Co Roc Mountain Mission

 

During the summer of 1970, as a member of Command and Control North (CCN), Camp Villa Rosa, Da Nang, Republic of South Vietnam (a MACV-SOG element), SFC Robert Noe and his Bru Montagnard Special Commandos had just completed an extended period of time providing security for an isolated Radio Relay Site deep in enemy held territory known as Hickory Radio Relay, Hill 950 (Photo above) overlooking the Khe Sanh Valley and Khe Sanh Combat Base airstrip to the west. Beyond the valley to the South West stood Co Roc Mountain, to the north was the demilitarized zone (Hickory Radio Relay site was overrun on 4 and 5 June 1971 by an estimated North Vietnamese Battalion sized element with SGT Robert R Jones being killed in action and SSG Jon Cavaini awarded the Medal of Honor Posthumously for his actions, the Army had though he had been killed to our joy it was learned he had been captured upon his released in April 1973. (See below for Cavaini's citation)

Upon SFC Noe's return to CCN, he was assigned as the Platoon Sergeant with his men integrated in the platoon as part of Co A. The platoon was assigned a mission to "Land on top of Co Roc Mountain" on 19 July 1970. At the Tactical Operation Center (TOC), the Platoon Leader, a 1st Lieutenant, name unknown, (Now Identified as being 1LT James B. Weisbrod) and SFC Noe were briefed and told, "We've been trying to land a recon teams around the base of the mountain and have them ascend for a long time and we've not been successful. All the teams have met heavy enemy resistance, now we've decided we're going to land a platoon on top of it. During the briefing, it was stated there would be no problems with the enemy because the enemy was going to be blown to hell. The plan was to be bomb the mountain top for 24 hours, commencing 24 hours before insertion. As the Lieutenant and Noe left they discussed the situation. Noe commented, "What a hunch of crock these guys are dug in deep and they're not going to be blown out with whatever is thrown at them." Both reaching the realization this was a "suicide mission," but all SOG missions were. They did not have to tell the men what to expect, merely telling them what the mission was evoked a rapid response from the Montagnard Platoon Leader, "Trung Si (sp 9), You dinky dow (crazy), we all die." That was the only expression, and without hesitation all prepared for the mission. The Americans wrote what they felt were their last letters home.

Newly discovered, now declassified information supports the platoon's initial gut reaction. The book: SOG MACV Studies and Observation Group (Behind Enemy Lines) by Harve Saal, 1990 published by Edwards Brothers contains an article which fixes Co Roc Mountain just inside Laos with its base sharing the border between Laos and South Vietnam. In 1968, the North Vietnamese Army hid their 122mm artillery pieces in caves on the East side facing Khe Sanh. The North Vietnamese would roll the artillery pieces to the mouth of the caves when needed, they were mounted on rail road tracks. The guns were virtually untouchable by air strikes, including Arclight (B-52 bombing raids) and the very accurate bombing techniques called 'Sky Spot. Even the American artillery guns firing were ineffective against the positions. One of the SpikeTeams volunteered to conduct a 'Sapper' raid on the Co Roc caves using forty-pound satchel charges, as was used to destroy the enemy ammunition storage facilities in Khe Sanh. However, their 'suicide raid' was not allowed by higher headquarters. (NOTE: SEE BELOW “Guns of Navarone” myth is false).

At this time, Noe states he can only recall the name of one other American on that mission who was SSG Samual R. Snyder, whom he knew at Ft Bragg during Special Forces Training and recalls SSG Snyder had a "red corvette." SSG Snyder performed a number of other missions with CCN and was with Co A when SSG Martin Arbeit, a friend of Noe, was killed in action on Nov 24, 70.

The platoon was flown to Mobile Launch Site 1, Quang Tri, with two squads under the control of SSG Synder to be taken to the old Khe Sanh airstrip and dropped off with the helicopters returning to pick up SFC Noe, the Lieutenant and the remaining two squads to be flown and inserted on top of Co Roc Mountain. Once inserted, it would be a short distance for the helicopters to drop in and pick up the two squads at the Khe Sanh airstrip.

