Roy Sprouse

Delta Recon 1969-70

Roy Sprouse was born and raised in Chatanooga, Tennessee with two half brothers and a sister. Slight of build, with red hair and a bit of an overbite, Roy could easily be mistaken for something other than the exceptional soldier he was. He met his world head on with determination, skill, integrity, and a self deprecating humor that became his trademark. To hear Roy tell it, his physical appearance was the result of being born third in a set of triplets, thus being forced to nurse his Daddy. Roy spent his early years on Lookout Mountain carrying golf bags for doctors and lawyers. He worked at a local grocery in the produce department until he became bored and, at the age of sixteen, coerced his aunt into signing his mother’s name so he could enlist in the army. Roy began a twenty two year career in the army, serving with the 82nd Airborne Division and the 3rd, 5th and 7th Special Forces Groups. Roy served with Project Delta in 1969-70, his third tour in Viet Nam. Roy served at Fort Greely, Alaska and as a Black Hat at Fort Benning. He finished his career as an instructor at Camp McCall, where he was cited by his CO as one of the best instructors that ever worked there. While in the service, Roy completed his GED and accumulated several college credits. In 1962, Roy married Miss Ginny Keesee, the love of his life. Within a couple of years they had two sons, Boyd, now a Master Electrician; and Ira, a pilot.

During his tour with Project Delta, Roy became part of one of the biggest controversies that befell the unit. In the fall of 1969, at the onset of the wet season, Roy teamed with Burhl Cunningham, a man of similar build (it was important to pair teammates of similar size so that one could carry the other, if necessary), and essentially the same sense of humor that distinguished Roy. The team drew a recon mission on the Laotian border northwest of Khe Sanh. Once on the ground, the weather deteriorated rapidly, making an extraction impossible. Night after night, the team sat perched on a mountainside, in the cold rain, and observed literally hundreds of enemy vehicles traveling down the corridor known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They repeatedly called for tactical air support on this huge target, but none came. After six or seven days, the team, wet, chilled, hungry and properly pissed off, was extracted. Back at the FOB they were told that their reports were unsubstantiated and were not credible. A short time later, Roy was seen shuffling to the mess tent, mumbling to himself. When asked if he was OK, Roy doffed his sunglasses, that had been marked with grease pencil images of trucks on each lens, and said, “Sonsabitches think I’m crazy, seeing trucks everywhere, and such.”

Roy, in addition to being a good recon man, earned a reputation as a great scrounger. He was known to impersonate senior officers and requisition pallets of beer, soda and steaks from the rear areas. He arrived at Mai Loc one time on a load of steel runway suspended beneath a helicopter. He thought we needed at least one chopper pad with a little less dust. After the Mai Loc operations, the Project went on stand down until it was time to head to Kontum. Roy marched into the Delta Hilton without a shirt on, carrying a piece of paper and proudly announced that he had won the “Ugliest Man in the Army’ contest. During the ensuing congratulatory rounds of drinks he confided to the rest of the guys that he had completed the Charles Atlas body building course and sent off a letter addressed to Charles Atlas himself, stating that he had completed the course and would like him to send muscles. Once on a roll, Roy was difficult to contain. He was the cause of many sore ribs from his spontaneous jabs at himself. Later that night he climbed on Al (later CSM) Schwarcbher’s lap and did a whole Mortimer Snerd routine that had everyone rolling on the floor.

Toward the shutdown date of the Project, one of the more interesting routines that had developed was the duck husbandry task undertaken by Billy “Stick” Evans and Recon’s loyal mascot Douche Bag. Stick had acquired a flock of about fifty ducklings from the local market and took it upon himself to be their guardian. He shared this duty with Douche Bag, whose maternal instincts took over and made her the 24/7 guardian. It was a common sight to see Stick, Douche Bag, and any one of the Delta guys stooping to help the ducklings over a curb or out of the street.

Roy at left, "Stick" Evans at right, with ducks

Early one morning during the stand down after Mai Loc in 1970, Roy sat with Brake outside the Badolati Barracks, taking in the early morning quiet and watching the ducks combing the wet grass for something to eat. Roy offered that they sure looked hungry and wondered what they ate. Brake responded that they would eat bugs, seeds and grain. Roy thought they looked hungry so he grabbed a bag of PIR (Ranger) rice and scattered it on the grass. The ducklings gobbled it all up very quickly and headed for the nearest puddle for a drink. They immediately began to blow up like balloons and keel over, little legs kicking in the air, as the rice swelled from the water. Douche Bag ran frantically from duck to duck, trying to stand them up with her nose. Finally realizing what had happened, the two agreed that, in the interest of their longevity, it would be best if Stick never found out the truth. They agreed not to share their secret and shook on it. The tragedy was attributed to rat poison that was distributed throughout the compound. Roy ran the last recon mission of Delta’s existence with Maurice “Brake” Brakeman in 1970. Fittingly, it was a successful mission that resulted in identification of a good target for the bombers.

Roy retired from active duty in 1979 and became restless. He tried a stint in Rhodesia, but didn’t like being left out there with no air support to count on. He returned to North Carolina and established himself as a mason, doing concrete and brick laying jobs. He expanded his endeavors to offer home remodeling services until he was disabled by a stroke in 1985. He lost most of his hearing, his left side motor skills, his short term memory and a lot of his eyesight. He continued to decline in all those areas until his death from cancer in 2005.

Roy Sprouse Photo Collection