whirled in trail and set up an orbit around the men on the
ground. They ran in a tight circle around the patrol, and I saw white
puffs of smoke coming off the orbiting choppers as they fired their
rockets into the hills surrounding the men on the ground. I couldn't see
them, of course, just the nubby green of the trees as the choppers whirled
around like toys.
Then the extraction ship started easing down between the orbiting gunships.
Down, down, slowly, into the trees. There was no LZ, just jungle. The
patrol had been intercepted and had run and kept on running, with one man
wounded, maybe dead. They hadn't been going for an LZ — they had just kept
running until the choppers got there. The extraction chopper had to lower
itself down through the trees as far as it could, then drop a McGuire rig.
You had to use two choppers for a six-man patrol. I rode one once in
training and enjoyed it tremendously, but then no one was shooting at me.
I imagine it's a great relief to see one come crashing down through the
The first extraction chopper eased down between the gunships and lifted
out with two guys in it. This was an all-Viet patrol and had only five
men. One was wounded and they had his gear strapped to the extra seat, so
they didn't hang together. The extraction chopper lifted straight up
for altitude with all the power it
around underneath. It must have been
an uncomfortable ride for them since
An early Roadrunner, member of all-Vietnamese teams in Project Delta which
ran trails in VC and NVA uniforms. He carries Swedish "K" under his shirt
and a grenade in the gourd. Roadrunners' modus operand! was to report in
to VC unit, wait for meeting of command group, sidle up and waste
everybody, then dive into jungle. Program suffered from replacement
they couldn't link arms so that they would hang in a clump and
not be whirled around under the chopper. They were spinning like tops.
The next chopper settled in the slot and picked up the remaining three
guys. They lifted out again. It seemed to take an incredible length of
time, and all the while the gunships were circling and firing rockets.
Then the choppers lifted and climbed for altitude, and soon we were all
scooting for home in formation, the guys in the McGuire rigs streaming out
behind at a 45-degree angle, enjoying the breeze.
It took about 10 minutes for us to get away from Indian Country and set
down at a firebase of the 101st Airborne Division. The idea was to let the
guys in the McGuire rigs get out of them and into the choppers. The
McGuire rig, after all, is an emergency measure and something less than
As soon as we landed, a couple of gun-jeeps from the firebase roared up,
the sergeant in charge throwing out his bare belly through his flak jacket
and doing an up-front number, swinging his M16 at the end of his arms.
There were maybe six or seven troopers with him and they looked gross in
their shaggy crewcuts, coated with the red dirt of their bulldozed
firebase, white under the goggles which they shoved up on their foreheads
when they arrived.
The sergeant in charge got out of his jeep and started to walk
around real slow.
Chuck gave him a brief
we jumped back in the choppers and
lifted off without a word.
It must have made an interesting story when they got back to the firebase.
Three helicopters landed and five Vietnamese in NVA uniforms got out of
McGuire rigs and into the choppers. The choppers were manned and flown by
Americans in tiger suits carrying .38 revolvers instead of .45 automatics,
and then they were gone, and no one had ever heard of anything like that
before nor would again.
That night Allen asked me if I wanted to go back into the valley with his
reaction force, the 91st Airborne Ranger Battalion, the next day. The
idea was to blow up a bunch of the caches and get some further
identification on the Russian-made trucks that we'd found the week
before. I said sure.
The headquarters usually operated until some time between 10:30 and
midnight every day in the field, and then knocked off until seven the next
morning, except for the duty officer and NCO. There was a movie outside
for the off-duty recon teams and chopper crews, though. If enough of the
headquarters people wanted to see it, they showed it again in the briefing
room after everybody knocked off work. It meant staying up too late to get
enough sleep, but a little diversion was welcome.
'What is this shit?"
They decided to show the movie in the briefing room that night, and I
thought it might be a good idea to do something like that before going
into the field again. I had seen it before, but it was a good flick - Up
the Down Staircase. I thought a movie about the trials and tribulations of
a high-school teacher might be a welcome relief from all that machine-gun
I sat there enjoying it thoroughly, but after five minutes I started
watching Allen instead. As usual, he sat leaning forward in his seat, jaw
thrust forward, seeming to drain the images from the screen. As the show
progressed he became more and more restive.
"What is this shit?" he muttered. He took it for 12 minutes, then stood,
jaw more outthrust than usual, muttered something that sounded like, "Buncha
goddamned shit," and rolled out of the briefing room.
They had shown A Fistful of Dollars the night before, and he'd liked that
I stayed another half hour and then went to get some sleep. Big day
continued in Part II