Project Delta, Special Forces Detachment B-52, one of the most highly
decorated units of its size in the Vietnam war, was organized in early
1965 under the code name, "Leapin' Lena." At first it used only indigenous
troops, but within six months American advisers started accompanying the
The project achieved its highest degree of perfection in 1967-68 under
Maj. (later Lt. Col.) Chuck Allen, the man Gen. William C. Westmoreland
called "Big 'Un." Under Allen and subsequently, 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 — only six of whom
were usually deployed at a time. The headquarters was SF Det B-52.
Nominally the project was commanded by a Viet lieutenant colonel with
Allen as his adviser.
Project Delta 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."
At about the time of the Tet offensive, author Morris, a PIO officer, met
some of the officers from Project Delta and was able to go along on an
extraction operation with Allen and Capt. Bill Larabee, Allen's operations
On their return from this mission, Allen asked Morris if he wanted to
return the next day with the reaction force, the 91st Airborne Ranger
Battalion. Morris agreed, not knowing what the next 48 hours would bring.
After helicopter insertion, the reaction force came under B-40 rocket
fire. Capt. Ken Nauman called in air support and two flights of F-105s
dropped bombs and napalm on enemy positions. Charlie was silent until
another wave of choppers brought in fresh Army and Marine troops.
Four choppers were downed and the contact lasted
until dark. Allied
casualties mounted, and Morris was badly wounded in the right arm.
In the morning, the reaction force learned from an enemy prisoner that
they had been engaged by two companies of NVA troops and that an NVA
battalion was on its way. Nauman called in another air strike, after which
the men, carrying the dead and wounded, moved out to another LZ. They were
extracted in late afternoon. When Morris saw Chuck Allen's C&C (Command &
Control) helicopter, he said, "I knew we were going to be all right."
In 1980, the author travelled to Fay-etteville, N.C., to interview Allen,
now retired from the Army and in the printing business. His interview
concludes this three-part series.
Drive And Dedication As
A Soldier Or Civilian
LT. Col. Charles A. Allen, former commander of SF
Det B-52 (Project Delta), is a huge man, weighing more than 250 pounds,
though not at all fat. He also differs from the stereotyped career
officer. To begin with, he was a draftee.
He wasn't exactly dodging the draft; he was just a young man drifting
around after leaving school, having a good time, playing a little semi-pro
football here, bouncing in bars there.
One day, when he was bouncing in a bar in Florida, a gentleman from the
government showed up and asked if he'd gotten much mail lately. The guy
wasn't from the quality-control division of the Post Office. He was from
the FBI, and the letter he was referring to began, "Greetings.. ."
So off Allen went. He never
back. His military career encountered a hitch when he coldcocked the chief
of staff of the 82nd Airborne Division in the commanding general's office.
They were putting the pressure on him to play football, but he insisted
that he was in the Army to soldier; there was no MOS for a football
player. After making this point several times, he decided to leave; the
colonel showed poor judgment and placed his hand on Allen's chest to
restrain him. Not a good move.
That kept him a captain for 12 years. If he hadn't done that, he probably
would have retired a full colonel. If he had gone to college, he probably
would have retired a general. As it is, all he did was command a unit good
enough to take its place in history alongside the Knights of the Round
Table and Robin Hood's merry men.
We met late in the evening at his print shop, amid layouts of city
magazines and weekly newspapers. But those displayed on the walls were
covers for Drop, the magazine of the Special Forces Decade Association.
Allen has always worked late hours, and he has attacked civilian life with
the same drive and dedication he brought to war. As always, there was a
big pot of coffee, and we started talking about the Project.
"I used to love hanging around with you guys," I said, "because everybody
down there seemed to know exactly what he was doing. It was the greatest
collection of brains, class and talent I ever saw in one place at one
Allen took a sip of coffee and smiled. "Well, nobody got assigned to
Delta; they were assigned for interview. And it was maybe an unfair
screening process we went through. Migod, by the time a man reported to me
for interview, he'd been screened five or six times — within Delta.
"And then if I accepted the guy into the unit, recon would screen him.
And I don't mean they'd talk to him