THE WAR IN VIETNAM
I earned my Combat Action Ribbon as a Firecontrolman Seaman
(FCSN) (E-3) during the first combat deployment to Korea of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) in 1950/51. I was the youngest crew member aboard at age 17 years, 2 months, and 20 days!
16 years later, I was serving in the office of the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) when the call came out for Yeomen who were needed in Vietnam. My request to volunteer for that duty was quickly accepted and I packed my gear; cutting my shore duty tour in half!
My orders stated that I had been selected to serve as a Naval Advisor.
However, we had to undergo pre-deployment training prior to our deployment to South Vietnam. Pre-deployment training would be conducted at the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, California, and then at Subic Bay in the Philippines. I attended courses in Counter-Insurgency (CI), Survival, Escape and Evasion (SERE), and additional weapons familiarization and training at Camp Pendleton in the northern part of California.
Weapons training included:
.30 Caliber M-1 Rifle
7.62 Caliber M-14 Rifle
Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)
M-11 12 Gauge Shotgun
.45 Caliber and 9mm Automatic Pistols
.45 Caliber and 9mm Ingram Sub-machineguns
M-79 Grenade Launcher
M26A1 and M33 Fragmentation Grenades
60 mm and 81 mm Mortar
.30 Caliber and .50 Caliber Machinegun
A very interesting part of the pre-deployment training was the “mock” prison camp. That was quite an experience! It is my understanding that this prison camp was a knitting school in comparison to the real thing that the Vietnamese Communist (VC) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) had in store for any men they would take prisoner!
I would like to relate here my experience in part of that Mock Prison exercise. I shall never forget the experience! Before being put into the prison compound itself, they tried to break our spirit! It started with several dozen of us being placed inside an old semi-trailer for about 30 minutes. The temperature in the trailer had to be at least 100 degrees. After the trailer, we were separated and placed into smaller containers. Finally, we ended up in individual boxes. The box I was shoved into quickly became numb! To prevent claustrophobia and/or panic, I decided to mentally play as many golf courses that I could remember, hole by hole. It worked! However, when I emerged from the cage, I fell to ground because of my numb legs! I guessed I “chuckled” when I fell and the guard immediately yelled at me, in pigeon English, “Aah, you think funny — back in box!” When I got out again about an hour later, I did not laugh!
Following those claustrophobic exercises, we were taken out into the wilds and turned loose. We were told to try and evade capture and to work our way to a “safe” area, undetected. If we made it to the safe area undetected, we were to be set free. Those who were caught were put into the prison camp. Well, several of us managed to evade capture, but when the time for the exercise was up, we were put into the prison camp, anyway!
When we entered the compound, they separated the officers from the enlisted men. Everyone had to be interrogated and there were a few that did not do well in those interrogations; two men were actually sent back to their commands, labeled unfit for combat duty! However, on the plus side, we prisoners did something the instructors liked!
We prepared a meal in a large pot over an open fire and when it was time to serve up the food, the officers were not permitted to eat anything! The senior enlisted man called us into a huddle and when we came back to the cook pot we dumped the contents on the ground and said “if the officers don’t eat, neither do we – OooAhh! ”
Vietnamese language training was compulsory for all Naval Advisors. Before being accepted into the Language School, we had to take the FLAT (Foreign Language Aptitude Test). When I saw my FLAT score was 32, I thought I’d flunked the test! However, the scoring system for FLAT was different and I had actually scored in the top three percentile, according to FLAT records! The Vietnamese language was fun to learn and I picked it up very quickly. I graduated second in our class which consisted of 108 officers and enlisted men.
On arrival in Saigon, South Vietnam, my orders were changed from a Naval Advisor assignment to the headquarters of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam/Special Operations group (MACV/SOG). I was issued an M-16 assault rifle and directions to my sleeping quarters at the Palace Hotel.
Apparently, the title of “Special Ops Group” seemed to Congress to indicate U.S. involvement in Vietnam, so it was changed to a more innocuous title, “Studies and Observations Group!” I was granted a security clearance for TOP SECRET – SPECAT (special category). My duties included making daily trips by jeep to MACV II where General Westmoreland’s office was located, to pick up the daily messages for SOG! I was assigned to SOGs’ Message Center with an Army Master Sergeant and a Marine Gunnery Sergeant. I was a First Class Petty Officer (e-6), low man on the totem pole. However, it didn’t take me long to learn that I would be working with two top notch people!
