VIP Visits Cai Cai (Detachment A-412

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By Richard H Dick James

55 years ago today, 11 March 1966, I was a SGT E-5 assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in South Vietnam. I was assigned as the Demolition Specialist at Cai Cai (Detachment A-412), near the Cambodian border in the Mekong Delta. VIP were rumored to be coming to our camp on the 12th. One of our patrols was involved in a firefight on the 11th. A VC was KIA, and some of his equipment was brought back to camp. He was apparently on a mine-laying mission, because the captured equipment included two VC toe-popper mines, and a VC and an American M-26 hand grenade. Additional equipment included a web belt, canteen with cup and cover, and canvas bag attached to the web gear. Imagine our surprise when the VIPs actually arrived on the 12th, GEN William C. Westmoreland (COMUSMACV – Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam), U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and a famous guest. Before their arrival, we all dressed in our cleanest U.S. Army-issue jungle fatigues, with berets. We lined up, at attention, as the VIP’s approached. General Westmoreland first spoke to Captain Donker, then walked down our line, talking to each of us, and shaking our hands. When Westy came to SGT Conard, he recognized him. Conard had been a driver for General Westmoreland, when he was the commander of the 187th Regimental Combat Team. Apparently Conard had a reputation for being in trouble, being busted in rank several times. Westy’s first remark had to do with being happy to see that Conard was an NCO, apparently not having gotten into trouble recently. I always thought Conard was a little old to be a mere sergeant, especially as knowledgeable and good at his job that he was. He was a great weapons man, knowing mortars inside and out. The guest was none other than Archie Moore (a champion boxer). Archie won our hearts when he came into our team house with a couple gallons of still frozen Foremost ICE CREAM. Wow, did we ever feast! Ice cream was non-existent in the boonies. He sure knew how to win us over. He visited with us for about an hour, while we hungrily devoured the ice cream, before it had a chance to melt in the heat. Most of our supplies were delivered by Army de Havilland CV-2 Caribous (and Huey helicopters during the rainy season), with an occasional Air Force C-123 dropping in. The Caribou was perfect for operating in Vietnam. It was a STOL (short takeoff and landing) aircraft, perfect for the unimproved landing strips at most of the Special Forces camps in South Vietnam. The C-123s always stayed on the ground as short a time as possible, sometimes even dropping our supplies by parachute, rather than land on our airstrip. Occasionally Caribous and C-130s made LOLEX deliveries. The LOLEX (Low Level Extraction), later known as a LAPES (Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System), was a tactical military delivery system whereby a fixed wing aircraft deposited supplies, when landing was not possible or practical, in an area too small to accurately parachute supplies from high altitude. It was developed in 1964. The LOLEX operation involved packing supplies on a special pallet on an aircraft. Upon time to make the delivery, the plane opened the rear cargo door, lowering the ramp, and descended to the release altitude (a few yards above the ground), flying low and slow, much of the time with landing gear lowered. When the aircraft reached the desired release point, the braking parachute for the load was released. The braking parachute pulled the load from the aircraft and onto the ground. Cushioning for the load was the pallet and the material between the pallet and the load Once delivered, the aircraft climbed to altitude, and returned to base. The LOLEX enabled the aircraft to quickly deploy large loads quickly, instead of having to land and take off, which exposed the aircraft to the dangers of enemy fire. The system also allowed the delivery of loads that were too heavy for a parachute drop. However, the procedure allowed for no margin of pilot error and the danger of an airplane crash was increased. The pallet would (hopefully) slide along the runway and we would rush to unload and remove the supplies while the aircraft would circle, preparing for the next drop. Clearing the runway of supplies quickly was of paramount importance. The aircraft did not want to remain in the air long due to the danger of ground fire downing the aircraft. There were instances of aircraft being fired upon at Cai Cai. The Caribous that flew to our camp were from a unit that called itself “Delta Airlines.” The name, of course, came from the fact that they flew in the Mekong Delta region, but also because it was a great play of words on the U.S. airline of the same name. The aircraft was painted with a blue oval on the vertical stabilizer (tail) with “Delta Airlines” inside the oval. Some of their aircraft also had “Fly Delta” stickers from the real Delta Airlines. Another Caribou unit called themselves “Tiger Lines,” with a tiger painted on the tail. That unit didn’t fly into our camp. From Book #3, of my four-book set of “SLURP SENDS!” Books #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”). # 2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret In Vietnam Book 3”) and #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences In Vietnam Book 4”) are all available on Amazon, or from me.PHOTOS: Captured VC equipment / One of the boxes of ice cream held by a teammate / GEN Westmoreland shaking my hand, with Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge standing behind him / CV-2 “Caribou” making a LOLEX delivery (my photos)SLURP SENDS!

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