, not down and back up. Needless to say, from that point on my mind snapped shut and I didnít hear a damn word that idiot said.
Well about that time, the field phone on Thompsonís desk rang, but he ignored it and continued to rant and rave. So, I finally picked up his phone handset and answered it for him, "Captain Thompsonís desk. Please hold, heís busy chewing my ass at the present time." Then I put the handset down on his desk. Felix and Clyde nearly choked trying to hold back their laughter.
Thompson just sat there and stared at me for a full ten seconds and then he jumped to his feet and really began to spit slobber all over the damn place. This tirade lasted for about another ten minutes. He finally ran out of words and dismissed me. Felix and Clyde thought it was funny. That was the last time that idiot ever gave me a hard time.
While I was on this tour of duty I enrolled in and completed all of the correspondence courses that I could take from the JFKSWC [John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School]. Also, I completed a civilian Insurance Investigator correspondence course. Thompson had shown me that sorry officers can be found anywhere in the army, even SF, and I was seriously considering stacking arms and leaving the army.
The only time that I saw that sorry ass Thompson after I left Delta was at Fort Bragg and he was a Lieutenant Colonel and still in Special Forces. He didn't see me so I turned my back to him to avoid having to salute that sorry bastard. It was hard to believe that the army had made that SOB a lieutenant colonel. That shouldnít have surprised me so much because at that particular time, the Green Machine (US Army) seemed to be rolling aimlessly along as if it was controlled by a raving lunatic.
The new Delta Commander was Major Charles "Charging Charlie" Beckwith. A lot of men did not like Charlie, but several did like him.. During Charlieís introduction speech, he stated, "Thereís only two kinds of soldiers, dip-s--ts and piss-cutters. I only want piss-cutters in this outfit. If you donít like that, get the hell out! If you stick with me, Iíll send you home with a chest-full of medals or Iíll send your mother a footlocker-full of them." And that is a direct quote.
Norbert Weber was an experienced member of our lurps. Norbert was from Germany where he had been forced into Hitlerís Youth Corps during World War II. Norbert still spoke with a heavy German accent. Once, I asked Norbert about World War II Germany, he said, "Val, you did as you were told or some damn Nazi blew your f..king head off!" Norbert was sitting in front of me during that speech. Well, Norbert turned around to me and said, "Val, I tink I now be a deep sheet!"
Norbert survived to retire and the last that I heard he lived near Tallahassee, Florida and had retired again from the state government. Norbert died about 2004 or 2005.
About a month later, Delta was assigned the job of raiding a North Vietnamese Army Division Headquarters, killing everyone we could find, and capturing all of their electronic equipment. The main job was to capture that main bunker and all of their equipment and records. This Headquarters was supposed to be in a large bunker complex on a knoll in the middle of a large valley. The US Air Force was supposed to provide fighter cover for our raid and they were also supposed to bomb the target to soften it up before we attacked. This raid was all based on photo interpretations of aerial photos. While rehearsing our plan for landing and clearing the landing zone, Charging Charlie said, "Men, donít just put your heads down, your asses up, and charge. Stop and think before you act." That is another direct quote.
For some unknown reason, Charging Charlie seemed to love me, so naturally I was picked to be "his" radio operator on this operation. That meant that I had to go in on the first wave of choppers with him. La-De-Damn-Da! While flying enroute to the target I became extremely anxious, regular soldiers might use the term "scared." Until we came within sight of the target, I couldnít figure out why I was so concerned. When I saw there were no fresh bomb craters anywhere near our objective the answer came to me in a flash. I began to really think about this mission. How can they bomb near the command bunkers and still expect the electronic equipment to remain intact so we could capture it for our intelligence people to analyze? They canít! They had lied! Aw crap, theyíre not going to bomb anywhere near those bunkers. If they do, theyíll destroy the electronic equipment. When that thought hit me, my ass puckered up so tight, I thought that I would suck my canvass seat right up inside of me because we were all landing within fifty meters of where the main bunker was supposed to be located.