Because I was carrying highly classified, sensitive documents, I had to take a different route every day! Along with a briefcase, a carried my M-16 rifle and a Colt .45 caliber pistol on my hip! Luckily, my trips were usually without incident. However, on one occasion, a young Vietnamese boy threw a full Cocoa Cola can into my jeep and I grabbed the keys, my briefcase, and rifle and “bailed out!” The jeep came to a stop a short way down the road. I must admit I thought it was a grenade thrown into the jeep!
SOG operations were covert and most of its missions were never reported in writing! There was a lot of “sheep dipping” (that phrase explained later) going on and this group always had to maintain “plausible deniability!” The U.S. government must always be able to deny knowledge and/or responsibility of any activities which were carried out in areas the U.S. was forbidden to enter!
The official Mission Statement for U.S. forces in Vietnam went like this:
“The peaceful nation of South Vietnam is engaged in a civil war with neighboring North Vietnam, which is supported militarily and economically by the Communist Chinese and the Communist Russians. Should the North Vietnamese conquer the South Vietnamese, this will open up the “rice bowl” of the agriculturally fertile southern part of South Vietnam. It will further expose the nations of Laos and Cambodia to Communist incursion and potential communist rule. The Chinese, in particular, are experiencing great population explosion and are having difficulty providing the population with its major food staple — rice. If the North Vietnamese troops prevail in this war, the door will then be opened to the hordes of Chinese to take over the rice paddies and other agricultural areas of southern Vietnam. They can be expected to leapfrog from these areas to Indonesia, Sarawak, Borneo, and eventually up into the intensely fertile Philippine Islands, our longtime ally, beginning with the southernmost island of Mindanao, on up into the capitol city of Manila, on the island of Luzon. Our mission therefore, is to prevent the exploitation of South Vietnam by the communist elements, thereby preserving the peace throughout Southeast Asia. Our mission is to support the South Vietnamese in the defense of their nation!”
In the early 1960’s, Congress, active duty military personnel, and most Americans supported this mission statement. Initially, our troops (Advisors) were ordered by the government to train and equip the South Vietnamese to defend themselves — ultimately to permit U.S. troops to withdraw without open conflict.
By the late 60’s, the Russians and Chinese could read and hear about the anti-war sentiment among certain politicians in Washington and nationally recognized movie stars (Jane Fonda for one) in Hollywood! This anti-war sentiment began to have an effect on American liberals! This sentiment was so strong that, in effect, the war was being won for the enemy back in the U.S. That is, if the North Vietnamese could hold on long enough, which they did! In the end, after almost 20 years of fighting, the South Vietnamese military was unable to defend South Vietnam and the nation eventually fell to the communist North Vietnamese (After continued anti-war sentiment in the U.S. demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces.)
The question of whether the U.S. government ever should have committed troops to the defense of South Vietnam, beyond serving in a limited advisory and support role, will long be debated! Contributing to the U.S. Involvement in Vietnam was the almost complete cessation of CIA’s covert actions which had been going on since the late 50’s! When Washington transferred the CIA’s role to the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), the U.S. role began to expand, dramatically!
It went this way — after the French-Indochina War in 1954, communist Viet Minh fighters fled to North Vietnam. In April 1959, shortly after William Colby was appointed CIA’s Saigon Station Chief, the North Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee secretly decided to return to South Vietnam thousands of these Viet Minh fighters. It was decided that the infiltration would be done covertly and that the traveled routes must be kept absolutely secret. The route the Viet Minh would use was originally a footpath called the “Truong Son Route” (named after the Truong Son mountains through which the path meandered). U.S. personnel named it the “Ho Chi Minh Trail.” Very little was known of the Laotian wilderness and thick jungle (including double-canopy trees) prevented aerial photos! Additionally, the area was not mapped!
The Kennedy administration authorized the expansion of CIA’s covert effort to detect communist infiltration and to increase the network of CIA saboteurs and agents into North Vietnam. A National Security Memorandum authorized the use of Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs to train these agents. In early 1961, a single agent code-named “Ares” was infiltrated at Cam Pha, North of Haiphong, North Vietnam. By May ’61, the initial now-trained agents were also ready to be infiltrated into the North. Agents were sent in teams of three to eight men, no more singles like Ares! The first teams were code-named – Atlas, Castor, Dido, and Echo. Atlas never made the first radio contact after landing; Castor suddenly went off the air; and Dido and Echo were considered to have fallen under enemy control! Only four of the 22 teams inserted remained useful – Bell, Remos, Easy, and Tourbillion. Even considering all the losses, the CIA now had a framework of intelligence teams on which to build.
In addition to the indigenous personnel that the CIA was training for intelligence work, there was an urgent need for highly trained U.S. Operatives to go into Laos, Cambodia and also into North Vietnam to collect sorely needed intelligence – reliable intelligence!