The plans put SFC Noe and part of one squad of six special commandos on the first helicopter to be inserted first, and the lieutenant on another helicopter with six men with the remaining men in the other two helicopters. When the helicopters returned from dropping off SSG Snyder and the two squads at the Khe Sanh airstrip, they had to refuel. After refueling, the first helicopter arrived and SFC Noe and his men loaded up, followed by the other helicopters arriving and being loaded. As the helicopters lifted off and started the flight to Co Roc Mountain, the helicopters rearranged their flight formation. The helicopter with SFC Noe fell behind the helicopter with the Lieutenant. Now the Lieutenant was going to be first to hit the landing zone.

As the helicopters approached Co Roc Mountain, there was still a variety of aircraft dropping bombs on it. The flight of helicopters with the insertion team was placed in a holding pattern where the men watched the fire works with bomb after bomb being dropped. Looking at the valley below, the men could see the entire Khe Sann Valley moving slowly beneath their feet as the cool wind brushed their skin, viewing the beautiful, lush greenness of the country with different shades of vibrant green colors caused by different vegetation and the silver topped clouds with dark gray lower linings shading the sun light. The valley appeared so deceptively peaceful and quite while in reality, the grim reaper hid, filling his quota of death from both sides as it had for years. Watching the explosions on Co Roe, Noe was mesmerized by the sight, but fully aware of what awaited below in the July heat. After about 15 minutes, that lasted an eternity, the insertion team was cleared for insertion and the first helicopter began its descent with SFC Noe following closely behind, moving from the West from Laos to the East in the direction of the Khe Sanh Valley, so beautiful with the darkened hills far beyond. Watching the mountain top move closer the first helicopter descended to just a couple of feet above the ground to Hoover so the troops could disembark. Noe caught the glimpse of a North Vietnamese soldier stepping out of what was left of the smoldering wood line with a Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher on his shoulder and fired immediately hitting the first helicopter causing it to explode. The pilot was able to pull it forward and off the hill top while burning and spiraling out of control as it fell down the mountain side, moving back to the west inside of Laos

The helicopter Noe was on was in a descending attitude and started taking a hail of small Arms fire and the pilot was desperately trying to pull it up as the helicopter approached the mountain top reaching a few feet from the ground and still moving forward at a rapid rate of speed and was able to clear the top of Co Roc Mountain and beyond the cliff some 1000 feet above the jungle floor below. As the helicopter started taking on enemy fire one of the special commandos jumped from the aircraft as he was trained to do. Noe reacting with instinct, grabbed him which yanked Noe almost out of the helicopter however, he was able to hold with one foot still on the skid, the other dangling in the air, and one arm around something in the helicopter - still holding his CAR 15 and holding onto the commando STABO RIG with the other. The commando in his fall must have realized his error because by the time he had exited the helicopter the ground was some 1000 feet below him. Somehow he was able to grab on to the skid, perhaps with Noe grabbing his STABO RIG, it turned him around to face the skid. The action was very rapid and all the events are not remembered except for the jumping then there was the commando dangling below the chopper, hanging on the skid with Noe holding his STABO RIG. Noe then pulled man back into the helicopter.

SFC Noe and two other helicopters returned back to the Mobile Launch Site and a Bright Light team was inserted to recover the down helicopter crew and men. Noe says he doesn't know if anyone was killed in the incident but stated he had been told there were some causalities and the lieutenant's back was broken. Not to dwell on the mission, was it a success? It certainly determined the enemy was still there and 24 hours of continuous bombing had not dislodged him. The assessments made regarding Co Roc made in 1968 were still valid. Immediately, another mission was assigned to insert the platoon into Kham Duc to reopen it as a camp after it had been abandoned a couple of years earlier due to poor location and hostile enemy activity.

