Personal Reflections
by Gary George Nichols
Detachment B-52, (Project Delta) 1966-1970

My contribution to our collection of memories are those experiences and happenings as best I remember them. Keep in mind I'm being treated for PTSD, and delusions, among other ailments. So at times, you may not remember, or have seen it the same way I did. However, as you read further, you'll have no problem relating to some of the things I've recounted.

From first to last mission, I carried the PRC 25 radio on my back (Seems everyone wanted to stay with me no matter what happened). And I survived my time in Vietnam primarily due to the camaraderie of every man in Project Delta. Closer then brothers we were, and after all these years, still are. The attitudes exhibited by these men, in an atmosphere of war, set them apart from any I have ever served with or met again. I never saw selfishness, fear, or personal concern interfere with their decision to place their life on the line if it was necessary to assist a team mate.

Each man was a triple volunteer but could have left Delta at anytime. Yet each man was proud and wanted to be part of B-52. They were highly trained individuals with skills honed as few others in the reconnaissance field. They became not only individual experts but together formed superb functional teams, making Delta the premier unit of it's kind in the US Army. These men truly became a band of brothers, and as such, never stand alone again, even in death they would stand together to the last man. No heroes. No rewards. Just brothers.

It was with a strong sense of pride and commitment that I joined this elite group. Each individual received exactly the same training, and because of this training, there never existed a doubt you were in good hands, no matter who you went on a mission with. My training started the day I arrived and never ended throughout my four years in the Project. When training was scheduled, everyone received, and everyone gave the training. Not enough can be said of the men who served in Detachment B-52. Not one of the individuals I served with in Delta ever considered himself a hero, but they all were. Together, they formed a unique team of heroic and unselfish individuals, dedicated to accomplishing what they believed, and they did this better then anyone else.

The recon section leader when I first arrived was MSG Wiley Gray. He started our day with a formation, uniform/equipment check, calisthenics then a full gear ruck-sack march around the south end of the beautiful city of Nha Trang. Much of the recon training took place in the rice paddies and mountains west of the project's home base and Hon Tre Island in the South China Sea. Recon patrols in the mountains just west of the B-52 compound had a high percentage of enemy contact,. This made it an excellent training area for recon and later Recondo School.  The hardest aspect of working the reconnaissance section was the lack of sufficient volunteers to make enough teams, sometimes you'd see yourself coming and going.

The Project Delta reconnaissance section, as I remember, was organized into 12 Teams, each consisting of two Americans and 4 RVNSF. The most teams available to go on the ground at any one time was ten (but only for a short time). The lowest number I remember was four. Some books, articles, and order of battle state, "B-52, Project Delta had 12 teams with 10 personnel on each team". This may have been the TOE for the Project in 1965 but from 1966 forward, it never happened on the ground. In my time with the Project, I don't recall a recon team with over 6 men, sometimes five, and always, at least two Americans (except once when Rolfe Raines went out alone with four Vietnamese).

Project Delta missions had it all. Just traveling to the work place was exciting, and at times could cost you your life, let alone the excitement when you got to the AO and it was time to work. Sometimes just getting there and getting back was a hoot. Then there was the excitement and adrenalin rush that came from the hunt. But it was nothing compared to stalking a person while they stalk you. And of course, lets not forget secret missions. Sometimes so secret it was almost impossible to convince the very people who sent you, of what you saw while you were out there.

I believe our mission documents should have carried the highest classification (BBR) "Burn before Reading". EXAMPLE: The time we were working the DMZ ROCK PILE area and Burl Cunningham called in 125 trucks crossing the border from the North, The marines whom we were working for didn't believe him, the next night Burl reported the trucks recrossing the border heading north. His orders were to ambush the convoy (125 trucks =125 drivers (125 assist drivers)? = 250 NVA. Remember BBR.

During my tour in Project Delta I was fortunate enough to witness and be involved in much of the history of Special Forces recon in Vietnam. The year 1966 saw most of the expansion. Prior to Recondo School being formed at A-501 (largest A Team in SF history), Project Delta personal trained Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol members for all infantry units in Vietnam. The Delta compound was the primary training site, where also, Airborne Training for B-55 Mike Force (in conjunction with B-55 cadre) was accomplished. This training was done during the recon team's short breaks between missions (flown back to Nha Trang) or the Projects stand down (I recall working the PLF platform with Saint). 1966 was also the year two Recon units identical to B-52 Project Delta, were formed (Projects Sigma and Omega, later renamed CCC and CCS); (project Delta was solicited for volunteers to help train them). In 1966 when MACV decided to open a Recondo school to do the training that B-52 was doing, it was organized and set up identical to B-52 using Project Delta personnel.

