Michael Stahl while Civil Affairs (S-5) NCO, C-1, "C" Co, Da Nang
We have been speaking to another SOG veteran Michael Stahl, who has agreed to do an interview for us. Michael's site can be found here, www.sfer-deoppressoliber.com/
Modern Forces: What made you join Special forces and then apply for SOG, did you know what it was before you joined?
Michael Stahl: RE: SF. I was big into skydiving and while going to language school (Arabic), I was very active in the Ft. Ord SPC. The Ft' Ord SF recruiter, SFC Mike McPherson joined the club and I trained him to skydive. Another of our members was SFC Vince Orme from the 1st. These two men really impressed me and I must have impressed them a bit. Mac really started pushing for me to volunteer and Vince gave me a second opinion. My brother fought with the 187th RCT in Korea and I enlisted (airborne infantry) at the age of 17 in response to the Cuban Missile crisis. What can I say, I wanted to be one of the best of the best. Most of the ideas I had about SF before meeting Mac and Vince turned out to be "urban" legend.
RE: SOG. My first tour in Nam was Aug 67 - Aug '68. I started on an A-team (A-102) and Co. "C" was just down the road from the C&C North (at that time) compound.. Although SOG was ultra top secret, need to know, eat after reading, most of us were aware that something really neat was going on. I requested to be reassigned from my A-team to C&C North. Instead, I was offered the S-5 NCO position on the C-team. It was really a cherry assignment that I couldn't pass up. I select few of us got to go to the C&C North bar, safe house and "R&R" center in DaNang (House 22, I think.) It was a good place to meet nice girls. The basics of SOG really opened up during those visits.
I wanted to go to Det "A" in Berlin so filled out my dream sheet for German language school thinking . . . Went to German language school from Nam, but when I graduated and got my orders, they were for Devens. Calle3d Mrs. A. and asked to go back to Nam. When I got to Nha Trang (knowing the ropes, so to speak), I asked for an assignment to CCN. 2nd tour, couple of decorations and combat experience sewed that up.
When I got to CCN, I requested to be assigned to recon. Was told, "Okay, but we are really hurting for an Intel Sgt on MLT-2 at Quang Tri. How about filling in there until we get you a replacement." I went to Quand Tri but I guess I did too good of a job as my repeated requests to run recon were met with excuse after excuse. I guess good pencil pushers were hard to find. Of course, I learned exactly what the whole thing was all about. I briefed/debriefed chopper crews and debriefed returning teams. There were no illusions left.
After constant nagging, I was pulled back to DaNang and given the same job but in the TOC. I was bribed with a promotion to E-7 (out of my MOS and time in service waived.) and finally, after a drastic measure on my part, I was sent to 1-0 school.
Modern Forces: Which teams did you run with and in what role?
Michael Stahl: First let me say that I had no business being a 1-0. When I got back from 1-0 school I was assigned as the 1-1 of RT Michigan. I did one insert where we got shot off the LZ (supposedly) and my 1-0, SFC John ???????, DEROSED. I became the 1-0 with no experience. My team were Bru but I never went in with the same Americans twice. I think now that Nam was winding down and the old proven traditions of SOG were eroding.
Michael Stahl while Civil Affairs (S-5) NCO, C-1, "C" Co, Da Nang
Modern Forces: What kept you and the other team members going over the fence knowing the odds were so stacked against the teams?
Michael Stahl: I think back now from the age of 65 and say to my self, "What the hell were you thinking?" I fought tooth and nail to get away from a desk job in an air conditioned office to get a job no one in there right mind would want. But I was a soldier (that was my identity) and Special Forces. That's what I signed up to do when I enlisted airborne infantry. We had a job to do, nothing more - nothing less. And it was an important job. Being young and stupid also probably had something to do with it. The military is also very good at brain washing. When a young man puts on a Marine uniform, a set of jump wings or a green beret, there's a lot of hidden baggage. And to be honest with you, I fought like hell to not run my last mission. I was about two weeks short.
Got to thinking about this. I grew up during the cold war (born in '45). McDill AFB (a SAC Base) was just across Tampa Bay ( a sure target) and B-52's used to fly over my house so low I was sure one would take out our TV (new) antenna. conalrad (sp?) was big with regular TV interruptions by the Emergency Broadcast thingy of TV programs. We had those drills in school where everyone would get down under their desks to practice for a Nuke attack. Bomb shelters were big. I was mad at my dad because he wouldn't build us one.
WWII was popular on TV. I remember Victory at Sea and there was a show that featured land warfare. There were also WWII series like Combat and anti-communism programs like I Led three Lives.I was very patriotic (We still did the pledge in school.) TV signed off with the National Anthem. If I was still awake, I'd jump out of bed and stand at attention. "Kill a commie for Christ" was more than a slogan for me. When I enlisted, I went down to Coral gables for induction. The streets were full of GIs in fatigues. I remember the Berlin Airlift and the Russian tanks in Hungary after we (the Company) encouraged them to revolt with promised but undelivered support.