Note:  Years after, Noe was contacted by the pilot of the helicopter that crashed, the rest of the story follows:

INPUT BY FRANK A. TIGANO, Pilot, 3rd Aircraft. When I located the MACVSOG web site I immediately recalled those secret missions "across borders" with those special commandos I had the privilege to work with. As (I) scrolled through the site I came upon the "Tales of SOG." Entered the story site and observing the index of stories when one of the titles jumped right out at me as I read, "Co Roc Mountain!" I know that place, it is southwest of Khe Sanh up in I Corp, and I been there a few times with SOG Team Members. Co Roc Mountain was always an extremely hostile area to operate at and for several reasons. First, it introduced the super highway "QL 9" to Vietnam along its base with the West side of the mountain in Laos and the East side introducing Vietnam. Also, the NVA were dug-in and around the mountain and determined to protect this peace of real estate. As I read the story I was sure this was a mission I participated in because there were to many peculiar similarities. For example; we took two squads of secret CCN commando's composed of two Americans and a bunch of Montagnard Commando's up to the now abandon Khe Sanh Strip, dropped them off and returned to Quang Tri for refueling. We then reposition to pick up the other two squads of CCN members composing of 4 Americans and special commando's. The second ship (chalk 2), in the flight, landed before the first ship (lead). So when the lead ship landed, it landed behind chalk 2. The commando's boarded the aircrafts as though the ships were in their correct order of flight to be inserted into the landing zone (LZ) at Co Roc Mountain. When we took off the first aircraft (chalk 2) and the second aircraft (lead aircraft) switched to their original positions and the team initially supposed to go in second was now going to be the first team to be inserted on top of Co Roc Mountain. Then after we were suppose to dropped the two teams off at Co Roc Mountain and then we would return to Khe Sanh Strip and pick up the other two teams, we initially dropped off, and bring them also to Co Roc Mountain. Well it didn't work out as planned. The lead aircraft crew consisted of the following: Warrant Officer (WO) Jim Wisecup; as aircraft commander (AC), the late Captain (CPT) David Ayers; as copilot (CP), Jimmy White; as crew chief (CE) and J J Makool the gunner (G). This lead aircraft received a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) hit, as they were about to touch down in the LZ on top of Co Roc Mountain. It looked like AC Jim Wisecup immediately nosed his aircraft over the other side of the mountain, as it just maintain flight above the trees down the mountainside. The aircraft was on fire now as it descended down the mountainside increasing towards an uncontrollable airspeed. At the bottom of the mountain it looked as if the RPG effected the controls of the aircraft as AC Jim Wisecup tried to slow down by flaring the aircraft prior to falling through the trees and on to the ground below. AC Jim Wisecup was our most experienced pilot at the time and it showed, as he needed to do some very special flying which saved many lives. LT James B. Weisbrod was the platoon leader with 5 other A team members who were montagnard commandos and all on the lead ship as it plunged down the mountainside and crashed through the trees and on to the ground. As AC Jim Wisecup flew his ship over and down the other side of the mountain the second ship was approaching the LZ behind him. AC WO Dennis Beattie and CP Lieutenant (LT) Goggins were the pilots with CE and G unknown at this time. The second ship saw what was happening but was all ready committed to the approach to the LZ. They were taking quite a bit of ground fire with several hits to the aircraft however; they were able to continue on flying with a go around. SFC Robert Noe was the commando's platoon sergeant who was on the second ship with 5 of his montagnard commando team members. Over the radio came the A teams First Sergeant "SFC Noe" request for him and his team to be dropped off near the downed aircraft to provide the support needed to help in the rescue attempt. With the area hot, Dennis Beattie (second ship & aircraft commander) was advised by the C&C (command & control) aircraft that the mission was now aborted and he needed to head back home with his troops. I, Frank A. Tigano, was the AC of the third aircraft and seen what happened to the lead ship. My crew was right behind the second ship and we decided to initiate a high over fly of the LZ as the second ship was on short final to the LZ. My copilot was WO Jim Collins and the other rewmembers are unknown at this time. As we (the third aircraft) over flew the LZ we headed down towards the crippled aircraft while our CE and G were providing fire support with their M-60's. The fourth and trail ship had the medic on board and would be the aircraft responsible for rescue of the downed crew and A team members. AC WO Mark Goodell (rest of crew unknown) positioned his aircraft for rescue. His aircraft dropped down to a low hover to pick up the four down crew members and the six A team members. Everyone was able to get into the ship except three. Jim Wisecup looked to be hurt bad along with his copilot CPT Ayers who was incapacitated or dead because of the crash impact. The entire area was on fire so AC Mark Goodell had to bring the aircraft up to a high hover to avoid from having his aircraft from catching on fire. At the high hover his crew dropped two ropes and ladder for the downed soldiers. WO Jim Wisecup while injured was unwilling to leave his copilot behind so he dragged CPT David Ayers out of the crashed aircraft and away from the burning area. WO Jim Wisecup then hooked CPT David Ayers up to one of the STABO rigs (ropes), then climbed the ladder and assisted CE Jimmy Wright who also was severely injured by hooking him up to the ladder and then managed to climb into the rescue aircraft. The platoon leader of the A team "1LT James B.Weisbrod" also severely injured, managed to hook himself on to the ropes while the crew chief; J J Makool (Crash Makool) the gunner was walking around dazed from the crash landing and managed to make it into the rescue aircraft safely. I don't remember if any of the indigenous personnel were injured. AC Mark Goodell's aircraft was overloaded especially with two personal on the ropes and one on the latter. His aircraft would not have the power to take off "straight up" to avoid the surrounding fire. AC Mark Goodell did the only thing he could by initiating forward movement to gain speed to create the lift needed to take off from a high hover using speed instead of the non available power to lift the over waited aircraft with all its occupants. In doing so AC Mark Goodell needed to over torque the aircraft while both 1LT James B.Weisbrod and the copilot, CPT David Ayers were unfortunately being dragged along the ground through the brush but away from the fire. CPT David Ayers rope was already on fire, which then sadly came apart just as, the aircraft lifted off. Although, we believe CPT David Ayers was dead on impact of the aircraft crash, we knew how much more it would have meant to send his body home for burial for family and friends. Every other individual on or hanging from that aircraft most likely owes there life to Marks ability and courage in getting out of the very hostile and crippling situation. During the rescue, our ship chalk 3 was assisting with firepower to suppress the enemy who was producing heavy weapons fire along with providing continues in-coming throughout the entire rescue area. Initially the Co Roc area was peppered with bombs and then the Cobras (attack helicopters), C BTRY 4TH / 77TH (Griffin’s) worked the area over unloading their entire ordnance of rockets and ammunition to keep the enemy's heads down. Their brave actions are most likely the reason that only CPT David Ayers was lost during the mission. There was confusion when this mission occurred which hindered the participants in getting together. The records will indicate 7/19/70 or 7/20/70 depending on their origin. Several of the participants were able to get by this disinformation with the correct date being July 20, 1970. By: Frank A. Tigano, Pilot, Comanchero 11, Co A 101 Avn Bn 101Abn Div (Ambl)

