|“As it started to get light, I saw what appeared to be movement behind a fallen tree. A semi-bald head was moving a little then stopped. I aimed my CAR-15 at the head, then made a noise. Noel looked up. I was happy to see him. I jumped over to his position, then to my surprise I saw his rucksack blown to pieces, and his pants were burnt off from the buttocks to his boots. He was in semishock, and his color was dead gray. He asked me how he looked, and I responded not bad considering we were both on the ground alive and separated from the others. Noel was bleeding. I
took my shirt off and wrapped it around his butt, sort of like a diaper to stop the bleeding. When the sun came up, I heard the sound of our COVEY. It was Sergeant First Class Dave Chaney flying out of Quang Tri, CCN’s Mobile Launch Team 2. I grabbed my survival radio and came up on the radio. I gave him our situation, explaining that Noel was hurt bad, and needed an extraction.”
“We moved to an area away from the explosion, but Noel couldn’t move far. A few hours passed and the sound of helicopters coming up the valley could be heard. During that time I observed some movement about fifty feet away. I did not recognize it, but I believe it was Manes or Castillo, but we stayed hid. I directed the UH1-H to our location. The chase medic was Robert Woodham. He threw out a single string for Gast. With his injuries I knew that he could not be stabo rigged out without damage to his butt and legs. I waved my arms to throw another stabo. I hooked Noel in, and then myself. I let Noel ride over my shoulder to take up some of the pressure. We rode beneath the helicopter for about
twenty minutes. They set us down at a deserted fire base. Then we boarded the helicopter. Noel was in enormous pain. I was limping on my left side, hurt from the jump, or from Noel ridding on my shoulder during the flight to the fire base.”
Nearby, Manes had settled in a streambed. After hearing choppers come overhead at first light, he waited two more hours before breaking radio silence to contact Covey. Told that Gast and Trantanella had been extracted, Manes was asked if he wanted directions to link up with Castillo. Not wanting to attract more attention with orbiting aircraft, he opted to continue the mission independently, as trained. With the enemy apparently unaware of their presence, Manes and Castillo paralleled each other while observing enemy positions along the road for four more days before being extracted without incident.
Robert Castillo recounts the events leading up to and during the mission. The insertion took place during the early morning hours of 7 May 1971. “During the early evening of 6 May 1971, we moved from CCN to the Danang Air Base. At the base, we rested and checked our equipment and went over the plans for the last time. It was during this time that we realized we had not jumped the M-14 mine. Noel Gast elected to arm his by inserting the striker. The rest of us would arm them sometime after insertion. We were all carrying six mines. I put the mines in one side pocket of the jungle rucksack, and the strikers, wrapped in a sock, in the other side pocket. We chuted up near the tailgate of the C-
Guy Butler - www.butlerimage.co.uk
130E Blackbird, except for Captain Manes, because his main chute would not be ready for him until just before drop time. Once chuted up, we climbed aboard and took off in route to the DZ.” “On board the aircraft were Frank Norbury, the static jumpmaster, and a few other prominent onlookers. I believe the commander of SOG was on board too. Our assembly plan was to exit the aircraft in pairs and once at opening altitude, separate, open, and to assemble on Larry Manes by following him to the ground. To accomplish this we had SFC Frank Norbury sew a large Ranger Eye
Panel (illuminus tape) on the top of CPT Manes' main chute. The main parachute container was left open and the top of the main with the Ranger Eye panel was left exposed. The parachute was placed under the same type of tin container that new T-10 parachutes being delivered to the Army were packed. A hole was cut in the top of the tin container and a jeep headlight was fitted through it and a 12-volt car battery was used to power the jeep headlight. The headlight was switched on approximately 30 minutes out, thereby allowing time to fully charge the panel and to give CPT Manes
just enough time to chute up and exit before the panel began to lose its luminescent charge that we would need to see him clearly for assembly.”
“Tierra Spray was also used, which would last approximately 15 minutes before fading out. We sprayed our backs with this stuff just prior to exit. This would help to keep track of each other during the freefall. It didn't work that great. The Navy at China Lake ammo bunker complex stores what remains of the product. It has since been deemed a biohazard. John Trantanella knows all the details pertaining to the current status of that particular item.”
In this detail shot you can see the T-10 reserve chute (missing the metal handle at the moment) as well as the UZI SMG, which was supplied with a detachable silencer.