I went into the army knowing I was putting my life on the line to fight communism. And can't speak for the others buit for me, I was the "fireman" running into the burning building that everyone else was running out of.
Modern Forces: Can you recall a mission that stands out?
Michael Stahl: I had so few missions, every one stands out in some way. I also have some complete memory gaps from Nam. I have no memory of ever eating a meal on the CCN compound. No idea where the chow hall was or what it looked like. I have no memory of where I bunked while I was working in the TOC. Not a clue. And I've found that some of my memories of which I was very sure were totally false. Memory is about 60% creative.
#1. I was sent with my Bru to the radio relay site, Leghorn "to get to know them." First day the OIC told me to run a security sweep around the perimeter. We were in the clouds which meant no air support. I respectfully declined pointing out the air support thing. Another new 1-0 was there and quickly volunteered to go out. It wasn't 2 hours later, he was on the radio screaming for help. His team had been "ambushed" and hit with "rocket fire." Then I had to go out. Have no idea how I found him. I remember walking point because I didn't want one of my bru walking up on an already spooked team.
When I got into the area there was a strange smell in the air and it wasn't cordite. It was ozone. They had been struck by lightning. There was one indig up in a tree with a broken leg. I got the team back together and called in a medivac. God smiled on us and a small, brief opening in the clouds allowed a ch-46 to drop a string to pull him out. The rest of us spent a long cold rainy night.
#2. One American from a team got extracted. The rest of the team was KIA/MIA. I was asked to go back in with the guy and see if we could recover any bodies. Now, this strikes me as a particularly stupid thing to do. There was no LZ in the area so we had to repel in. I leaped back off the skid and came to a jarring halt about 5 feet below the slick. I looked up and the crew chief was looking down (wondering, no doubt, what the hell I was doing.) Somehow the third wrap of my rope going through the snap link got wrapped over the second wrap. I beat on it with my fist a couple of times. I'm sure the chopper crew wanted tio get the heck out of there, but they didn't know what to do with me. What if they flew off and I then finished the repel? I learned the power of abrenalen that day. I had to lift my entire weight with my left arm and unsnarl the rope with my right hand. And I also found the value of all those airborne pull-ups. I guess I'm lucky we hadn't planned on staying as we to0ok no food and little water.
We looked around a little. The terrain was very steep and one area had a major rock slide. The guy from the other team was sure we were in the right place. He said the area had been hit heavy after he got out and the bombs probably caused the rock slide and covered the bodies. I saw no evidence of any contact what-so-ever. I don't know if he just had enough sense not to go right back to the same area or he got "lost."
The really weird thing is that I don't have any memory of how we were extracted. I was never extracted with ladders and only came out on strings once. We had to repel in so there was obviously no LZ nearby. It just another one of those things that churns in my mind during my nightly bouts with insomnia.
#3 Mission: find a reported weapons cache. LZ was very high and very steep. A Huey couldn't get in to it. So we got a marine CH-47. But the marines had these rule. A slick couldn't go into an unprepped LZ. "Prepping" entailed a couple of snakes fires flechette rockets into it. Don't know if you know but when The flechette rocket fires the flechettes out, it leaves a big puff of red smoke hanging in the air - right over the LZ. The CH-47 had to lowered it's ramp and backed into the LZ but couldn't get real close because of the rooters. When I jumped off the ramp I hit elephant grass and my feet went out from under me, putting me on my back. The ass end of the CH-47 was still swinging back and forth, to an fro as the rest of the team jumped off. between the weight of my gear and the rooter wash, I could not so much as role over. I watched several times with keen interest as the big double rear wheels on the right side of the chopper drifted a foot or so over my chest.
I knew from the neon sign insert it was going to be a hit and run. I took the least probable route possible away from the LZ. We went down a steep slope and up the next to a ridge line. We stopped for a breather and to listen. Our good fortune as a counter-recon team hit us while we were hunkered down instead of moving down the next slope. My first experience with a cartridge jammed in the chamber. Covey was still on station as were a couple of SPADS.
The bad guys were so close we could have thrown rocks at each other and we were under thick canopy. Used one of those little flare widgets to let Covey know where we were, but it didn't really look to good for us. Covey came up and said one of the SPAD pilots wanted to make a napalm drop. There was just one hitch. They were running low on station time and it had to work the first time. Covey explained that if the SPAD made its run across the ridge, just a little long or a little short and it would be a total miss. The SPAD pilot wanted to make his run down the ridge on a line over the bad guys and then us. I got to choose and picked the second option.
It was one beautiful run. Covey told us when to keep our heads down, but i had to peek. The sight of that orange/red/black fire boiling through the jungle right at us was truly awe inspiring. And it was right on the money. Although we all got little burns on us, the jungle absorbed what the NVA didn't. We blew a tree with a claymore and got pulled out on strings with Marine CH-46s. It was one heck of a long cold ride to Chu Lai. Nothing like an hour in a suspended harness.
