The Perfect Angler: The One That Got Away
by Steve Carpenter, Delta Recon 1969-70

There are hundreds of stories out there that chronicle the adventures of the men of Project Delta while on stand-down from field operations. It is often said that for all the excitement and danger of running missions in the field, the probability of surviving those operations was significantly higher than the survival rate of stand-downs should have been. Aside from the insanity exhibited by certain well lubricated exemplars of America’s finest during the first few days of stand-down, there was plenty of adventure to be found in wholesome pursuits such as fishing.

Special Services (the other commandos) kept a couple of Boston Whalers equipped with outboard engines for use by soldiers seeking the tranquility of a quiet outing on the South China Sea. Soldiers just like us. Skillful scrounging had provided the Project with a rubber band operated spear gun and a set of fins, mask and snorkel. Our own inventories supplied us with ample quantities of beer and several cases of hand grenades. Thus armed; dressed in cut off tiger shorts and carrying weapons and web gear, we would set out to battle the sea, sun, and denizens of the deep.

Invariably the Whaler would end up near Hon Tre Island at the mouth of Nha Trang Harbor. Fishing closer to the beach usually invoked the wrath of local sea going gendarmes whose sensitive electronics were upset by our trolling methods. After establishing which of the sportsmen would be the first to take a turn with the fishing gear; a process accomplished by comparing relative consumption of beverages enroute to the fishing grounds, a trolling run was conducted. A trolling run consisted of a full speed arcing path that led from deeper water to the shallows and back out again. While making the run, the crew would toss a steady stream of lures (DuPont Spinners), and circle back to the head of the run. The fisherman was rewarded with the sight of many stunned fish suspended and temporarily disabled in the water. The lucky first diver would take his first turn at harvesting fish with the spear gun. I say lucky for a couple of reasons: first, he had the advantage of fishing closest to the boat; second, he had the advantage of relinquishing his turn before the scent of blood and the explosion of the spinners attracted the inevitable sharks. Most trolling runs resulted in the harvest of plenty of fish to take back to the Delta Hilton for a fish fry. On one such foray, I drew the coveted “lucky number one.” As we completed the first run, I donned the gear and jumped feet first into the water prepared to spear a thirty pound grouper. Instead, I was met by a bizarre sight. There were hundreds of sea snakes shooting in all directions in short, stunned, frenetic bursts of propulsion. Not a fish in sight. As several shot past my face, I thrust myself toward the surface by the boat. Later accounts stated that I never actually touched the side of the boat as I launched myself into it. I do not dispute this.

Between operations in early 1970, the Recon section took advantage of the break to conduct extensive training exercises at Dong Ba Thin, located between Nha Trang and Cam Ranh Bay. After a few days of compass courses and immediate action drills, seven of us decided to enhance our diets with some fresh fish. We proceeded to the mouth of a river that dumps into the South China Sea near Dong Ba Thin and proceeded to fish from shore. Without the benefit of a boat or any diving gear, we were forced to launch our fishing lures from shore. To the uninitiated, the action of the DuPont Spinner creates a rather strong wave of energy under water. One might say explosive. If you happen to have your head under water at the wrong moment, the action causes severe discomfort to the auditory canal, and may lead to unconsciousness. If you happen to be standing waist deep in the water, the sensation is akin to being rapped in the nuts with a big hairy fist. The secret to success is to line up in knee deep water parallel to the shore and execute a precision military by-the-numbers release of the lures into the water. Picture seven seasoned recon men standing naked, farmer tans reflecting the setting sun, knee deep in the South China Sea with live grenades in each hand. The designated leader calls out the commands to “pull the pin,” “prepare to throw,” and “throw.” The last command is accompanied by the sound of projectiles sailing toward deeper water, and a single “OH SHIT!” Seven heads turn simultaneously and see an errant grenade that escaped *someone’s backswing and is rolling onto the beach, scant feet away. As one, the seven dive into the water just ahead of the detonations. They immediately experience the agony of painful deafness and the ache of abused genitalia. No one hears the shrapnel skitter across the water above their heads. All make it back to shore and shout obscenities at each other. No one is offended because everyone is deaf. No one owns up to the faulty toss. A Navy PBR shows up, quad fifties bristling, manned by wide eyed kids in flak jackets and helmets. They ask questions. We stare the blank stare of the mentally challenged. They shake their heads and drift back to sea. That night we dine on LRRPs. In silence.

* Hey Bobby Pruett – your secret is safe with me.