Project Delta used many different US Army and Marine units to support its field operations with choppers for insert/extract and cover ships) and the Air Force for Forward Air Controller (our link to the world). The C47 aircraft of the Vietnamese Air Force were our transportation to and from the operational area (Maj Allen "Bruiser") was primarily responsible for getting aviation assets permanently assigned to support us.

I guess what intrigued me most while there was the efficiency with which Project Delta conducted operations. When a mission was received, the first people deployed established the FOB, to include the TOC, S2, S3 and S4 and communications center. Teams remained at Nha Trang until called for by number (only a couple teams at a time) to report to the briefing room for an operations briefing. That evening the team pre­planned their mission, packed rucksacks, prepared weapons and munitions (kept in room). The next morning the alerted teams loaded on a Vietnamese C-47 and flew to the FOB. The USSF team leader with the VNSF team leader went to the TOC to get final instructions and link up with their pilot. Within an hour or so the over flight recon was off and primary/alternate flight routes and LZs were selected. Upon return the team fine tuned their plan, rehearsed drills and movement, gave their briefing in TOC, and then waited for last light infiltration. After insertion, the mission was run till complete (by either contact, compromise or accomplished) and the team was extracted and taken to TOC for debriefing. Once debriefed they loaded on a Vietnamese C-47 and were flown back to Nha Trang.

On my first recon, we left the Delta Hilton one night and were back in the Delta Hilton after missing only one night. Of course things changed shortly there after, and the special perks, ie. Assigned Viet aircraft and such were taken away.

My first night on recon with Delany "Buddha Belly" we encountered a Bengal Tiger and the next day a couple Viet Cong.  I think it was also on this operation that the HT -1 AM radio became known as (the little black box nobody listened to). Roland Marque and Earl Sommeroff (later KIA), detected a trail with a large NVA unit taking a break. Marque saw a radio man sitting on his rucksack and grabbed him, radio, rucksack and all, then took off running; unfortunately Sommeroff got separated and remained alone with the HT -1 for a couple days.

John Heiliman and I were on recon in the 3rd Corps area along the Cambodian border. On the 3rd or 4th day while stopped in perimeter, each person taking turns doing those things necessary for survival, (eat, radio contact, etc). John went to relieve himself, and when he returned with a funny look on his face, he asked me to try. Even though we were taking no shit pills I managed to go and all I saw was a mass of white worms wriggling in the hole. John and I agreed we would be better off going home. The Delta commander at the time, Colonel Jack Warren, didn't see things our way so we shit worms for a few more days. Didn't hurt us any but it sure made a guy feel queasy.

Another time working the Bahm Blik/Oasis area (the golf course), teams had been inserted all over the grassy plain. "Skinny Davis" and I were on one patrol and Charlie Telfair on another. FAC pin pointed our locations and found we were within 100 meters of each other after a few days out. It seemed when FAC flew to get radio contact with Charlie he was also over us.

On one mission I was with two new members to recon, (Dennis Chapman and Edgar Morales, both from the 101st Airborne) the lack of volunteers from the Special Forces ranks made a call for volunteers from other units necessary. These volunteers had been through Recondo School and received the same training as all Project Delta personnel and only required a couple evaluated recon missions to be accepted into recon. We went out as a team twice. The team consisted of three VNSF and 3 USSF. On the first recon we had no problems, except when Edgar shuffled over to me the first night and said he had stomach cramps, said he had to take a shit now, and under no circumstances could he wait. So every one was put on alert and Edgar went to do his thing. What happened next remains with me to this day. It sounded like a ship passing in the night with it's fog horn blaring. The air got damp and you could hear water dripping off the leaves. I believe that night Edgar could have shit through a screen and never touched a wire!

