The Raid
RVN - Last half of 1965

Project 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
intact.  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, Major Charles Beckwith said,
“Men, don’t just put your heads down, your asses up, and
charge.  Stop and think before you act.”  That is a direct
quote.

For some unknown reason, Charging Charlie seemed to love to
have me near him which thrilled me to no end since I thought
the man was suicidal.  So naturally I was picked to be “his”
damn radio operator on that 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
couldn’t 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.  How can they bomb the
command bunkers and still expect us to capture the
electronic equipment intact for our intelligence people to
analyze?  They can’t!  They had lied!  Aw shit, they’re not
going to bomb anywhere near those damn bunkers.  If they do,
they’ll destroy the electronic equipment.  When that thought
hit me, my asshole puckered up so tight, I thought that I
would suck my canvass seat right up inside of me.  We were
all supposed to land within about 50 meters of the knoll
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 roared in with machine guns blazing
and one of them damn near sat down on me.  The terrified
door gunner was spraying bullets all over the damn place-I
figured I was about to find out how friendly 'friendly' fire
really was.  As soon as they lifted off, I jumped up and
raced past everyone: I was the first man to reach our
assembly area.  [That's odd because I was the slowest member
of my high school football squad.]  Those damn choppers
weren’t getting a second chance to land on my ass.  The
Vietnamese ranger battalion with us was the one that served
as Delta’s “Hatchet Force.”

Each wave of choppers landed less than 100 yards from the
enemy-held knoll in an open field covered with elephant
grass.  As soon as we had regrouped at a pre-designated
point at the foot of the enemy-held knoll, we headed uphill.
Somehow, I ended up being point-man with everyone else in
single file behind me and I was carrying the only damn 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, consisting 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 damn 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 shit?” in response
to which I heard, “Shut up and Charge damn it!  Charge!.”
Some of the lurp men finally passed me up, snickering as
they went by, and took the point and 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 still pissed at the stupid photo interpreters for
scaring the hell out of me like that.  That is one reason
that Charging Charlie got his nickname.  Knowing Charging
Charlie, I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons.

Delta’s 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 when they got into trouble.
Before Charging Charlie came to Delta, I wanted to serve on
an RT—after Charlie came to Delta, I was damn glad that I
was not on one of our RTs and I made a mental note to never
again volunteer for lurp duty.  And that’s 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 have a decent chance to
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 within SF
as possible.  Indigenous personnel could not be informed of
any mission details until after the operation had already
begun.

Don "Val"  Valentine