Part 1: Exclusive Look
At Special Forces
by Jim Morris
he hoped he wouldn 't have to use. On
his back was a portable home — a groundsheet, 14 days' chow (long-range
reconnaissance patrol rations, or LRRPs) and some miscellaneous fruit
The others were similarly attired, except for the two radios: one held by
the Americans and one by the Vietnamese. Each was on a different frequency
— in order to send the same data simultaneously
Five minutes from the infiltration point, Doc's old friends, the
butterflies, began zipping around in his stomach again. "All right," he
thought. "You butterflies get in line, column of twos! Shape up there!"
The ship started down, and he looked below into the dark space in the
trees that was their landing zone. The chopper eased in and he was
grateful again for the 281st Aviation Company. "Man, these people can fly,
" he thought.
Trees rising on all sides, rotor blades snipping leaves around the edges,
the chopper inched its way down into the hole. Master Sgt. Norman Doney,
the reconnaissance section leader, who would stay with the helicopter,
rolled two ladders out the door. Doc swung over the side.
VC prisoners from early days of Delta.
He swung his feet straight out, as he should, being the bottom man on the
rope ladder. The heavy gear dragged him toward the ground and Doc started
working his way down, all his weight on his arms. Finally, his feet were
below the ladder and he hung by the bottom rung, eight feet above a bomb
crater. He let go. Ortiz dropped beside him from the other ladder and they
skipped sideways to get out of each other's way.
At a dead run, they headed for the encircling jungle and, 50 meters into
it, stopped. Doc gulped air down fast to silence his panting.
You could tell they were good, just by looking at
them. Doc Betterton — Staff Sgt. Dale C. Betterton, of Providence, R.I., a
tall, slender man with glasses and a quiet manner — oozed confidence.
"Okay," he said, standing on the platform in the briefing room at the
Project Delta Forward Operational Base at Phu Bai. "We'll go in here" — he
tapped the map with his pointer — "and check out these areas. Primary
mission is to check out enemy installations and personnel. "
Taking all this in were five other team members — Betterton was the
senior adviser. The other two Americans, Sgt. 1st Class Alberto Ortiz,
Jr., a new man on the Project, and Sgt. John D. Anthony, watched the
briefing. The Vietnamese contingent consisted of 1st Lt. Ton That Hai,
patrol leader, and Sgts. Nguyen Van Khun and Hoang Van Lieu.
They all listened with the same air of intense calm. They had, as the
saying goes, their stuff in order.
After listening to the briefback in English, Lt. Hai repeated the
information in Vietnamese.
In the rear of the room, Maj. Charles A. Allen, Fayetteville, N.C., a
massive man, leaned forward in his chair, one hand propped on his knee and
the other under his chin. He did
not appear to listen so much as to
absorb the information, evaluating it ans storing it in a corner of his mind which constantly tracked and
controlled every detail of the Project.
Beside him, his counterpart, Maj. Phan Van Huan, leaned back, his manner
As the chopper skimmed over the tree-tops, the sun was being extinguished
by the mountains, throwing long shadows across the streambeds and valleys
"What is this now?" Doc thought. "Seventeen, maybe 18 times in a year and
a half. Every time, I'm still scared. That's good! A scared man is a
careful man, and a careful man will live a long time. If I'm ever not
afraid I'll go into some other line of work.''
Sitting in the left door of the helicopter, he followed the hills and
valleys on his map. The wind whipped his tiger-striped trouser legs and
floppy hat, which hung down his back on a homemade cord of parachute
suspension line. A CAR-15 was slung over his shoulder by a triangular
olive-drab bandage which he would convert to a neckerchief when they
reached the ground.
The seemingly endless maze of pockets on his tiger suit were jammed with
notebooks, signaling devices, cigarettes, matches and maps, all neatly
folded into plastic bags. In his patrol harness were more signaling
devices, a camera and the ammunition