was only six months before American "advisers" started
accompanying the patrols.
There were many refinements of Project Delta's operational techniques
through the six years of its existence, but the project achieved its
highest degree of perfection — and Delta was as close to perfection as
anything ever was — under Maj. (later Lt. Col.) Chuck Allen, who was with
the Project for two years and commanded it for six months. He is the man
Gen. William C. Westmoreland called "Big 'Un."
SF—Bright, Dedicated, Ballsy
For a time, MACV headquarters insisted that recon
teams be commanded by officers, because they did not trust the quality of
information they received from enlisted swine. This was an erroneous
notion because, for one thing, Special Forces, at least at that time, was
one of the few military organizations in history whose enlisted men had,
on the average, higher IQs than their officers. And those young
lieutenants were a whole lot more flighty than a seasoned SF NCO — which
is not to say that the officers were dumb. SF was simply an organization
of very bright, dedicated and ballsy individuals.
In fact, mental requirements for Special Forces were exactly the same as
those for OCS. The only differences in the prerequisites were that you had
to be able to swim to get into the Forces and you couldn't have a criminal
record and get into OCS.
Of those officer recon-team leaders, incidentally, one of the few to,
work out was Bill Larabee, now a lieutenant colonel in the Pentagon, late
of the XVIII Airborne Corps G-3 shop, and, as a young captain, Chuck
Allen's operations officer.
Another change, under Col. Francis J. "Splash" Kelley, was the formation
of Projects Sigma and Omega. There are various versions of how that came
about. Chuck Allen says that Kelley wanted to use Delta in I Corps and
formed Omega for II Corps and Sigma for III Corps. And, as it turned out,
that is how they were generally deployed.
But what one of my old sergeant buddies told me, when I started checking
into it, was that early in his tour Kelley was invited down to the Project
for dinner. It was a spirited evening; the gentlemen of the Project were
well known for their iron discipline and control in the field, and their
lack of those qualities in garrison.
As rumor has it, during the course
of the evening a master sergeant gave
the new colonel a fat, wet kiss on the ear and murmured to him, "Don't
ever die, you sweet motherfucker. Don't you even catch cold." According to
the rumor, Kelley organized his new projects the next day.
It would be easy enough to call Col. Kelley in Denver and check to see if
that version is true. But he wouldn't admit it if it were, and then we'd
have to take that incident out of this story. Rumor control is no longer
an issue. This is folklore.
Under Allen, and thereafter, the core of the Project consisted of the
recon section, with 12 teams of 10 members each, usually four Americans
and six Vietnamese Special Forces men, usually only six of whom were
deployed at a time. The headquarters was SF Del B-52. Nominally, the
Project was commanded by a Viet lieutenant colonel and Allen was his
adviser. The reaction force was the Vietnamese 91st Airborne Ranger
Battalion, an organization which had its good points and its not-so-good
points. That was why there was also a platoon of Nungs (a Chinese tribe
with a mercenary heritage) for bomb-damage assessment. The Nungs, you see,
were trained, fed, paid and led by Americans.
There was also a section of all-Vietnamese teams, known as Roadrunners,
which ran the trails in VC and NVA uniforms.
Normally, the 281st Assault Helicopter Company was assigned in direct
support. This was an extraordinary unit. Alert crews slept on the ships,
ready to go pull a team out at a moment's notice. The gun-ships took off
so heavily loaded they had to skip twice to get airborne, and the slicks
could inch down into a hole in which you'd swear a starling couldn't land.
There was also an Air Force FAC (Forward Air Control) team assigned,
normally commanded by a USAF lieutenant colonel, and on one occasion there
was a Marine Corps fighter wing assigned opcon to the Project, commanded
by a major general. Probably the only instance in history of an Army major
being in command of a Marine Corps major general.
Delta was special.
This was the organization of
which Gen. Robert Cushman,
later Commandant of the
Marine Corps, said, "These
men come from the ether zone
of military excellence."
It was about the time of the Tet Offensive that I started
hanging around with the officers from Project Delta. Chuck Allen