      INPUT BY:  1LT JAMES B. WEISBROD, CCN PLT LDR. I remember in the briefing we were going to be dropped in front of a "suspected" NVA regiment. 40 Bru, 4 Americans and I were going-staging in two lifts through KheSanh. I was in the second lift-lead chopper with CanTua my interpreter and three other Yards. We flew over Khe Sanh heading for CoRoc and circled while it was prepped. As the chopper went into a hover close to the ground and I leaned forward to hop out, automatic weapons opened up at close range. I leaned back and opened fire. The chopper moved forward and the pilot dropped the nose over the edge and out of firing range. I knew the crew chief had been hit, but not in a vital area. I leaned out the door as we swooped down towards the valley and could see smoke and floor back by the engine compartment. As we neared the ground, I expected the pilot to autorotate, but suddenly trees were flying by the door. I said "this is it!" and waited for impact. We hit and I felt the chopper bounce and thought "maybe......we'll make it"   .. It bounced a second time and then hit and stopped. I looked around and saw the copilot slumped in his seat and the door gunner lying on the deck. I heard groaning from the front of the chopper and could see the pilot lying about 15-20 feet away stilled strapped to his seat.   I looked down at my leg and could see my foot turned at 180* from its normal position. I thought "I'm going home, BUT I have to get out of here first." I tried to stand- and couldn't. Tried to get up on my knees-and couldn't. So I crawled out on my elbows while trying to call on my PRC-10. I crawled about 30 feet from the chopper and looked back. The flames were spreading into the cargo compartment and the M-60 ammo started to cook off.  The Cobras flew overhead checking for bad guys, and then the chase ship came in. They threw down the ladder and ropes, and the medic climbed down the ladder. Several people climbed the ladder into the ship. The crewchief was hooked to the ladder, and Cpt.Ayers and I were hooked to the strings. By then the chopper was engulfed in flames and the elephant grass was burning. The flames were within a couple of feet of me. As the chopper started to  move, the ropes went taut. I could see that Cpt. Ayers rope was burning, and then it snapped. The chopper dragged me along the ground a bit before it lifted up. I was swinging in the wind and my foot was flopping chest high. My web belt moved further up my torso from the weight until it was nearly around my chest. I was afraid that the fastener would break and that the belt would fly open letting me drop out. I was also afraid of passing out because everything was bright gold in color although I could see the details of everything as we were flying. I later found out that was shock. So to stay conscious, I pulled one canteen out-drank it and threw it away. Then I pulled a second one out and drank it. Before we got to QuangTri, the chopper stopped at an airstrip. The Cobras had already landed and the crews were standing there to catch me and lay me down on the runway. Then the chase ship moved horizontally and sat down so that the crew chief and I could be put inside for the rest of the flight. When we got to QuangTri, I was rushed into the ER and my uniform was cut off. The only one I remember seeing at that point was CanTua-my interpreter. I remember the nurse telling the doctor my blood pressure was down to 60 over 20. I was just annoyed that I couldn't have a cigarette. I woke up in a body cast and was so distressed about it that I split the cast in half by thrashing. The only one I saw after that was Jimmy Wright (the crew chief) because we ended up in the same ward at the 25th Evac in DaNang. Then it was to Japan for another operation. After that back to Valley Forge Army Hospital for almost a year. Then back to Ft. Devens and the 10th group.  By James B. Weisbrod, 1Lt, MACVSOG CCN.

