minutes. He'd go over and stay with them for three, four or five days, and
at the end of that time, if they thought he might be a good joe, they'd
say, 'Okay, sir, we'd like to have him.' That's after I, the CO, had said,
'Hey, I wanna take this guy and put him in recon.'
"And if they didn't want him I'd back them up.
"You remember Doc Simpson, my recon leader. I had a lot of faith in Doc,
and if he said, 'Everybody else thinks this guy is good, but I really
don't think he's gonna make it,' he wouldn't take him. If I thought he was
good, I'd assign him somewhere else in Delta. I'd send him over to the
Rangers or put him in Roadrunners or something like that."
I lifted an eyebrow. "Was recon pretty much the elite within the elite
within the elite?"
Allen nodded. "Yeah. It was almost the reason for Delta's existence."
"I didn't hang out with those guys too much," I admitted. "They knew I was
going to write them up, and a lot of them didn't want that."
"Well," Allen replied, "you know, to go out and be dropped into an area
that someone has selected as the hottest he can put you into is bad enough
by itself, but then to have to live through whatever the outcome is of
your time on the ground and get out successfully and say, 'Hey, I've got a
recon mission under my belt, and it was a hot one,' that's something to be
proud of. It was not like the Korean War, going on a patrol overnight with
35 other guys and maybe you make contact and maybe not. It was a whole lot
different, because you were completely cut off and isolated from
everything, from any type of support, particularly during the hours of
darkness. Because then your support just wasn't there.
"So the fact that you had a successful one under your belt made you one of
the boys. And the more you got, the prouder you got — and the more
clannish you became. The most successful and best people were a real weird
breed. They were loners, usually, though among themselves they'd be very
clannish and close. But around someone else who had never been on a recon
patrol, they were complete loners, almost to the point of having a complex
about it, whether it was a good one or a bad one."
"Yeah," I said. "Nobody (because I
asked around), nobody let a strap-
hanger go on a recon, because if there'd have been one I'd have been him."
"Yeah," he nodded earnestly, "you can't do it. You just can't. There're
too many immediate action drills and procedures that they know from
working closely together. Just the wink of an eye, or maybe two winks,
means to do something; a straphanger out there would be completely lost.
The first thing you know, you're givin' him OJT in the field."
We talked for a while about Delta recon training. I asked if Delta had
used the Recondo School. No, their training was different.
"How was it different?" I asked.
"Well, for one thing, in Delta, if you got assigned and were okayed to go
to recon, then those were the people you trained with."
"Did the teams have control over their own training?" I asked.
"No, it was closely monitored by my staff. When we had training, we had
training. There was no leeway in it. It was very disciplined, and it
followed lesson plans, and all the lesson plans were revised to include
subjects that were learned in the field from previous recon experience.
"And when they finished, the guys on the team all knew the same thing. If
a new man joined the team and he had to be trained, then they all went
through it with him, whether they had been through it 10 times or one
time, which means that the recipient of the training was getting the
advantage of that training plus the experience of the other guys in the
team who had had that training and put it to use in the field."
"So instead of one instructor for 10 guys, it worked the other way."
"Right! Everybody was working to train that one man, but they also were
going through it themselves. That's the concept we used and it seemed to
Then we got into operational aspects.
"This is what I considered a perfect recon team mission," Allen said. He
started to grin. His grin is kind of lopsided; he has a chipped tooth and
his eyes glitter. "We had information that NVA were moving down. We had a
pretty hot area where we had just pulled that Blackjack Operation [30-day
mobile guerrilla-force operation in NVA territory, conducted by the II
Corps Mike Force]. You remember Clyde Sincere [II Corps Mike Force
commander]? He had that operation that caught a short bomb and his Montagnard troops got spooked — bad Buddha. They turned on the Americans
and we had to pull 'em out. There was no question that there
lot of people out there in the bushes. So we put in a recon team
with three Americans and four Vietnamese."
"Why three Americans — didn't you usually use two?"
"Well," he replied, "we liked to use three. Using two Americans is tough
because if one got hit we only had one to carry him out. We couldn't, in
all cases, expect to get that kind of cooperation out of our brothers over
there. They'd take care of themselves, but if an American got hit, they
wouldn't worry too much about it. With the three-man team, if one guy got
hit, you'd have two Americans to care for him and carry him out.
"So we picked an area that we knew was a natural route — by route I mean
sloping ground: not open territory, but along a stream bed or an old road
or something. It was part of what everybody called the Ho Chi Minh Trail,
which was probably 50 miles wide. People think it was a little concrete
walkway through the woods.
"We picked this area because intelligence indicated that there were
good-sized units coming in there. I had some that specifically pinpointed
that area. We used the normal team procedure: went in at last light, and
put the team in. They moved a hundred yards or so that night, into a deep
bamboo thicket, and dug in to bed down for the night.
"At first light, the team leader called in and gave us his location so we
knew exactly where he was. And about that time he heard a lot of voices.
He sent one of the guys to peek out of this bamboo grove and, there, not a
hundred yards away, across this little stream and under the trees, was
what looked to be a battalion, weapons all neatly stacked, and they're
getting up and starting their little fires to cook their rice.