The LZ was so small the only way we could put our force down on it was three choppers at a time so they approached and landed in a trail of "V"s. There were three choppers to a "V" with Charging Charlie, his trusty radioman, meaning me, and some lurp guys going in on the first three choppers followed by our RVN Ranger Battalion and the rest of the lurp guys. When I hit the ground, I immediately got tangled up in the elephant grass and fell flat on my kisser. The next wave of choppers immediately roared in with machine guns blazing and one of them damn near sat down on top of me and the door gunner was spraying bullets all over the damn place. As soon as they lifted off, I jumped up and raced past everyone. I was the first man to reach our assembly area. Those damn choppers werenít getting a second chance to land on my big ass. The Vietnamese ranger battalion with us was the one that served as Deltaís "Hatchet Force."
Each wave of choppers landed in an open field of elephant grass and none of them were more than 100 yards from the knoll where the main bunker complex was supposedly located. As soon as we had regrouped at a pre-designated point at the foot of the knoll, we headed uphill. Somehow, I ended up being point-man with everyone else in single file behind me and so far as I knew, I was carrying the only radio in the assault force. Those lurp guys were smarter than I had thought. That knoll was almost straight up and the underbrush was as thick as pea soup and it consisted mostly of vines that had very long and very sharp thorns. We respectfully referred to these vines as "wait-a-minute vines."
Breaking trail under such circumstances is not easy, especially when you are also toting a field radio with antenna so I was slowed up considerably. Major Beckwith was about six men back and finally about half way up the hill he yelled, "Move it out up there, move it out!" and I replied over my shoulder, "My ass is ahead of your ass." To which I heard the response, "Charge men! Charge!" I yelled, "What the hell happened to that stop and think crap?" Charlie yelled, "Shut up and Charge damn it! Charge!." Some of the lurp men passed me up, snickering as they went by, and took the point. I was too busy untangling that radio set from about a dozen wait-a-minute vines to come up with a response. We eventually reached the summit.
There were no enemy troops anywhere near that knoll. The huge "bunkers" proved to be very old bomb craters. The "eight foot high stone wall" or "aqueduct" proved to be a two foot high stone farm fence just like back home in the Smoky Mountains. The "radar antenna" was a reed basket hung upside down on a stake in the field.
There were absolutely no bad guys there and that made me very happy. If there had actually been a division headquarters on that knoll there would have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of troops in the immediate vicinity for security and we would have all been slaughtered and as a radio operator on point, I would probably have got it first. But I was mostly ticked at the stupid photo interpreters for scaring the hell out of me like that. That is one example of why Beckwith was called Charging Charlie. Knowing Charging Charlie, Iím sure there are plenty of other reasons.
Deltaís tactics changed when we changed commanders. Before Charging Charlie arrived, the RTs concentrated on traveling light so they could travel as quiet as possible and had a better chance of out-running the enemy and escaping, if they were spotted. After Charging Charlie arrived, the RTs concentrated on being heavily armed because they knew that they might not be exfiltrated right away when they got into trouble. Before Charging Charlie came to Delta, I wanted to serve on an RTóafter Charlie came to Delta, I was glad that I was not on one of our RTs and I made a mental note to never volunteer for lurp duty. And thatís one promise that I kept.
My experience with Delta taught me a very valuable lesson about special operations and lurps in particular. In order to efficiently perform such duty and survive, it must have de-centralized control. If it is a SF unit, it must be a 100% SF operation, all the US ground troops had to be SF, SF planning, and SF control. Control had to be de-centralized down to the lowest level possible. No indigenous personnel could be informed of any mission details until after the operation had already begun.
A couple of months after Charging Charlie came to Delta, communication Sergeants Bill Pool and Ronald L. "Robbie" Robertson were picked to carry radios on a mission to re-enforce the SF camp at Plei Mei which was under seige at the time. This was normally a job for the Mobile Strike Force [Mike Force], but I guess they were already committed elsewhere. Robbie had joined us in April. Deltaís pilots had to fly the mission. An American unit was supposed to have provided all chopper support for that job, but their pilots were not allowed off the ground because of the fog. I'm not certain, but I think those choppers were assigned to the 1st Air Cavalry. Delta had to wait for their own choppers to get there from Nha Trang. Delta pilots flew up the road just above the trees because the fog was so thick, but they made it.