In early 1964, approximately 225 candidates for training in specialties in of U.S. Navy Intelligence were gathered together in the auditorium at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida for a special briefing. Most of these men were newly commissioned Ensigns, with a few Lieutenant Junior Grade and a couple full Lieutenants. During the briefing, the briefer gave these men an opportunity to volunteer for a Special Operations Team. Approximately 50 men raised their hand .
Based on interviews, psychological testing, physical endurance tests, and physical examinations, the group was reduced to 25. The group was finally reduced to 16 men. The group was code-named “FRAM 16.” FRAM wasn’t an acronym; it meant nothing. It is believed that the number 16 stood for the original number of men who made up this highly classified, covert group of CIA Operatives.
Officially, the FRAM 16 group never existed! CIA Operatives who were also members of a military service would be officially discharged from that service. If they returned from the mission, they would be reinstated, with no record of having been discharged. This was called, “sheep dipping!” This practice gave the U.S. government the ability to claim positive deniability! No record would ever be found nor will any record later surface that would confirm that these men were ever connected to the CIA. Those that did not make it back (killed or missing in action) would not receive any recognition for what they had done, nor would they be eligible to have their names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington, D.C. The CIA and the NSA will go to extreme lengths to maintain the security of their operatives and to cover-up any U.S. involvement in covert operations.
By August 1966, 10 of the FRAM 16 group were dead and unofficial reports indicated that only two returned from Vietnam Note: The information about FRAM 16 was, unfortunately, divulged in a novel written by one of the members of that group.
One of the reasons causing the increased U.S. involvement in Vietnam was President Kennedy’s anger with the CIA debacle in the Bay of Pigs Operation in Cuba. So embarrassed was the administration, the Taylor Commission was formed to learn why the CIA failed. It was concluded, by the commission, that the Cuba project outgrew CIA’s capability to manage it and that a worldwide review of CIA’s operations was considered necessary! Subsequently, the Agency was forced to transfer most of its Southeast Asia programs to the Military. However, the overthrow of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem, Kennedy’s assassination, and the fact that the Military Assistance Command (MACV) had not yet created a unit to takeover the Agency’s programs, prevented this transfer of control until January 1964 when the Special Operations Group (SOG) was formed.
Pursuant to Operations Plan 34-A, signed by President Johnson, SOG was formed on 24 January 1964. SOG inherited five Vietnamese Special Forces Teams who were part of the original Secret Special Service operating under the direct command of their President. SOG was left with the problem of dealing with the indigenous CIA agents, who were about to graduate from the Long Thanh Training Base. It was decided that since they had been fully briefed on operations in North Vietnam, security dictated that they be parachuted into the North as planned. In the summer of ’64, Teams Boone, Buffalo, Lotus, and Scorpion were air-dropped only to be quickly captured and/or killed. The last few agents were successfully joined with Teams Remus and Tourbillion, as reinforcements.
Although SOG was nominally a subordinate command under the MACV, it was virtually an independent command. There was, however, a J-5 (Plans Section) in MACV who had cognizance of SOG operations. This organizational requirement existed because MACV did not have an official charter authorizing operations outside of South Vietnam (i.e. Cambodia, Laos, and/or North Vietnam). SOG’s direct superior was the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. MACV and Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC) in Honolulu, Hawaii retained veto power over SOG operations.
SOG was a joint service command with its own air, sea, and ground forces:
The Maritime Studies Group (OP-32) based at Da Nang, South Vietnam, provided the naval assets; U.S. Navy SEALs, South Vietnamese Underwater Demolition Teams (Sea Commandos), and Fast Patrol Boats.
The Psychological Studies Group (OP-33) located in Saigon, with an antenna in Hue and Tay Ninh, South Vietnam.
The Air Studies Group (OP-34) based at Nha Trang, South Vietnam, provided SOG’s air power; the 90th Special Operations Wing with a squadron of USAF “Green Hornet” UH-1F helicopters, a squadron of USAF C-130’s, a squadron of covert C-123’s (former CIA aircraft) manned by Nationalist Chinese and the 219th HC-34 Helicopter Squadron.
The Ground Studies Group (OP-35), with headquarters in Saigon, South Vietnam at MACV I (General Westmoreland was headquartered at MACV II). OP-35’s mission included, but was not limited to, Military Intelligence, Psychological Operations (PSYOPS), and Reconnaissance Mobile Launch Teams (RT’s). The RT’s were originally launched out of Hue Phu Bai, Khe Sanh, Kham Duc and a base near Kontum, South Vietnam.
