RANGER MISSION
by Gary George Nichols
Detachment B-52, (Project Delta) 1966-1970

At the end of my seventh month in the reconnaissance section, I decided a move was in store before my luck ran out. On one recon patrol SFC Odorizzi (Communications Supervisor) had come along to test the Radio Set AN/PRC 64 (smaller than a shoe box, and requiring a 150 foot long-wire antenna, it was used solely for sending Morse code). I talked to him about working in the commo section and he agreed, if my Morse code was up to snuff. So, I diligently practiced on the oscillator. But when the time finally came in October of 1966, I made the decision to move to the Rangers instead.

My first mission with the Rangers definitely was an eye opener. Where I expected skills acquainted with stealth, I looked on a group of individuals with balls like gorillas. With pots and pans tied to their rucksacks, they sounded like a gypsy caravan moving through an area. Picking plants and shrubs along the way, they would tear a piece off anything that happened to pass by for lunch. I came to believe they were the baddest bastards in the jungle or the craziest. I found out in short time, Deltaís Ranger Battalion was definitely bad.

Project Delta was working III Corps, in the western area of Tay Ninh , when I deployed with the 5th Ranger Company on my first mission. We were air lifted to Tay Ninh and on landing received orders to establish a base camp in a rubber plantation a few miles down the road from the FOB. With little to do but wait, it didn't take long before everyone was bored. Recon teams had been inserted as scheduled and initially things were quiet.

I can't recall why but there was a scarcity of food. Rice was always available but meat and vegetables were a different story. So when an old Moma Sanh appeared out of nowhere with some ducks draped over her shoulder, she looked like an angel from heaven. It didn't take long for me to decide we would be dining well that night (cost me my issued Seiko watch). I didnít think to ask, at the time, if anyone knew how to cook a duck. Once on the spicket and over the flame, so much fat was flowing, it caught fire. I've never eaten duck again to this day.

Shortly after the duck incident, we were alerted that one of the recon teams had come across traces of a large enemy concentration and that the 5th Ranger Company would be inserted at the same time the recon team was extracted. As I recall it was a beautiful day, so nice a day, it was hard to believe anything bad could happen. We were inserted without a problem.

Once on the LZ, a HQ Captain tag-along, SP4 Dyer, who was the medic, Corporal Benjamin, myself, and approximately seventy Rangers prepared to move. Cpl Benjamin and me, with me carrying the radio, went with the first squad, and hadn't moved 50 meters when the column stopped. Word passed back that the point man had come across a fresh steaming pile of shit. I knew we had made too much noise getting to this spot.

As we started moving again we received sporadic small arms fire. After a brief exchange, everything became quiet, so we tactically advanced and soon found ourselves in a large cleared area, under a triple canopy. There were huts, caves, tunnels, a mess-hall with a 6 foot diameter rice tub, Two ammo dumps, a whore house (identified by perfume, underwear and other unmentionables), Philips radios and numerous other creature comforts (This was later identified as a regimental headquarters).

We moved through the area, set up security and started a systematic search. I turned my attention to the huts and located the NVA operations tent, with a hoard of secret documents in a cache beneath the floor. I had three Rangers empty their rucksacks to make room for the documents. On Top of the cache was candy bar size chewing tobacco sticks, which I discarded to get to the documents, I filled my rucksack with documents and when I turned around, found the Rangers had filled theirs with chewing tobacco (opium) (which they refused to dump for documents). The Ranger Commander suggested we find a more suitable place to set up a defense and wait for a decision from Headquarters on what they wanted us to do (I couldn't help but notice that every rucksack was stuffed with booty).

So off we went into the jungle (Keep in mind, from entering the site to exit was no more then 15 or 20 Minutes). On moving, we didnít get more than 25 meters before we started taking small arms fire, and word came back that the point man was hit. Everyone took cover and we brought the point man back for the medic to take care of him.

When we started moving again, all hell broke loose, and a couple more rangers were KIA, with two or three more wounded. What was left of the first squad, dragged their wounded back, and started to help form a circle. The Commander came forward with the other squads and closed the flanks and the rear. We knew we had just met the NVA Regiment whose home we had just left.

The jungle screamed with the sounds of whistles and horns, and thatís all I could hear as they came at us from all sides. We used the dead for cover. The wounded had to tend themselves as best they could. The NVA didnít hide behind trees or seek cover, they just kept coming. I fired at least 10 rounds into one guy before he fell (I believe they were high on opium). With each surge forward we inched backward, trying to drag the dead and wounded with us.

Fear has a way of changing a persons outlook on life. I canít give a reason for what took place next. Maybe thinking this was the end of the line, and wanting forgiveness if captured, the Rangers who so rapidly looted the NVA Regiment just minutes before, started taking things from their rucksacks and throwing them out in front of the firing line. The Phillips radios and all the other stuff. They even started giving back things they hadnít stolen.

I remember thinking, ďUnless something miraculous happens now, thereís no hope for usĒ. The straphanger Captain from Headquarters was trying to dig a hole to China, and the rest of us were trying to hold our own. The noise and confusion all around made it impossible to do anything else. I had continuous communications with FAC until things went to hell, and then self-preservation kicked in. I abandoned talking, and concentrated on returning fire.

FAC knew the situation and was working on getting fast movers on site. However, with everyone so close together, it was hard for him to direct the gun runs. I gave him smoke and he placed his marker as close to us as he could, with the understanding that without the air strikes, we would be annihilated.

Things started to get better once the fast movers made their runs, and the air became filled with the sounds of helicopters bringing Ranger reinforcements. I don't think the Ranger reinforcements ever received such a greeting from a bunch of grateful men as they did that day.

Once we got some semblance of sanity restored, the reinforcements helped us with the evacuation of dead and wounded. We then moved to secure the landing zone and waited for extraction. Later, the 5th ARVN Division was air lifted into the area to relieve the Rangers. They secured the NVA camp, and during the next few weeks, uncovered large quantities of weapons, munitions and other supplies.

Compared to that experience my other missions with the Rangers were routine, even when we made enemy contact. But one other mission with the Rangers is well worth telling.

Late afternoon on the third day, in especially hot and dry weather, we filled our canteens at a stream then proceeded to the top of a nearby mountain. It took most of our water before we reached the crest at dusk. When everyone was settled in and it was time to put some groceries under the belt, I heard a hell of a commotion, and suddenly a wild pig darted past me with a platoon of Rangers on his ass. One Ranger grabbed hold of its tail, another held onto a leg, and I swear, I've never seen anything butchered so fast and clean in my life. The squeal was still in the air when the last piece was taken. As I mentioned earlier, get too close and you're lunch!

Gary Nichols Photo Collection
 

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