SHANE SOLDATO


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 pressed fatigues.

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 Roman Legions.

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.
 

HOME