SOG had five primary responsibilities:
To conduct regular cross-border (over the fence) operations primarily to disrupt the Vietcong, Khmer Rouge, Pathet Lao, and the North Vietnamese Army.
To keep track of all imprisoned and missing Americans and conduct raids to assist and/or free them.
To train and dispatch indigenous agents into North Vietnam for the purpose of organizing and running resistance movements.
To conduct “Black” and “Gray” psychological operations involving fake NVA broadcasting stations and the radio transmission of propaganda. (Gray PSYOPS was fairly successful in turning Viet Cong sympathizers into loyal supporters of South Vietnam).
To perform additional tasks as assigned: i.e. kidnapping, assassinations, insertion of rigged mortar rounds into the enemy ammunitions supply system (set to explode and destroy their crews when used) and retrieval of sensitive documents and equipment if lost or captured through enemy action (Booby-trapped ammunition was called, “Eldest Son”).
Shortly after my arrival in South Vietnam, the OP-35 Section was reorganized into three subordinate commands:
Command & Control, North (CCN) at Da Nang
Command & Control, Central (CCC) at Kontum
Command & Control, South (CCS) at Ban Me Thuot
CCN conducted their operations mainly in Northern Laos and North Vietnam. CCN Reconnaisance Teams (RT) were code-named after states and reptiles. CCC conducted their operations mainly in Southern Laos and Northern Cambodia. CCC RT’s were code-named only after states. CCS, the smallest of the three commands, operated in VC-dominated South Vietnam and most of Cambodia. CCS RT’s were code-named after tools (e.g. Hammer, Chisel, Spike, etc).
The SOG RT Training Center was located at Long Thanh, northeast of Saigon. Instructors were a mix of Army Special Forces (Green Berets), Navy SEALs, and CIA Special Operations experts. During SOG’s existence, there were a succession of only five men who held the position of Chief, SOG:
Colonel Clyde Russell 1964
Colonel Donald Blackburn 1965/66
Colonel John Singlaub 1966/67
Colonel Steve Cavanaugh 1968/70
Colonel John Sadler 1970/72
Colonel Singlaub was no stranger to Special Operations! During WWII, he served with CIA’s William Colby as an OSS “Jedburgh” Team Member. JED was the most prestigious title in WWII Special Ops! When Colby left the OSS, he was an Army Major. He decided to be a part of the newly formed intelligence agency (CIA). John “Jack” Singlaub decided to be a part of the Army Green Berets, a newly formed Special Forces unit. The Colonel made Lieutenant General (3-star) before retiring from the Army).
According to Singlaub’s biography, he became chief of Military Assistance Command Studies and Observation Group (MACV/SOG) in 1966. This was an unconventional warfare task force that oversaw assassination and paramilitary operations throughout Southeast Asia. MACV/SOG now took over Oplan 34-A from the CIA. Ted Schackley, CIA Chief in Laos, is reported to have had monthly meetings with Singlaub. According to one report, Singlaub “oversaw political a ssassinations programs in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.”
According to Colby’s biography, “Colby was CIA station chief in Saigon from 1959 to 1962 and headed the agency’s Far East division from 1962 to 1967. Then from 1968 to 1971 he directed the Phoenix program in South Vietnam, which sought to identify and eliminate communist activists (the Viet Cong) at the village level. Colby felt that the program was superior to the use of military force, which he believed was too blunt an instrument and alienated the Vietnamese. Nevertheless, estimates of the number killed under Phoenix range as high as 60,000 people. (Colby put the number at 20,587.) Phoenix has also been defended on relative grounds–the Viet Cong assassinated nearly 40,000 of their enemies during the period from 1957 to 1972. But none of these arguments could prevent the program from becoming a focal point of the anti-war movement. Although Colby maintained that the deaths characteristically arose in combat and not as a result of cold-blooded murder, critics of Phoenix labeled it an assassination program and a crime against humanity.”
For obvious reasons, security within the SOG command was very tight! Unless you had an unquestionable need-to-know, you never learned much about other operations being conducted by SOG. At the time of my arrival in Vietnam, Colonel Singlaub had just taken over as Chief, SOG, relieving Colonel Blackburn. Colonel Blackburn had chosen Colonel Arthur D. “Bull” Simons to take charge of all SOG-35 operations. Bull Simons had earlier trained Laotian Kha Tribesmen for the CIA in 1961/62.