The second trip got exciting when we stopped to take a break on the lower part of a hill in a thick bamboo grove. We heard a rooster crowing on top of the hill to our front. I recommended to the VNSF that we move around the military crest of the hill, due to the thickness of the bamboo and our inability to move without detection, but he wanted to go straight to the top. The point man hearing the conversation agreed with me and when the team prepared to move up the hill, he refused to move. After a few loud spoken obscenities the warrant officer pushed him aside and may have gotten two steps before all hell broke loose. Rifle fire hit him in the head and chest, the point man took a head wound, and blood, guts and bamboo splinters flew every where. We returned fire and moved back to our selected rally point on the previous hill. I knew the warrant officer was dead and after checking the point man, found he was in critical condition. Although we looked bad from the blood, guts, and bamboo splinter cuts, the rest of us were okay. I got on the radio and called for air support, and a Ranger Company was sent in to assist extraction and retrieve the body of the warrant.

On another recon, after covering the Area of Operations, with no enemy sighting, the team moved to our extraction point, which was a large rice patty. On arrival, we set up a perimeter, assigned areas of responsibility, and contacted FAC to let him know we were ready for extraction. We could hear a fire fight going on in the distance. FAC informed us that all assets were being diverted to assist a Ranger Company in heavy contact, so we settled back. I stayed on the radio while keeping an eye on my area, when low and behold,  I found myself looking up the barrel of a SKS rifle. Ken Eden's had just turned around, saw the situation and let loose. There will never be enough words to thank him. This VC had fled from the fire fight with the rangers, walked across an open rice patty carrying two rifles, and into our position without being detected.

After working recon, this time for approximately 10 months, the reconnaissance section leader, Doc Simpson, asked me if I would consider taking the position of Recon Supervisor. About the same time, Joe Singh, Section Leader of the road runners, offered me the Road Runner Supervisory position. I accepted Joe Singh's offer, knowing that job would fully occupy my time with planning and monitoring the teams. The Roadrunners consisted of mercenary Montagnards from all ethnic groups. They performed one of the most hazardous missions that can be assigned to a small force of four men. Dressing in the enemy's uniform with enemy equipment, they moved on well traveled trails and roads in this no mans land. Frequently they encountered NVA/VC and were unable to pass themselves off as friendly. It goes without saying that a large number of these teams came out under fire if they were lucky enough to get out. This was a very satisfying job, except when we lost a team or had wounded or killed. I remained in this position for approximately 16 months, and decided to return to recon for the remainder of my time in Project Delta.
 