#4 Mission: POW snatch. AO: just above the Trail about even with the DMZ. Having worked intel for the northren part of the Prairie Fire AO, I knew the area well. We hadn't gotten a team out of there in tact in about a year. RT Michigan was the last team to try and the three Americans were caught and exacuted while the Bru (my Bru!) E&Eed back to the coast. The overflight got exciting when the pilot informed me that they had an AA radar lock on us. I was told to lie to the Bru about where we were going.
We were suppose to be inserted out of Camp Eagle and ate chow in the mess hall the night before. Really great bar-b-que spareribs which gave me food poisioning. By the time I was fit to insert, the weather had closed in and the mission was aborted.
#4 redux . . .The story of how a leader can make every bad decision based on totally wrong assumptions and thereby save his butt and those of his men. I'll go into this one only if you really want to hear it.
Modern Forces: Were your indigenous team members Montagyard, Nung or Vietnamese?
Michael Stahl: Bru
Modern Forces: Did any of them make it out to the States and if so have you ever been in touch?
Michael Stahl: Don't know. But there was an LLDB Capt. later Maj. that I became good friends with. I met him when I was on MLT-2 at Quang Tri and he went back to DaNang about the same time I did. I feel we got the south Vietnamese way in over their heads and then took our ball and went home. I have carried a sense of betrayal for over 40 years. Anyway, I mentioned Maj. Phat to a fellow I was e-mailing. He was an S-2 Capt. when I was there (Ret LTC) and it turned out he too, was a friend of Maj. Phat. He told me Phat had made it to the states and was in Mobile back in the late 70's where he lost touch with him. Going through DexKnows and PeopleFinders, I tracked a lead to Orlando, FL. I called a left a message. About a week later, a Vietnamese lady called me. She was Maj. Phat's widow. He had died 16 years earlier with stomach cancer. We talked for almost an hour and had to hang up because we were both crying like babies
Modern Forces: Did you have a weapon choice or preference?
Michael Stahl: CAR-15
Taking off for a Skydiving trip
Modern Forces: Did you ever carry a back up weapon, if so what was this?
Michael Stahl: That suppressed .22 each 1-0 carried.
Modern Forces: Did you or your team ever carry any foreign weapons, AK47 or RPD? And if so how were magazines/drums/belts carried?
Michael Stahl: Since we were going in on my last mission looking for a fight, one of my Bru carried an RPD (didn't trust the M-60). Although we had the ability to carry about any weapon we wanted going back to the sling, I required all my guys to carry the CAR-15. It's an ammo thing. When I took out CIDG in '67 -'68, they carried M-1 Carbines. I carried an M-16 and there was a guy on my team that liked to carry a shot gun. If we got into a heavy fight and I ran out of ammo, I was left throwing rocks. Recon was worse. Since we all carried the same weapon, if a man went down his ammo could be used by others.
Modern Forces: Did you have a standard equipment set-up in your team?
Michael Stahl: Like I said, I never had a "standard" team so there was no way to establish standard equipment. I learned from OJT about carrying CN powder in an insect repellent bottle in case of dogs (etc.) and there was the standard emergency gear.
Modern Forces: Did your team have any unique traditions or quirks in its equipment set-up?
Michael Stahl: My team was a quirk.
Modern Forces: You mentioned that you were a rigger and a keen skydiver. Did you have anything to do with any of the SOG HALO or Static line jumps during the war?
Michael Stahl: Made one static line, just for fun, jump from a Caribou in '68. Didn't even know we were using HALO until I read Plaster's book. That "need to know" thing again. And I did make 3 sport jumps from an Air America Caribou. (See my site >skydiving>logbook>page 21 (Jul '67 - Mar '68)>jumps 202-204.) If I haven't told you that tail, it's a good one. One of those, "What the hell were we thinking?" stories.
Modern Forces: Empty mags...after emptying a mag during contact did you guys swap it back into a pouch or shove the empties down the front of your shirt? When training we favor the latter when re-enacting and its what the British Army tend to do?
Michael Stahl: Do not remember, but I do remember from '67 - '68, nothing was ever left behind unless it was buried. I'm sure I never stuffed anything down my shirt.
Modern Forces: Did you carry a side arm and if so how was is carried, you often see them in books but can't seem to see any holsters (hip or shoulder) in the pictures I have?
Michael Stahl: That suppressed .22 and I think it was carried on the hip, but I might be remembering the .45 I always carried when not on an op. (See my E-6 promotion photo - first tour.)
Modern Forces: It's well known that SOG used black spray paint to camouflage uniforms and equipment I have seen a picture of RT New York in Frank Greco's second book that appears to show gear camo'd with green and black spray paint. Did you ever see this type of green/black spray paint in use?
Michael Stahl: Reading this, I think we did use spray paint. I can't remember putting on face camophlage but am sure we did.
Modern Forces: What did you do when you left the army, was this a career for you?
Michael Stahl: Yeah, I was a lifer but was medically retired. I went to college and stayed stoned most of the time after I got out. (Never did anything but booze while in.)