SOG-35 Ops were combat-oriented versus advisory/training missions, i.e. POW retrieval, wire taps and ambush operations. SOG-35 operations into Laos were code-named “Shining Brass” (later renamed Prairie Fire and then Phu Dung). Phu Dung, literally translated, meant “opium smoke!” Those code-names were changed immediately upon learning that they had been compromised! Those operations were the first ‘over-the-fence’ operations consisting of American military personnel. When it became apparent that SOG Vietnamese troops were reluctant to parachute into enemy territory, American troops began leading the Teams so as to induce the necessary backbone and success!
The majority of the RT’s were comprised of eight to 12 men. Each team contained three U.S. Green Berets. The Team Leader was called 10 (pronounced One Zero); the Assistant Team Leader was called One One, and the RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) was called One Two. The Teams would also have Montagnards or Nungs (Special Forces). The Montagnards were of Polynesian descent and were darker skinned than the other Vietnamese. Montagnard in French means, “Mountain People.” They had numerous tribes; Jarai, Sedang, Bru, and Rhade. Most Vietnamese called them “Moi” which meant, “savage!” We just called them “Yards,” The Nungs were of Chinese descent and mixing Nungs with Montagnards was strictly a no no – they simply did not get along at all!
Operations into Cambodia were code-named “Daniel Boone” (later named Salem House and then Thot Not). In the early days (1964/68), SOG members enjoyed the cover of secrecy and a tightly controlled security system! However, by 1969, published Pentagon Papers, open congressional testimony by a few disgruntled former RT members, and the stories printed by the media gradually eroded that tight security! One of the most flagrant was columnist Jack Anderson’s comprising the Top Secret code-names – Prairie Fire and Salem House! His article in the Washington Post cited SOG by name and indicated that SOG’s surprise raids, under the code-name Prairie Fire were no longer a surprise, to anyone! Personnel security was even worse. It reached a point where the enemy was expecting the RT’s at a particular LZ and greeted them there with murderous crossfire!
From 1964 to 1972, approximately 2,700 cross-border operations were conducted by SOG! It must be understood that these over-the fence ops were covert, clandestine, extremely dangerous missions conducted by small groups of highly trained Americans and indigenous military personnel! Attesting to that danger, five of the ten Medals of Honor awarded to SOG personnel were awarded to members of RT’s operating out of CCC, Kontum! SOG RT’s earned the nickname, “Sneaky Pete’s” for their innate ability to accomplish their missions without having been detected! The enemy knew that small groups were sneaking in and out of their “safe” areas, but they could not catch them! The VC and the NVA came to fear the Sneaky Pete’s and the Phoenix team members more than any other opponent! The skill of RT members is attested to by the fact that only 103 U.S. Green Berets were killed during these operations.
SOG’s first covert attacks (February 1964) would be led by a Norwegian Nasty-Class PT Boat Skipper with a Vietnamese crew. The crews were trained by U.S. Navy SEAL Team One, out of SOG’s Naval Advisory Detachment (NAD) in Da Nang. The Nasty’s were 80 feet in length and capable of 47 knots with its two British-made Napier Deltic Diesel engines (3,120hp each). They had a fiberglass hull and had only a three foot draft. They could carry a ten-man team with 48 hours provisions.
Vietnamese Sea Commandos, on their first mission, were inserted by the Nasty’s to destroy a bridge. They were repulsed by a superior force. Eight Commandos were lost in a second attempt. The Nasty crews made numerous successful raids in July 1964, with one mission taking them almost as far north as Haiphong, North Vietnam.
Many believe that these clandestine raids eventually caused the escalation and the inevitable official involvement by the United States. North Vietnamese PT Boats attacked the destroyer USS Maddox on 3 August and the Maddox and the USS Turner Joy on 4 August. On 7 August, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The House passed it unanimously and the Senate 88 to 2. The Resolution authorized President Johnson “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed forces, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.” It was the equivalent of a declaration of war, and it served as the legal basis for the massive American involvement in Southeast Asia for the ensuing eight years!
While the Nastys were busy up North, Defense Secretary McNamara ordered recon missions west of Khe Sanh into Laos! These missions were code-named “Leaping Lena.” The Vietnamese Green Berets, however, proved ineffectual and even, cowardly. Five teams were parachuted into Laos with little or no results. The teams did learn that a network of roads and trails carrying truck convoys and NVA troops lay hidden from aerial view in the Laotian jungle!
In March 1965, SOG received authorization to penetrate the Ho Chi Minh Trail with U.S. Green Berets in charge of each team! Because the authorized Area of Operation (AO) was so small, SOG had only five active RT’s made up of U.S. Green Berets and South Vietnamese Nungs. Once the AO was expanded, SOG increased the number of teams to 20 and recruited Vietnamese Montagnards, too!
