"Yeah, Merriman. Siugzda was on the radio and
Merriman was there with them. A chopper came in to pick up the
next-to-the-last load. Just before it came in, Coffey got hit in the back
of the neck with an AK round. It tore his jaw completely off — everything
was gone, just a big gaping hole here." Chuck made a motion with his hand
that swept his jaw away.
"The ship came in and settled down. Then, about the time the troops were
loading into the ship, Charlie stood up about 20 yards away with an AK
leveled down on the pilot, but before he could fire, Coffey saw him.
Coffey was all — you know — field packs and dressings around his head and
everything. But he grabbed his weapon and sat up and shot the guy dead.
Maj. Chuck Allen (pointing to map) and SFC Gary Stedman of Delta
Project brief Lt. Gen. William B. Rosson, Commander First Field Force, and
Maj. Gen. Bassanti, 101st Airborne Division Commander, on plans for Delta
"Okay, that ship got out. Every ship that went in
and came out of that LZ that day came out with holes in it — many holes.
We lost two or three of them that day. We got the crews all out, but we
lost the ships.
"I think that was the last slick we had available, so we had to wait for
a couple more to come back before we could get the last crew out. All this
time we had gunsnips working the perimeters of the LZ, and of course we
had air strikes going in as they became available, and FACs to direct them
in. All this time Coffey is directing air strikes, by pad.
"And Siugzda was talking to me. I was concerned about Coffey, because
we'd been close. Needless to say, we didn't get any ships back. The LZ
started getting a lot hotter and there were only about four or five of them left on the
ground. So we went in and picked them up on the C-and-C
ship. Took a couple holes in it as I recall."
Allen looked pained, telling me this part; he didn't want to be building
himself up as a hero. He wanted to tell me how great his guys were, so I
mentally multiplied his "couple holes" by a factor of about 30. "It was a
normal thing that happens. If it doesn't hit anybody, fine. It's no big
thing." He shrugged.
"Well, we got Coffey in and back over to Da Nang to the hospital. This
was when I learned about him shooting that NVA. So I told him I was
awarding him an interim Silver Star on the spot. And I told him that I
would personally guarantee that he got that or higher. We landed on the
chopper pad at the hospital in Da Nang.
"The doctor on the C team there was a very dedicated Green Beret. They
got Coffey onto a stretcher, but by the time they got him into the room he
"I think he may have died in the chopper, lying across my lap.
"That was one time I made an award that I really wasn't authorized to.
"I subsequently found out, within 20 minutes or so, that when they
checked Coffey, they found he'd been shot in the back: it went directly
through the heart and came out the front. There was a hole in his chest
you could put your fist in. But only the guys on the ground had noticed
that, because it looked like the blood and stuff from his chin had dripped
down. The doctor told me he just couldn't understand or explain how in the
world Coffey could have lived as long as he did.
"And apparently this shot through the heart was from the same burst as
the one that hit him in the neck and took his jaw off, because there were
no other times he could have been hit."
That was when the hair raised on the back of my neck. Because that doctor
was right — there was no physical way the man could have survived. He did
that on spirit. General Cushman called it the Ether Zone, but he just as
well could have said the Twilight Zone.
"We subsequently put Coffey in for the Medal of Honor, because the fact
was that he'd taken two rounds, either one of which was a fatal wound. I
think the final award that he got was the DSC, posthumous DSC. We
re-submitted for consideration, but it never came.
"Because of the repercussions over that one, I decided that, by god, when
someone did something I thought was of value, I'd award them on the spot."
"How about unit awards?"
"The Marines were fairly instrumental in
giving Delta some credit that was due." "What all did you
get?" "We got two Presidential units, an Army meritorious, the Army
valorous unit award and the Navy valorous unit award, a Marine-initiated
thing. We got the Vietnamese unit award, Cross of Gallantry with palm. We
got two of those, and whatever else. I don't know. There were a bunch of
them. They were all earned, I guess."
"I would say so." "I think Delta was probably one of the most decorated
units in Vietnam, as opposed to all the unit decorations the 1st Cav
Division got." "Yeah, but Delta wasn't comparable to anything else; it was
just itself," I said. "You can't say it was a battalion-size unit. It
doesn't really relate to the Special Forces team concept."
"The problem with being completely different is that sometimes decisions
about deployment are made by staff people who can't think past the end of
their SOP. And Delta ran into problems like that on more than one
"Just before I came home, they were having trouble in Saigon. The NVA
took over the racetrack and were getting into downtown Saigon at night.
"This was much later than Tet. It's that other campaign they conducted
down there. Someone at 5th Group got the idea that recon teams would be
great in house-to-house fighting."
"Say what?" "You heard me right. And Ken Nauman went down as task force
commander because he was going to be the XO of Delta. Bob Mays was to be
commander. He took over from me.
"They went down and camped at the racetrack outside of Saigon, and
proceeded to have five or six Vietnamese teams wasted immediately, in
downtown house-to-house fighting. It was really sad. Fact is, they lost
three or four Americans in that operation down there. It was really bad. I
sat there in our compound for four or five days waiting for our flight,
reading the Op reports at night. And goddamn, I just cried. I couldn't
believe it. They lost these Americans in the first three or four days down
there. It was a damn shame.
"I don't know who made the decision .... It was just a misuse. I don't
know how long they stayed there. I went home broken hearted, you know." He
grinned sardonically when he said it, the old Chuck Allen grin. He didn't
look broken hearted; he looked like a man who has accomplished his
mission. He looked triumphant, as always.