The Precious Things In Life
by Gary George Nichols
Detachment B-52, (Project Delta) 1966-1970

In January 1968, Project Delta was working the tri-border area out of Plei Djereng. A couple recon teams were already on the ground and Doc Simpson and I were scheduled to infiltrate that night. Everything had gone well on our recon flight. We managed to select the primary, secondary and alternate landing zones. All three were on the western side of our AO, close to the Cambodian border and close together. We had already discussed the possibility of a ladder extraction if there were any problems. The team was ready and just before last light we took off for our primary LZ. On final approach, flying tree top level, the pilot pulled up right on the LZ and just before the skid touched ground, muzzle flashes and NVA started coming from the wood lines (thank God none of us jumped out). As we hastily departed, door gunners returned fire and we could hear the clunk of bullets striking the chopper body. When we landed at the FOB and inspected the chopper for damage it was discovered that one of the incoming rounds had almost cut through the rear rotary blade cable. Fortunate for us it didn't let go until we got home. Needless to say I don't think there was a happy face amongst us when we were told that a decision to infiltrate the same area, different LZ was on for the next night.

The following night we departed as scheduled and everything was going fine, until the chopper was hovering over the LZ. The point man jumped (requiring the five of us to follow) and while the chopper was leaving we heard shots, people yelling and dogs barking. We took off like a bat out of hell for cover and it was only a miracle that we ran to a place in the tree line where there were no enemy. Throwing caution to the wind we ran as fast as we could, through brush and trees hoping all the noise they were making would cover up all the noise we were making.

SFC "Doc" Simpson (at left), SFC Gary Nichols (middle) aboard chopper

We followed a small brook for a while and spread our special recipe seasoning (garlic, onion, salt and pepper) in strategic places behind us as we traveled (didn't last long). That night, all night, we heard people with dogs looking for us. We determined the dogs were not trained trackers or they would have found us by now, unfortunately even mutts get lucky sometimes. With first light came overcast skies (which stayed with us for the entire time out) and the sounds of people and dogs moving above and below us. This continued for three days, keeping us in check. We were under a triple canopy and the closest place we could be extracted was back from whence we came, so we moved straight up the mountain stopping at the military crest. On the second day we were out of water (it was hot, humid, and the continuous trek up the mountain took most of our water, the rest went to make our small bag (one days ration, the size of your fist) of dehydrated rice with dried minnows soluble (disgusting mixture, filled you up, no one wanted seconds). As we quietly laid in wait for the NVA to leave we had nothing to do but look and listen. One of the VNSF must have brought an extra canteen of water, which he so diligently sipped one capful at a time day and night. He finally ran out of water on the third day, just prior to his scheduled demise by the rest of the team. After three days without water, it became the only thought occupying our minds. We couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, our tongues were swollen, it was hard to talk and difficult to breathe.

The Sounds of dogs and people searching had ceased. Where they went was a mystery and at that point we didn't care. The decision to split the team by sending two people for water wasn't easy. We knew we couldn't remain in the present location and because of the weather, terrain and condition of the team (weak from hunger, thirst, no water) it would be suicide if we moved as a team and got caught in the open. Although the two going for water wouldn't have a radio, they would be traveling light and could possibly out run anyone who may detect them. So with these assumptions one VNSF and I emptied our rucksacks, took all the canteens and went in search of water (I left the radio with Doc). Off we went moving along the military crest until we came to a small crevice leading down the side of the mountain, although dry it held promise that past rain fall had followed its path down the mountain, so down the mountain we went. The grade was steep and movement was slow and hazardous. We came to an area where the trees were sparse with a single canopy and stopped there to take a short break. Through the trees and vegetation we could see the valley floor and spotted two men with rifles, off in the distance moving away from us. We watched and after a few minutes continued down the mountain another 100 meters. That's when we came upon the mud hole of our dreams, no more then a small indentation in the run off; it was enough to have collected water at some time in the past and now became our salvation. From this point on I have lapses in my memory. I remember the VN and me digging in mud and sucking water. I think the two of us forgot where we were and instead focused on drinking as much water as we could. After filling the canteens we started back up the mountain, back tracking the crevice. That night was a feast to remember, finally water to wet our parched throats and to mix up our rice and minnow gourmet meal (we hadn't eaten in days). The next day everyone felt better, still weak but with renewed hope we started down to the valley floor. The weather was still overcast, but we could hear FAC flying. We quickly set up to make radio contact and get a fix on our location so we could request extraction.

Unfortunately we were in the low ground under a thick canopy and the sky was overcast. Doc was communicating with FAC and I was attempting to get FACs attention with my flare gun. After numerous tries, unable to get through the canopy I got out the strobe light, this seemed frugal under this canopy and didn't do any good either. Doc told me to try the strobe light in conjunction with the survival mirror, the rest is history. FAC directed us to a LZ, and we were extracted without incident.

Gary Nichols Photo Collection