They landed a short distance from the camp and the troops hiked from there. Our troops were ambushed enroute. Thatís to be expected in a situation like that.
Bill and Robbie were pinned down in a ditch along the road. Bill raised up to move up the hill and was shot in the shoulder and the bullet lodged against his shoulder blade. The impact of the bullet rolled Bill head-over-heels backwards. When Bill was shot, his M-16 was set on full automatic and he had his finger on the trigger. The safety on the M-16 Assault Rifle has three positions, Safe, Fire & Automatic Fire which the enlisted men quickly nick-named "Slow, Fast and Awful Fast." When he was shot, Bill's automatic reflex was to squeeze the trigger and he held it down as he flipped backwards. In the process, Bill shot Robbie in the tip of his big toe. It just barely nipped the tip of it, but Robbie dropped his rifle, leaped up right in the middle of that fire-fight with bullets flying all around, grabbed his foot with both hands, and hopped around in the middle of the road cursing Bill for all he was worth. Bill was lying flat on his back in the ditch watching all of this and really felt bad so he apologized to Robbie. Robbie finally took cover before he was shot for real.
For a long time I thought that Bill had served only one hitch, but I just discovered that he went to OCS and returned to Vietnam as a 2d Looie. Bill lived to retire. I last saw Robbie in 1974 at the Presidio of Monterey where he was studying a dialect of Chinese at the Department of Defense Language Institute. In November 1997, I emailed Robbie and discovered that not only did he also live to retire, but he now lives in Thailand.
While our ARVN Rangers were fighting the NVA in this area, one of our officers assigned to the Ranger Battalion was shot through the forehead by a .50 caliber . A .50 caliber bullet does a lot of damage to anything it hits, especially a skull. When they took the nest, they found the dead VC gunner handcuffed to the machine gun. Apparently, he was not a hard-core volunteer. Our politicians were just playing at war, but Sir Charles wasnítóSir Charles was playing for keeps.
When my tour was about up, Charging Charlie sent for me. When I reported to him, he asked, "Sergeant Valentine, why donít you extend and stay with me." I told him, "No thank you sir. Youíre going to get this outfit wiped out!" He just laughed and I headed out the door for Fort Bragg and A Company, 3d Group. That was in December 1965.
One of the last things that Major Strange had said to Charging Charlie before he turned Delta over to him was, "Stay out of the An Lao Valley! It is full of VC and NVA and they have sophisticated warning systems and tracking dogs." On 28 January 1966, Charging Charlie inserted Deltas RTs into the An Lao Valley. The RTs were really shot up bad, very bad. The RTs suffered so many injuries, Delta was temporarily out of business. Charging Charlie was in the command chopper and was also wounded and evacuated, but he survived.
Here is an account of the An Lao Valley incident just as it was forwarded to me over the internet in November 1997 by an SF Sergeant who was in Project Delta at the time.
"Don, As far as I know, Chuck O.,, myself and possibly Ron R., are the only ones on this email chat list that were with Delta during Operation Masher. Being a RT newbie, I was assigned to a backup team (Walter S.'s), so didn't get in on all the pre-mission briefings (at least don't remember anyway).
Falling back on a mission statement by Captain A.J. Baker, S-3, Delta's mission was to support the 1st Air Calvary Division with RT's. TAOR was in the northern end of the An Lao Valley. RT's were to observe the main routes leading into the area to determine if VC or NVA were using them to reinforce or to withdraw from US Marines pushing south toward the valley and the 1st Cav and ARVN pushing north.
Intelligence was from unconfirmed agents, weather was terrible, limiting air support and communications, and was common knowledge that bad guys controlled the valley, 1958 being the last time a friendly unit had operated in this area. Everything looking negative, Delta staff decided to brief the RT's and ask for volunteers. Three teams, 17 men total, volunteered and were infiltrated at last light, 27 January 1966.