“The parachutes were OD T-10's with a 7-cell TU modification. Upon opening on the insertion, I thought I had holes in my chute, but upon closer inspection I realized that they had given me an old chute with white patches on it. I guess someone knew they weren't getting this chute back and didn't want to waste the newer chutes.”
An emergency let-down device was attached to the back of the main chute container, between the jumper and the main container. It was constructed of 100 feet of 1-inch tubular nylon s-folded in a thin flat container. Upon landing in the trees, the idea was to attach one end of the line to the risers and then thread the line through a snap link on the main lift web, and after all was secure, cut away from the main and rappel to safety.
“The jump took place at approximately one hour before daylight. The idea was in case someone became injured or the mission was compromised for some other reason, the Bright Light or MEDIVAC would not have to try and rescue us in the darkness. The last darkness infil would also leave us exposed to enemy pressure, for a minimal amount time before help could arrive.” “The C-130E was to fly a normal supply route and as we neared the DZ an OV-10 was to fly over
the intended DZ at a much lower altitude to positively identify the DZ. Once over the DZ and in radar range of the C-130E, the OV-10 pilot indicated that to the C-130E and they took a radar fix on the OV-10 and that data was entered into the aircraft’s calculations for the release.”
“Once over the DZ and a combination of a thumbs up from Frank Norbury and the green light, we exited and I got to watch Sergeant John Trantanella's smiling face for the next 70 seconds. His eyes were rather large and his moustache was blowing all over. During the freefall, we made a few slow turns, but by any standard, it was a controlled and stable fall. I was not able to keep CPT Manes and SP6 Gast in sight 100% of the time during the descent, but I had a fix on them, and after opening, began steering toward them. I believe we missed our intended opening and landing point by a good distance and thus opened up over terrain that was higher than we had expected. Therefore, we ran out of altitude before we could assemble under canopy. As I was steering toward the group, I noticed the ground coming up and realized I was over trees and turned to run down the tree line looking for some place to land. As I was heading down hill, I heard a very rapid set of explosions and figured that someone had landed in and among the bad guys. Shortly thereafter I ran out of altitude and suitable landing spots and went down through the trees and landed on the ground sloping downward. I got out of my parachute gear and took a quick check around, heard nothing, saw nothing. I then gathered up my chute and other gear that I would leave behind, stuffed it into the kit bag, shoved the bag under
some thick brush, and set out to attempt to find the others. I was not able to reach anybody on the radio and continued my slow and careful movement across slope in the general direction of where I last saw my teammates and had heard the explosion.”
Front view of our recreation of a SOG Halo team member prior to jumping, note the Tropical Rucksack worn beneath the T-10 Reserve Shoot. We would be interested to know exactly how this was attached the jumper if you have any information please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
“Daylight broke and I heard the Covey and helicopters, and finally began to realize what had happened. I could monitor the aircraft side of the conversations between my teammates and the aircraft. As I listened, I realized that Gast had landed on his rucksack and the M-14 mines had detonated causing major injury to his butt. Trantanella had landed close by and was able to aid and assist him, and was extracted with SP6 Gast shortly thereafter. I then heard Covey ask Manes if he could continue mission and he replied that he could. Covey then asked me if I could continue and I also said yes. We could each hear the Covey’s part of the conversation with the other, but we could not communicate directly with each other. I did not know then just how far apart we were from each other, but with all the commotion that had just taken place around where John and Gast had landed and been extracted from, I believe neither one of us wanted to go wandering anywhere near that area.”
For the next five days, Manes and Castillo continued on an area reconnaissance. Although they had no plan or training to continue the mission in the event they became separated, they did. The next five days were uneventful in that they were extracted in one piece. While Castillo came across vacated campsites, graves, trails and heard what sounded like units doing weapons training, he stayed in the brush, moved slowly and listened to every little sound very carefully. At night, he would climb in the nastiest thicket he could find and put his back to a tree, lay his CAR-15 against his shoulder and the 22 High-Standard silenced pistol across his lap, and hoped for the best. Staying awake was a real problem. During the middle of the third night, what Castillo believed to be a tiger, began to close in on his RON site. As he/she got closer and the snorting and sniffing was what Castillo judged to be just a few feet away from his own feet, he emptied his 22 High-Standard slowly but surely. At first, it seemed to keep coming and Castillo thought he was about to be a tiger meal, but as he continued to fire, it gave out a few loud snorts and thrashed about and took off. Castillo
reloaded and waited, but it never returned. It was so dark that he never got a look at it. Castillo said i was big and loud! You had to be there.
