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
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
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
Bill Walker 17