Going back a little, and Don, you know more about this than I do, but before I got to Delta, there was a problem running RT's with Vietnamese counterparts. Seems as though Charlie Beckwith had a problem (as we all did) with the size of their balls (or lack there of), and decided to run 6 man American only teams.
Anyway, at 0930 the next morning (28th), Team One made contact resulting in 1 VC killed, 2 VC wounded, 1 American wounded (Norman D.). Team Three made contact at the same time, then again at 1230 hours. To this point, 1 American wounded (Frank B., shortly thereafter died). They were hit again later that same day, and split into 2 three man groups. On the 29th, one of these groups made contact with base and was exfiltrated at 1630. Meanwhile, the remaining 3 men were hit again at 1600, resulting in 2 MIA (Ronald T. & Cecil H.). The 3rd man, Wiley G., continued to evade, engaging the enemy 3 times.
Wiley doubled back several times, ambushing his pursuers. I happened to be on one of the search helicopters and saw his flare coming off a ridge. He was exfiltrated at 1730 hours. Total casualties for his RT were 9 VC killed, 7 VC wounded, 1 American killed, 2 Americans missing. Meanwhile, Team Two is attacked at 1040 hours on the 28th by an unknown size enemy force. After 4 hours of fighting, air strikes finally routed the enemy. The resulting casualties were, 4 Americans killed (Marlin C., Donald D., George H., and Jesse H.), 2 Americans wounded (Frank W. & Charles H.). 1st LT. Guy H. Holland was the Recon OIC at the time. After exhausting efforts to get the 1st Cav to react to our RT's in distress, he asked for volunteers to go in and get Team Two out. 21 or so of us (don't know why that number sticks in my mind) grabbed our weapons and web gear and bailed onto 3 Hueys and headed out. There were several Nungs included in this force. And, here we go again, regarding the valor of the Nungs. I remember the one that was on my chopper, real young, and didn't have a clue as to what was going on. He only saw us running toward the choppers in a state of emergency, armed to the teeth, and he reacted the way most of them did, entering what ever lay ahead beside their American friends.
Anyway, this was the first and only time I was ever landed in a rice paddy (most of my time was spent running the highlands). We made our way up to the team (on a hillside) and it was not a pretty site. At 1500 hours, got them out and headed back.
By the time we got back to base, Luke Thompson (team medic at Bong Son) was putting Charlie Beckwith on a med evac. Took a round that went right through his abdomen from side to side. I didn't think he was going to make it, but was glad to hear differently. Guess he was standing or sitting in the door of the command ship, at low altitude when it hit him. Yes, a fiasco. Why? More than one reason. As those of you who knew Charlie Beckwith know, he is a hard charger, thus the handle, "Charging Charlie." He was prone to take risks, part of the problem. Another reason, weather that would give any RT a nightmare! No chance of air support for a majority of the time, let alone trying even just to infiltrate. And, then there is the 1st Air Calvary. I could not believe that we were there working for them, supposedly having everything ironed out, as far as support and reaction force is concerned, and then when it came down to the nitty gritty show time, they didn't react! I've never been so ashamed of an American unit in my life! Anyway, that's about it. Lot of details left out for brevity, but you get the idea."
Keating, Henry A. SFC (Team Leader)
Whitis, Robert P. SFC
D., Norman C. SSG (WIA)
Chiariello, Agostino SSG
Bell, Brooke A. SSG
Webber, Frank R., Jr. SFC (Team Leader) (WIA)
C., Marlin C. SFC (KIA)
D., Donald L.. SSG (KIA)
H., George A. SSG (KIA)
H., Jesse L. SFC (KIA)
Hiner, Charles F. SSG (WIA)
Huston, Marcus L. SFC (Team Leader)
McKeithe, Billy A. SSG
Gray, Wiley W. MSG
T., Ronald T. SSG (MIA)
H., Cecil J. SFC (MIA)
B., Frank N. SSG (KIA)"
I believe that Joe C. Alderman was in Project Delta when I left them, but I donít know why he was not on this mission. It may have been because he was still considered a newbie RT man because it seems like he had arrived in Delta not long before I left, but this may not be accurate since my memory isn't what it used to be. Joe survived to retire and eventually became the civilian in charge of all firing ranges at Fort Bragg. He died recently of leukemia. Chooch Chiarello was later wounded and wore a brace on his leg for the rest of his time in the service. I lost track of Chooch after he retired, but think he lives in Hawaii.