SOG considered this a successful mission and worth doing again. The key to success here was that the mission did not require that each and every man be present and operational in order to complete the mission. On the fifth day, Larry Manes and Robert Castillo were extracted and flown back to Quang Tri.
Once again, SOG considered the HALO mission a partial success and began planning a third freefall, again to be a four-man, All-American team. By this time, several important lessons had been learned. First, jumps should occur no more than two hours before daybreak; that way if a jumper was injured, he would have to wait only two hours before a helicopter extraction could be launched. Second, having team members operate alone was far more realistic than attempting to assemble on the ground.
The team discussing weapons tactics
As selection commenced for the third team, Staff Sergeant Andre Smith and 19 year old Sergeant Jesse Campbell (Babyson), both running recon in CCN, were quick to grab slots. Sergeant Madison Strohlein, who had operated in CCS and then came north to Danang when Ban MeThuot started scaling down in 1970, also landed a slot on the team. Heading them would be Billy Waugh, now serving as Sergeant Major for CCN’s recon company.
Assembled at Long Thanh, the four parachutists continued with night practice jumps into the Iron Triangle west of Long Thanh. On one of their final jumps, the team landed hard. Strohlein bruised his heal but elected to remain. Andre Smith, designated the assemblyman, seriously hurt his back and was forced to drop out. Sergeant First Class James Bath (Tub), who was straphanging with the team for the hell of it, was chosen by Waugh to replace Smith. James had multiple SOG tours. Declared mission ready, the team was given their target: easternmost Quang Nam Province, six
kilometers from the Laotian border. Earlier, Jim Bath had acquired aerial infrared imagery photographs of the target area from the U.S. Air Force. These photographs showed multiple hot spots (camp fires). SOG, told to investigate, had inserted a recon team, only to extract them 45 minutes later in the face of fierce enemy resistance. A second team was shot off their landing zone. In the hope that a HALO team would have a better chance of infiltrating undetected, Waugh’s men planned to attract minimal attention by staging from Danang aboard a C-130E that flew a supply
shuttle every night to Thailand. On their first planned insertion, however, bad weather was reported and the team did not board. For their second try, the team loaded into the plane and over flew the drop zone, only to have the jump aborted to heavy cloud cover.
After two false starts, the team stood down for a week and a half. Sergeant First Class Charles Wesley again found himself assigned to a team as stand-by jumper. “The adrenaline high that we experienced earlier,” recalled Bath, “was now starting to turn to doubt.” Bath told Wesley the day before the jump that he had a bad feeling about this one, and Wesley jokingly told Bath, “If you chicken out I’ll shoot you.” The four jumpers continued to prepare for a third attempt.
During the pre-dawn hours of 22 June1971, the team tried again. The C-130E took off and headed east over the Gulf of Tonkin for about 30 minutes, then turned back west towards Laos. While climbing to 19,500 feet Waugh looked at Wesley and said, “If you really want to be a bad ass you’ll jump anyway.” Wesley had a few choice words for Billy; he grinned and looked straight at Bath, again jokingly, pointed to his .22 cal high standard with silencer and smiled at Bath. As the C-130E neared the border at 19,500 feet they got the thumbs up from CPT Larry Manes, the static jumpmaster, an the green light to go. Bath, the low man, stepped into the void. Once clear of the slipstream, he keyed
the switch in his hand, turning on the Norden Light fixed to his pack tray. The other three fell above as they passed through a layer of rain clouds.
Side view of the parachute chute equied team member
As he came up on the right altitude to deploy his chute, Bath blinked his Norden Light to signal the rest of the team. When he pulled the ripcord, however, the combined shock from his bodyweight and heavy gear overstressed the main canopy, ripping out a panel as it opened and pulled out the wire leading to the second Norden Light sewn on top of the canopy near the apex.
Looking up, Bath could see the other jumpers drifting apart as they searched the sky for their assemblyman. Bath could do nothing; his damaged chute would not respond when he pulled the steering toggles. Falling fast, he debated whether he should deploy his reserve. Electing to stay with his main canopy, Bath slammed into a tree on the side of a steep ridge, wearing only jungle fatigues and a soft horse-skin HALO bunny helmet. (Smoke jumpers coveralls, used by SOG’s Airborne Studies Group until 1967, were no longer in the SOG inventory). Bath severely injured his left leg and
back. He also suffered cuts across his face. In his words, “I took out a metascope (night-vision device) and looked around. All I could see were green leaves, so I figured I was safe for the time. I then took out a small emergency radio (URC-10) and tried to raise the other team members. There was no answer from Waugh or Campbell, but Strohlein answered right away.” After the C-130E returned to Danang Air Base, Manes and Wesley went straight to the TOC at
CCN. There they heard Covey talking with different jumpers on the ground and new that something had gone wrong again.