The first five SOG RT’s were code-named after the states of Iowa, Alaska, Kansas, Idaho, and Dakota. The first over-the-fence operation was made by RT Iowa, let by MSGT Charles “Slats” Petry. His team consisted of One One SFC Willie Card, seven Vietnamese Nungs and a ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Lieutenant. This team was totally “sterile!” No one carried ID cards, dog tags, or anything that would identify them! They carried 9mm Swedish K sub-machineguns, 9mm Belgian pistols, and their rucksacks and uniforms were Asian made. The first SOG “signature knife” was a six-inch V-42 Stiletto. By the time I arrived in Vietnam, the Mark IV Gerber was the preferred knife of the RT’s.
The string was actually one of three methods by which RT members might have to be quickly exfiltrated from a position about to be overrun by the enemy. Another method was the STABO Rig invented by SGTMJ Chuck McGuire.
As for the strings, four of them could be deployed simultaneously, from a Huey (two on each side). It was actually a 100-foot rope with a 6-foot loop and a padded canvas seat. The rescue helo could lift four members of an RT straight up through the treetops and then head for the barn! It was dangerous, but it worked. Many lives were saved by using that method, but a number of men were killed using it! It was understood by everyone that, if a helo was in danger of being destroyed by enemy fire, the men on the strings would be sacrificed, if necessary! I’m glad that I never had to witness such a desperate action!
The STABO Rig was used in place of your web gear. It was equipped with two straps and two rings. The team member merely unfastened the straps, swung them between his legs and snapped the hooks to the front of the rig. When the chopper lowered the yoke, you merely had to snap it into the two rings attached to your shoulders.
The Fulton Recovery System was a “whole nuther story!” This rig was invented by Robert E. Fulton, Jr. a descendant of the “steamboat” Fulton (really). SOG C-130 Blackbirds were equipped with a 20-foot “Skyhook” Yoke on the nose of the aircraft. The team member being rescued had to inflate a balloon, let it float into the air, pulling with it a long length of rope. The C-130 would fly just under the balloon and snatch the rope in the yoke. You would be harnessed up, sitting on the ground with your back facing the direction the aircraft was flying and when the rope stretched out, you would be literally “snatched” up into the air and then winched into the aircraft. Colonel Singlaub insisted on being the first to use the Fulton in-country. He didn’t want any of his men doing something that he would not do himself! The only Fulton recovery I heard of was used to snatch one of the FRAM 16 men out of China. He had taken pictures and had stolen samples of Russian made supplies which were being stockpiled there, waiting for delivery to Viet Cong or NVA troops! That recovery used a modified system — there was no balloon, just three grappling hooks slung beneath a C-123 Caribou aircraft. The hooks would snatch a line stretched across a designated area and up went the CIA agent. It was successful, too! The agent survived the pickup and SOG and CIA had some real, hard evidence of Russian and Chinese assistance!
One of the most important aspects of jungle fighting taught at Long Thanh was the IA (Immediate Action) Drills. This was the basic tactic for getting away from a numerically superior enemy. Most of SOG missions were so important that fire-fights were to be avoided at all costs! Whenever a Team Leader found himself in a small skirmish, he would assess the team’s chances of quickly disposing of the enemy. If he thought the team had little chance and should be extracted, he would radio the airborne communications link and request extraction. The response was usually, “Break Contact – Continue Mission!” If the enemy force was of such strength that it put the team in jeopardy, extraction would, of course, be ordered. This was the One-Zero’s decision, alone!
The IA Drills were carefully orchestrated, rehearsed and mastered. An IA Drill consisted of the Point Man firing a single shot (as opposed to automatic fire). The odd-numbered men jumped one step to the right, even-numbered men jumped to the left, and all faced the direction of the sound of the fired weapon whether hit from back, front, or side! The man closest to the enemy emptied his weapon on full-auto at the enemy in three-round bursts, then dashed between his arrayed comrades to lead the team away in the opposite direction. The split second the first man’s weapon was empty, the next man picked up the slack, also firing on full-auto. Then he, too, ran down the middle following the first man. And so on. To exaggerate a team’s firepower, they fired only tracer rounds in their first magazine. The result was one long continuous burst backed up by exploding 40mm projectiles, tear gas and white phosphorous grenades, then a one-minute time-delay Claymore planted by the last man. From the first shot to the last, approximately 30 seconds should elapse – a shocking blur of bullets and explosions that seemed ten times the fury possible for a mere six or eight men to unleash! Between missions, RT’s rehearsed live fire IA Drills several times a week.