Later, during President Carterís administration, I heard Charging Charlieís name mentioned again. He was the Commander of the Special Forcesí Delta Force that had been flown into Iran to try to rescue our embassy hostages. The mission turned sour as soon as they landed in the Iranian desert.
When SF was first assigned to Vietnam permanently in 1964, the 5th Group transferred there as a unit, but when the original members were rotated back to the states a year later, the regular armyís individual replacement system took over and team integrity in the 5th Group went out the window.
To make matters even worse, this was about the time that the army adopted the "Affirmative Action" program and it had a devastating affect on SF training during the 1960s and on the morale of the members of the field teams, especially those in Vietnam. After the armyís Affirmative Action Program began, SF changed for the worse.
SF had a very low percentage of black soldiers compared to the airborne divisions. Thatís why DA (Department of the Army) "demanded" that SF pass a higher percentage of their black trainees. They also wanted more trainees to pass because replacements had to be recruited for the ones that failed and that cost money. It became almost impossible for the SF schools to drop a black student. So, to be fair to the other students, the Training Group did not automatically drop "anyone" who flunked a course. In all fairness, I never witnessed any "prejudice" by any SF instructors. As I recall, the percentage of SF volunteers who were black was lower than the percentage of black soldiers that volunteered for the airborne divisions. So even if every black soldier that volunteered for SF "passed" and was accepted, SF would have still have had a lower percentage of blacks than the airborne divisions.
All students that flunked were "recycled" through the training system. Either they were required to repeat the course until they either passed it or quit or they were switched to another course, usually demolitions or weapons, and the cycle would start over again. It got so bad, you could no longer trust any SF soldier to be competent unless you knew him personally.
According to rumor control, some A Teams in the 5th Group in Vietnam started using a very simple way to weed out the new men. Shortly after they arrived in camp, they were sent on an operation with the native troops into a known enemy stronghold with no other US SF going with them. If they came back in one piece, they were accepted as a member of the team. If they were wounded they were shipped out. Regardless of the outcome, their problem was solved at no risk to the other team members. It was brutal, but very effective. If the SF instructors wouldnít weed out the trainees, the enemy would happily do it for them.
SF also began taking soldiers who had volunteered for the draft and were in the army for only two years. Many of these guys barely completed training before they were discharged and they were primarily used to pull s..t-details at Fort Bragg. Very few ever served on a Go Team (mission team). I served on missions with a couple of the exceptions and I thought both were good men and good soldiers. It wasn't those men's fault they weren't used on missions, it was the "system's" fault.
While with Delta, our commo section was augmented by several other commo men. Most came and a short time later either went to a recon team or to some other unit. One of those later went to a MACV-SOG recon team. His team was sent into Laos and was surrounded and captured as soon as they landed. The NVA immediately executed their indigenous troops and then, while two NVA held this man, their officer, a lieutenant, sliced open his stomach and let his guts fall out onto the ground. The officer then took a flamethrower and sprayed his guts and his stomach cavity with the flame thrower and then lit it. All the while, the NVA held the man's buddy and made him watch. The officer then told him that is what will happen to your men if they return to Laos. They released his buddy so he could tell what they had done. I know what happened because a rescue team picked up his buddy and a buddy of mine was the first one to find the man's body. The man that NVA officer slaughtered was a damn good soldier and a very likable guy who was married and had children. The army never told his family the details of his death to save them that much grief and I won't mention his name either. This incident is the only one that bugs me to this day. Ever since I learned the truth of his death, I really get mentally bent out of shape whenever I think of it. This usually happens when I'm lying awake in bed and my mind wanders. I have to get up and do something, anything, to keep my mind occupied on something else until I am so tired I fall asleep. If I ever meet that lieutenant face-to-face and know he was the one, I don't believe I could be held legally responsible for what happened next.