Story Update: We have been contacted by Keith Messinger who was the Covey Rider the dayy Madison Shrohlein was lost, he told us "I was the Covey rider that pulled Billy Waugh and Bath out. Later I asked Strohlein to pop smoke as we could not get a fix on him. It was the resort as he could not place himself when we tried to fly over because of the number of assets in the area. He was getting quieter and quieter on the radio like he was hurt. The smoke drifted under the canopy and down the hill. We put a team in where the smoke came up but they were too far away under the conditions and we pulled them right out."
Separated from Bath by a small karst formation, Strohlein reported that he was suspended in a tree with a broken left arm. With this injury, he was unable to remove himself from his harness and slide to the ground with the nylon-lowering device they all carried.
Bath was able to give him his precise fix and a Huey darted in. Sergeant Lemuel McGlothren, the One-Zero of RT HABU and Sergeant Woodham (CCN Chase Medic) rappelled in on top of Bath to help
with his injuries and get him out. McGlothren’s CAR-15 was left in the Huey. As he was climbing out on the strut of the Huey, the sling broke and McGlothren rappelled without his weapon. Bath was extracted by STABO rig, then McGlothren and Woodham on the next Huey.
Strohlein, confused by the multitude of aircraft in the vicinity, had trouble relaying his exact location. One Huey would have located Strohlein, if the pilot hadn’t mistaken Strohlein’s pen-flair for a tracer round and turned away. Strohlein remained on the air until 1100 hours, then reported North Vietnamese moving in. After that, transmission ceased. Campbell, hiding in the thick underbrush, saw three NVA approaching, looked at the canopy hanging in the trees, then moved in the direction of the Huey that was trying to locate Strohlein. Campbell spent the rest of the time running and hiding from other NVA until he was extracted by STABO. Campbell recounts the events: “At 19,500 feet the tail ramp was lowered, all I could see was blowing rain and darkness. I figured it would again be aborted. Hell! The light went green and I waddled to the rear with the rest and fell off the ramp. After my exit, I could not get a visual on Bath and never saw anyone else.”
A photo of the MOD Longmore Training site
“At opening altitude I pulled my main and felt the opening shock and assumed my canopy was good, but could not see well enough to verify. I hung around until I crashed through the jungle canopy and stopped. Still pitch black, I was just hanging there; couldn’t see my own hands much less anything else. Through feel I hooked up the repelling line, released both risers and headed down. When I reached the end of the lowering line my feet still were not on the ground, so I hung there and listened for a bit. It was so dark and I didn’t want to hang around. Pucker factor was rising, so I cut the line and dropped ten or twenty feet to the ground.”
“After it got light enough to see I moved uphill until I heard voices and noise in the brush. I hid as three NVA passed above me in the direction of where my chute was in the trees. I don’t know who heard me whispering on the radio, I only know he was very perceptive and was trying to get me out. I could hear the helicopters and Covey aircraft, but could not see them. Then I saw a helicopter through the trees and I told Covey that the helicopter was off to my right and I was on the side of the hill. Covey told me that the helicopter could not drop the STABO there for me, and for me to move down
the hill to an opening in the trees. I ran down the hill to the open spot and was extracted by STABO. When I was sent home for discharge, I was told to forget all that we did and who I knew. So, I went home and adjusted to a normal life, if there is such a thing after that! Waugh called in numerous air strikes and was extracted the next day by orders from SOG.”
As McGlothren and Woodham were being extracted, the rest of RT HABU prepared for a rescue mission to locate Strohlein. The team consisted of Sergeant Nick Brokhausen (the teams One-One) and beefed up with Sergeants Dave Daugherty, Cooke, Wagy and Karczewski, along with two of their yards. The team inserted by ladder in tall elephant grass and began working their way off the LZ in the direction given them by Covey towards Strohlein’s location. As soon as the team cleared the LZ, they heard signal shots, which meant they were spotted by LZ watchers. The team had moved four hundred meters up the ridge when Covey informed them that they should be right on top of Strohlein.
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