SOG had a supply of approximately 40 different U.S. and foreign weapons.:
.38 caliber Walther PPK pistol (with Sonics Suppressor)
.45 caliber M-3 “Grease Gun” (with suppressor)
.32 caliber British Welrod pistol (with suppressor)
.22 caliber High Standard (HD) Suppressed Pistol
9mm Swedish K sub-machinegun
AKA-47 Assault Rifle (Soviet-made)
M-24 Antipersonnel mine “Toe-popper”
Sten Mark II-S British sub-machinegun (suppressed)
Astrolite Liquid Explosive
RPD Chinese machinegun (modified)
V-40 Dutch grenade
V-42 Stiletto and Mark IV Gerber knives
Astrolitewas amazing stuff, but highly unstable! It consisted of two plastic bottles of chemicals. Once you mixed the two chemicals – better use it or throw it away! You could put it in a circle on the ground, wait for your target to step into the circle – BOOM!
The British Welrod Pistol was literally a tube, 14 3/8ths inches in length. The front half was the suppressor and the back half was its rotary bolt action. The grip was a rubber-wrapped Colt .32 caliber automatic magazine! Rounds were chambered, manually. It was very quiet, but inaccurate beyond 25 or 30 feet. It was handy for assassinations, but not for prisoner snatches.
The British Sten Mark II-S Sub-machinegun was the classic three piece weapon. It had a side-mounted magazine. It was not used very often, that I know of.
The CAR-15 (AR-15) arrived in-country about the same time that I did. It was a chopped version of the M-16. The barrel was half the length and it had a collapsible stock. The SOG RT’s were the only units armed entirely with AR-15’s. The Swedish 9mm sub-machinegun was, after the arrival of the AR-15, held in reserve for special-purpose missions!
The old OSS .45 caliber M-3 Grease Gun used 230 grain slugs (twice the weight of 9mm cartridges) and was carried by many RT members. They liked it because it could be suppressed and also because there was little or no muzzle rise!
The Chinese RPD Machinegun was modified for SOG use. They removed its bipod and shortened the barrel all the way back to its gas port. It was shortened to about 32 inches. It was now only 12 pounds and its center of balance was now the drum magazine. The magazine was modified to hold a total of 125 rounds. It was so steady you could write your name with it!
The Dutch V-40 Grenade (mini grenade) was just a little larger than a golf ball. It weighed 3 ½ ounces, but contained over 400 fragments within! It was a deadly anti-personnel weapon!
The Soviet AKA-47 (AK-47) was deservedly one of the most popular automatic assault rifles in the world. However, it had a serious design flaw which cost the lives of many a Vietnamese Communist and North Vietnamese soldier! There is a selection lever on the side of the weapon which enables the shooter to select single-shot, automatic fire, and semi-automatic fire (in that order from its top position to its bottom position). In the excitement of a fire fight, if the lever is quickly moved and accidentally goes all the way to the bottom position, the weapon is in its semi-automatic fire mode – not the full automatic fire that is desired! In semi-automatic, you must pull the trigger for each round fired. Without automatic fire capability, the user usually does not survive the fire fight! SOG RT members preferred the AR-15, because it inflicted greater damage to the human body than did a round from the AK-47. The AK-47 round normally passes straight through the body. The AR-15 7.62mm round tumbles in flight, causing a great deal of tissue tearing when it enters the human body.
Until Vietnam, I had never really knew the difference between one helo and another. The name “Huey” is derived from its type designator, UH-1D. Saying it somewhat phonetically, you get H U E Y, or something close to that. The Huey was also called a “slick!” Slick meaning clean, or with little or no armament. Actually, anything with less armament/firepower than a AH-1G (Cobra) attack helo was considered a slick. The Cobra was equipped with 40mm grenades, 7.62 miniguns and also 10 pound rockets. God bless the Cobra – it was absolutely indispensable during emergency exfiltration when a SOG RT was about to overrun by the enemy!
On certain occasions, M-60 machineguns were “slung” at each door. I was familiar with the weapon, of course, but had no idea how well-liked it was by both U.S. and South Vietnamese troops! This was a real “kick ass” weapon which spat out 7.62 rounds at a rate of 200 rounds per minute and with a muzzle velocity of 2,820 feet per second! These particular weapons were referred to as “free guns.” The pintle mount was removed and the weapon was hung from the upper door frame of the helo. The weapon was so free in its movements, it was sometimes dangerous. The freedom of movement allowed for more fire power, but you could easily shoot the crew of the helo. SOG helo gunners, however, were experts with the free-gun!
