by Jim Tolbert
I was having coffee in the 5th Special Forces
Group mess hall at Nha Trang one morning in the spring of 1970. I was at Group
Headquarters to put together a Political Warfare team of musicians for the
purpose of supporting/entertaining personnel at the outlying SF camps. LTC
Merrick had dreamed this one up, and chose me to make it happen. I had
just found a base player for the team, a leg clerk who worked in
personnel, and was waiting for him to show up for interview. As I drank my
coffee, I wondered if he would bring his instrument to the mess hall.
Nothing would surprise me, but I hoped he wouldn't.
The only other individual having coffee at that time was a young Major. I
had watched him come in, and he was now filling up his cup at the urn. It
had been Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 82nd Airborne Division since I
had seen fatigues with that much starch in them. "And where the hell did
he get all those patches", I thought. From the Ranger Tab on his shoulder
to the Pathfinder patch on his pocket, he had about every qualifying badge
and/or patch the Army awards, and had them all on his freshly starched and
In a land of crinkled tiger stripes and sterile fatigues, You couldn't
help but notice this guy. Even at the head shed, where they wore a patch
or two, and had started using starch, he stood out. If his cardboard
uniform didn't grab you, then all those multi colored patches would. Then
too, that uniform stuck to his 150 pound Italian-American frame like he was poured
into it. He got his coffee and strutted toward the table. I was about to
meet Shane Soldato, the new commander of Project Delta.
The major didn't bother to introduce himself, nobody ever did. Hell, we
wore our name over the pocket so why bother. However, he did tell me who
he was and where he was going after he sat down. For a paratrooper he was
impressive, and could have been the model for an airborne recruiting
poster. I wondered how he would fit in here. Watching him brought back
memories of the old days with the 82nd.
"You're from Delta Project", he said. How the hell did he know that? "Not
any more", I answered. "I'm with HHC now, but I did spend some time with
Delta. I got there when Asenti was the commander, and left after we got a
puke from MACV". "I'm going down there now, and take over from him", he
said, "what can you tell me about the unit"?
We had what I thought was a short talk until I noticed the troops
filtering in for lunch. I had unloaded on him by that time, and if I do
say so myself, did a good job with my briefing. I told him about the
mission and how Delta had evolved from the early days. How she used to
deploy with two C-130 aircraft, and now took 56 plus sorties to move. I
mentioned all the refrigerators, fans, tape decks and other comfort items
that went on every operation. Of course, I talked about operational
capabilities and methodology too, even made some suggestions, but mostly I
talked about people things. Like that asshole Moore, who was down there
now getting his ticket punched while he fucked things up. The Major
listened with great interest, as if I were Josephus, briefing him on the
I never saw him again after that morning, and he never finished his tour
in Vietnam. Shane Soldato was killed two months into his assignment when
the C&C ship came under fire, and was taken out. He was the last Delta
Commander to conduct combat operations there. Two months after he was
killed, Delta Project was deactivated.
The leg guitar player never showed up for the interview but, we hired him
anyway. LTC Merrick's medicine show was a success, went on to tour most
all the camps, and received favorable mention in the Green Beret magazine.
SSG Dalton Kast, who was Lead Country Singer for the band, told me later
that he received more medals for picking and grinning than for all his
service with SF. Strange War.