By Richard H. Dick James
53 years ago, July 1967, I was a Staff Sergeant Radio Operator at Detachment B-42 (Chau Doc), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the northwestern Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam. I was on my 6-month voluntary extension in Vietnam. I had been assigned there after we turned Vinh Gia (A-422) over to the LLDB, since I had very little time remaining in country (about 2 months).
The Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam was a whole different ball of wax than the remainder of South Vietnam. The most encouraging estimates claimed a mere 25% of the region being under the control of the allies. It was far worse along the Cambodian border, and especially in the Seven Mountains region. More than half of the region’s hamlets were not under government control. Even those under government control were apt to be subject to attack and/or harassment. That was especially true during the hours of darkness.
During my time at Chau Doc I had occasion to see a “Spooky” (it’s call sign on the radio), aka “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” in action. They were World War II C-47 air transports (reclassified as AC-47), also called “Gooney Birds,” that had been converted into very deadly aerial gun platforms. They had three side-firing 7.62-mm Gatling miniguns on the left side. Those guns could each fire either 3,000 or 6,000 rounds per minute. They were nicknamed “Puff, the Magic Dragon” (sometimes shortened to “Puff”) because the visible stream of fire caused by the tracer rounds (every 5th round was a tracer) looked like a mythical dragon’s fire breath. The enemy called them “Dragon ships.” They sounded like very loud “chainsaws” when in action.
The Gatling guns were capable of delivering a bullet in every square foot of an area the size of a football field, within a minute. The usual pattern for “Spooky” was to fly in a left-hand circle, banked 30°, at about 3,000 feet above the ground, and at 120 knots (about 140 mph) airspeed.
When I saw the display to the north of the B-team that night, my first thought was to be thankful I was on our side, and not the enemy underneath that deadly rain of fire. It was a scary thought. Each “Spooky” also carried 45 flares as a basic load, making it possible to light up a battlefield.
That place was driving me crazy! I didn’t like being assigned to Chau Doc. There couldn’t be a much more boring job in Special Forces. My job resulted in me being in a bunker, with no damn windows to see out, and pretty much protected during any attack. There were also no patrols that I could volunteer to accompany.
I felt tied down, with no chance of seeing any action. I hadn’t volunteered to go to Vietnam to sit on my ass in some dark bunker, talking to people I couldn’t even see. I had come to make a difference and get even. When I had come over, it had been to get even for the execution of Bennett. I had two more reasons to get even. Those were the deaths of CPT Donker at Cai Cai, and SGT Stannard at Giang Thanh, both at about the same time, the year before.
I requested an R&R in Kuala Lampur, figuring that, with my time in country, I would be at the head of the list. Not! It figures that they would give me Singapore. I had no wish to go to Singapore, so I refused my R&R, meaning I did not take a single authorized out-of-country R&R during my year and a half in Nam, even though I was authorized two. At the A-Teams each man usually had his own “bedroom.” At the B-Team I shared a room with 4 others. There was no desk or chair in the room, just the bunks.
When I wasn’t working or sleeping, I could usually be found in the detachment bar. When enough of us would congregate we would play a game of dice. We would take turns rolling five dice. The person who rolled the seventh ace would name the drink. The named drink would usually never actually have a given name. It was usually a shot of at least six different alcoholic beverages. The man who rolled the fourteenth ace would pay for the drink. The poor soul who rolled the twenty-first ace had to drink the concoction. That was usually the last drink of the evening for that man.
While assigned to the B-team the only combat I was involved in was on the volleyball court. The enlisted men would usually play against the officers, using combat rules, aka anything goes. Anything goes included arms being permitted to touch the net, in fact our arms usually slammed the top of the net while spiking the ball over the net. If the arm or fist happened to hit the person on the other side of the net, oh well! At the B-Team, we had far more injuries from volleyball, than from combat.
I became totally fed up with the day-to-day boredom of B-team life. I begged, and begged, and begged, to go to an A-team. I needed action and the active life of an A-team. Thankfully, my CO from Vinh Gia, CPT Morris, who was the Operations Officer (S-3) at the B-team, as well as my former Vinh Gia Executive Officer, who was then the XO at Ba Xoai, 1LT Tomlinson, recommended I be assigned to Ba Xoai as their Demolition Sergeant and Heavy Weapons Leader. I jumped at the opportunity.
From my soon to come out, book #4 (SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4), of my four-book set of SLURP SENDS! Book #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”) & #2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”) are already available on Amazon, and #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”) is also soon to come.
PHOTOS: “Spooky,” aka “Puff the Magic Dragon air support (Internet photos)