As our plane touched down at Travis Air Force Base, California in April 1967, there was an anti-Vietnam/Anti-war demonstration in full swing at the airport. As we passed through the gates, we were pelted with rotten tomatoes, eggs, and other smelly items! The angry mob cursed us and called us names like “War Mongers” and “Baby Killers!” I managed to maintain my cool until a big, husky guy wearing a tank shirt ran up to me and spit in my face! I was incensed and unable to halt my violent reaction!
During my de-briefing, I related the above incident to the men at the table and the “shrink” said, “You turn this fellow loose here in the U.S. among all the anti-Vietnam shit and he’ll either be dead or in jail within a month!” The NATO desk at BuPers (Chief of Naval Personnel) in Washington, D.C. wanted to keep me in the NATO loop, so I was given my choice of assignment. I chose to return to the NATO Headquarters in Paris.
During this tour, in the office of the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic Representative in Europe (SACLANTREPEUR), I typed some documents for a member of the SACLANT contingent from Norfolk, Virginia (Rear Admiral M.G. Bayne). Admiral Bayne was being promoted to Vice Admiral and was to takeover command of the National War College.
Admiral Bayne’s replacement was a new Rear Admiral, Dean L. Axene. On his first visit to NATO in Paris, he sent word that he wished to speak with me. I thought, oh boy, what have I done wrong? I was surprised when he asked where I wanted to go when my tour in Paris was over! He told me that Admiral Bayne had recommend that he “take a look at Chief Outland” for the assignment as his Writer!
Admiral Axene and I spoke for about 20 minutes and then he offered me the job as his Writer at SACLANT in Norfolk, Virginia. I told him that I considered it an honor to be asked to assume such a position,
I performed duties as his Writer and as his Administrative Assistant and found the Admiral to be “top notch:” I was really satisfied to be working with him! Then, one day, he called me into his office and asked me to take a seat in one of the plush chairs in his office!
He was being transferred to assume the position of Deputy Chief of Naval Education and Training (CNET) at Pensacola, Florida. He asked me if I wished to accompany him, not just as his Writer, but as his Personal Aide as well! Needless to say, I was dumbfounded; at a loss for words! Finally, regaining my composure, I blurted out that I would be very honored to accept his offer! He said, with a smile on his face, “Great, here’s the aiguillettes, I would like you to wear them when we arrive at CNET Headquarters.”
After a couple years as his Aide, I knew that I had accomplished my goal; to be all that I could be!”
When Admiral Axene was passed over promotion to his 3rd star, he prepared to leave the service. It is my personal belief that the Admiral was passed over because he was relieved as Commissioning Officer of the submarine USS Thresher shortly after he stated that he did not consider the Thresher ready for sea!
Had he picked up his 3rd star (and perhaps his 4th), I would have stayed with him. Those dreams were dashed and I knew I would not be satisfied with any orders I would receive in the future, so I elected to bail out, too! I had made Senior Chief (first time up) and was looking forward to Master Chief. However, I knew that I would not be able to cope with the degeneration of discipline that had been festering during those last few years.
I wasn’t through with my Navy though! My wife Cathy and I decided to move to Hawaii and work as Volunteers aboard my old battleship. We were a part of the USS Missouri Memorial Association from 2007 until 2015. During that time, I was one of the Supervisors of Volunteers; Supervisor of the Association’s Wounded Warrior Program; and routine Keynote Speaker at the Chief Petty Officer Legacy Academy first evening meal aboard the Mighty Mo. I was also Guest Speaker at most of the commands on the island of Oahu, relating what it was like for a 17 year old to serve aboard a battleship during the Korean War! The readers might also like to know that I was an “extra – non speaking part) in the 2012 movie entitled “BATTLESHIP” which starred Liam Neeson, et al. I was sitting at home one evening when I received a call from the Casting Director of the movie. She said that the Director, Mr. Peter Berg, had asked her to get in touch with me and ask if I wished to be in his movie. Mr. Berg had learned that I was a crewmember aboard the Mighty Mo in Korea and he would like to use me in his movie! Of the other extras, I was the only real former sailor and a former crewmember of the Missouri. He was thrilled that I agreed to be an extra and on my arrival he singled me out to ask a zillion questions about my being on a battleship in time of war at age 17! To say the least, it was great fun.
I received a check for $700+ dollars for the pleasure of being in the movie. The IRS took $200+ and I donated $500 to the Missouri Association and the chump change for gasoline in our Hummer! What fun, indeed!
We now are quite happy with our home atop of one of the mountains in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. Fair Winds and Following Seas to all! OooAaah!