NOTE: This extraction of a Project Delta Road Runner Team by 101st Abn Div aviation elements, while it concluded successfully, illustrates the necessity for organic assets for a unit like Project Delta. This same story was repeated over and over with different consequences during the history of Project Delta, even after commanders pleaded for and got aviation assets assigned. This was due in part because more was ask of the Project, which sometimes required committing all the assigned assets. In those instances, Delta would ask for, and always got help from the supported unit.

The following comments were extracted from PAGE 9 LANCERS VOLUME 1, ISSUE 2 and used here with permission.


I had only been an Aircraft Commander (AC) for a few short weeks, with very little time under fire, when I had to go to Mai Loc as the replacement for Gene Miller. The loss of Gene and his entire crew weighed heavily on everyone, and there was no way I could ever replace such a revered officer. I was just another pilot to fill the roster.

Anyway, Project Delta was still pretty much of a mystery to me. The Lancers had only been on this assignment for a few days, and already we had heard some frightening war stories through the grapevine. To be honest; I was kinda scared, especially since I was so inexperienced.

I landed at Mai Loc and went to the operations tent. Everyone was still very subdued because of Miller. I was given a short briefing about the Area of Operation (AO), and told that since I was new, I would be the "chase bird". This meant that most likely I would just get to watch how the hole bird made an insertion, or extracted a squad. They left out a couple of pretty important details in my briefing, though.

The hole bird would have a hoist so that the packs could be brought up out of the elephant grass west of Khe Sanh. For all Project Delta missions, the C&C, the hole bird, and the chase bird would fly in a delta formation at about 4500 feet. As the LZ or Pick up Zone was identified, the hole bird would do a high overhead approach to the pick up spot. No smoke was to be used--only panels in a precise formation for each group of personnel to be extracted.

Well, what was to be my day of orientation and briefing was suddenly ended by a siren. Man, I really got a chill when everyone became so animated. (My stomach still reels when I hear a siren). I was told to join the other two aircraft as the chase bird and take off. We would get the coordinates and sitrep en route.

When I got to my aircraft, the hoist had been put on my bird! I protested, "I have not done a high overhead since flight school, and had no idea what to do on such a mission. Someone else who had already been there should fly my aircraft, or they could just put the damn hoist somewhere else." My protests did no good, and now I was to be the Hole bird. The only concession, was to give me Keith Boyd as my right seat. He had been there for all five of the previous days with Project Delta.

As we flew west over the mountain range, we were told over the KY28 scrambled frequency, that a team was under heavy contact, and was attempting to escape an estimated company size unit of NVA. I cut a couple of button holes right then. We flew over the abandoned base of Khe Sanh, and continued on west toward Laos. Finally, from almost directly overhead, we saw the panels. I had to trust the C&C that this was indeed the correct alignment. He responded affirmatively, but added, "If there are six instead of five, kill them all". Another buttonhole.

I made the high overhead as best I could and the C&C directed me to the Pickup Zone. We came to a hover in what must have been 25 feet of elephant grass. As I focused on the horizon to maintain a stable hover, I could see the edge of what I later learned was an old French prison that once housed Ho Chi Minh. To my left was the river separating Laos from South Vietnam.

It was loud and chaotic coming in for the pick up. But I could hear the ladder going out, instead of the hoist, in spite of the gun fire. The team climbed aboard amidst quite a bit of ground fire. Finally, I heard the CE shout something. I guess he said "We're up" but with all the noise and confusion, it was not a clear intercom transmission. I glanced sideways and almost shit right there. The people we had picked up were Asian, and they were dressed in NVA uniforms, complete with AK 47's and pith helmets. I thought "My God! We've picked up the bad guys".

My first thought was to take the aircraft into a cliff just across the river, because there was no way that I was going to go to the Hanoi Hilton like this. But then, Keith must have noticed my hyperventilation and explained to me that these were Chinese mercenaries. When they were inserted, they wore ARVN uniforms which were stripped off once they were on the ground. Their mission was to mix and mingle with the NVA and gather intelligence. Obviously, it didn't always work. I just wish someone would have told me what to expect when I made this pickup,

After the stress of losing a complete crew of Lancers the day before, my fright at this totally unexpected group of packs, did provide some comic relief. It still isn't quite as humorous to me as it was to the rest of the guys. I can still hear Eddie Hester's comments, and remember Felisberto keying his mike just so we could hear him laugh. Sometimes, it didn't take much for us to find something to laugh at, almost to the point of tears. I guess that was a way of dealing with the stress. Stupid story, I guess, But I finally did learn how to do overhead approaches.

In spite of the danger of these missions, this was truly heady stuff for those of us participating. We actually felt like we were taking an offensive role.

Bill Walker 17
 

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