Some of the more interesting times I remember are: When Delaney and I ran out of water and there was no water in the area we were working. FAC flew over and dropped a 6 pack of soda (all but two cans broke), kept us going until we found water outside our AO. The long hours of each long day on mission, not able to talk, always alert, eyes darting, rifle at the ready and stressed to the limit until extraction of the team. The times when the only water available was a shallow pool, with a green slim cover, that every animal in the area was using as a watering hole and shit house. Scraping the slim cover aside and filling your canteen, (iodine tablets were useless), then clenching your teeth, trying to strain the lumps, sticks and grass before it slid down (it helped if you wore braces as a kid). Taking Bill Walsh on his first recon and having him shake me all night because he was hearing things and seeing shadows. Was I like that my first trip in? Inserting at last light, and doing everything right, then hearing strange noises all around, on the ground, in the trees only to wake in the morning and find you slept with a monkey community that seemed to want to join your patrol. Or last light insertion, where following the mad rush off the LZ, you move till light has faded from the sky. Then feeling safe and secure with everyone relaxed, all of a sudden you see a fire across the valley on the opposite hill top. You slowly rise and see a party going on. The fires get bigger and more people join the fun (same as the monkeys). The times when no mater how hard you tried, last light caught you in a place where you didn't want to be, so you slept straddling a tree trunk trying to keep from sliding down the shale on a steep mountain (no hammocks). The times when the rain came late in the day and everything's wet. You sit on your rucksack with a poncho over you, watching as the ground moves toward you with millions of little leaches that sensed a warm body. Leach repellant would leave an oil slick in water/rain so wasn't used on the boots but was placed under the arm pits and between the legs to block pores and keep warm at night. The time in December 1966 at Kha Sanh when it was so cold we had to have sleeping bags and field jackets flown in. It's the only time I ever saw someone so cold they were blue in color and still talking (Andre Saint Laurent and his team, on extraction). The nights laying on a small piece of plastic (ground cloth) with nothing to keep you warm, and shivering all night (now comes the leach repellant). Or when a storm in the middle of the night pours rain down in sheets, and continuous bolts of lightning striking the ground, makes your body jump six inches with each jolt. The nights when the ground moves beneath you and an unrealistic rumble echoes through the valley. Later you find that no one thought of mentioning a B-52 bomb strike taking place in your AO. The freaky accidents like in Tay Ninh when FAC (in an 0-1), delivering mail by flying over the camp, dropped the bag out the window and killed a VNSF on the ground who ran to catch it. The time Jay Graves, Joe Walker, and I were advance party setting up the FOB and the sky turned dark and we heard a loud drone. It turned out to be a swarm of bees migrating. They lit on a tree, piled one atop the other until you couldn't see the tree. Landing on an airstrip with bullets coming through the bottom of the aircraft. The trips to An Hoa, always pronounced by rocket fire cutting soldiers and marines in half. Moving the team in the rain because it covers noise and no one else was crazy enough to do it, then settling in for the night only to find the thick vegetation had hidden a high speed trail and you slept on it. Being third man in a patrol to crawl under a rolled up banana leaf, and feeling the agonizing sting of hundreds of red ants that the first two had stirred up. The hours waiting for insertion or on standby, sitting in the recon tent playing Monopoly, Pinochle, or poker, and eating dehydrated shrimp we scrounged from the Marine supply tent. The times on stand down fighting Sam Zumbrun with wooden swords on the stage of the Delta Hilton. The parachute jumps at Cam Ranh Bay or in the South China Sea with Splash Kelly. Raising our own ducks to supplement the food supply of the Nungs. Then, with our readily available supply of dehydrated rice left from each mission, letting them eat to their hearts content, drink water, swell up, then blow up. Fishing the South China Sea with C-4 and grenades. The gigantic T-bone steaks at the end of a mission. To this day I've wanted to see one of the cows they got those T-bones from. Swapping captured weapons and VC/ NVA and Russian flags with the Air-force for steaks for an outdoor BBQ. Taking an old jeep downtown Nha Trang and swapping it for a new one, getting chased by the MP's back to the Delta Compound, and having the Filipinos repaint and number the jeep. That went alright until 5th Group Headquarters decided to take an inventory of the Projects vehicles. Sharing a rickshaw with DJ Taylor in Saigon and seeing long hair on a boy for the first time, I said "DJ, look at the ass on that babe". As we passed, DJ said, "that's not a girl, that's a guy". All I could say then was, "that's still a nice ass", Hunting Water Buffalo, Elephant, and Deer, then drying the meat to make a form of jerky to brighten our recon menu.

Looking back I often wonder, "what ever possessed me to do some of the things I did?". But it was those times, good-bad-scary-funny-and happy, that periodically remind me of how fortunate I am to have experienced so much and lived so I could remember it.

I will always cherish these memories, and I'm thankful for the privilege of having served with the men of Detachment B-52, Project Delta, 5th Special Forces Group. These men were and are truly Special.

The greatest honor ever bestowed on me took place while I was a part of this organization, when Maj Charles (Bruiser) Allen sat down with Chuck Odorizzi, Bill Walsh, and myself and offered each of us a combat/direct commission. Chuck and Bill accepted. Although honored, I declined. I was an SFC (E-7) up for E-8 at the time and felt I'd do better in the enlisted ranks.

Delta Recon
by Gary Nichols

I make my way, its just twilight,
With movements slow, not to excite.
For Life that dwells up in the trees,
might give away where I might be.
Each step deliberate, as if in pain,
A day of travel, so short the gain.
I take of food but once a day,
Enough so strength won't slip away;

A cough, a sneeze, soft voices slurred,
This place, that noise, I shouldn't have heard.
My movement stops as muscles freeze,
I slowly hunker to my knees.
My eyes are strained, my senses keen,
Listening for what can't be seen.

The hunt is on, I slowly rise,
For who sees first the other dies.
Adrenaline rush, the taste of fear,
With life at stake, I check to rear.
A startled face, I squeeze a burst,
My ace of trump, I saw him first.

And in this place that few men know,
The smell of death on soft winds blow.
This time good luck, No need to run,
Until next time my work is done.

Gary Nichols Photo Collection


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