THE CRASH OF HELICOPTER UH-1H 68-16550 (The 1st Tail #on my Zippo) 
SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE AFTER THAT UNFORGETABLE 4th OF JULY PICNIC (DRUNK),  I GOT ASSIGNED AS JIMMY WRIGHT'S GUNNER. I REMEMBER THE MORNING BEFORE WE WENT ON CCN (COMMAND AND CONTROL NORTH-A SPECIAL FORCES OVER THE BORDER COVERT OPERATION) AKA KNOWN AS SOG. THERE WAS A LITTLE BIT OF A STINK WHETHER OR NOT I HAD MY SHIT TOGETHER GOOD ENOUGH TO BE ON A CCN MISSION, BECAUSE I WAS A FNG (F**CKING NEW GUY). THE OTHER PART OF THE CONTROVERSY WAS SOME GUNNER (MABRY) WAS SHORT (CLOSE TO GOING HOME OR ON R&R) AND WAS NOT AVAILABLE TO FLY CCN. I'M SURE I HAD FLOWN IN COUNTRY (WITHOUT INCIDENT) PRIOR TO THIS CCN MISSION (WHATEVER THAT MEANT) BUT I'LL BE DAMNED IF I CAN RECALL ANY OF IT.

ANYHOW, JIM WISECUP WAS THE AC (AIRCRAFT COMMANDER) CPT. AYERS WAS THE CO-PILOT OR PP (PETER PILOT), JIMMY WRIGHT WAS THE CE (CREW CHIEF) AND I WAS THE DOOR GUNNER. THEY DECIDED FINALLY THAT I WAS A SCHOOL TRAINED CREW CHIEF, WHO LACKED FLIGHT EXPERIENCE. SO THE FASTER I GOT SOME FLIGHT TIME UNDER MY BELT, THE SOONER I WOULD CREW MY OWN BIRD. THAT WAS FINE WITH ME, BECAUSE I COULD NOT WAIT TO GET MY OWN AIRCRAFT. I DO NOT RECALL WHO ALL THE OTHER CREWS WERE, BUT I DID FIGURE OUT LATER THAT CREW CHIEFS DOUG BROWN, CLARENCE "PINEAPPLE" GARCIA AND I BELIEVE GIL ALVARADO WERE THERE, BECAUSE OF THE RIBBING I HAD TO ENDURE LATER ON.

I REMEMBER BEING A LITTLE SELF CONCIOUS (FNG) BEING STARED AT BY THESE RAMBO TYPES, AND AT THE SAME TIME FEELING LIKE WOW "WE ARE WORKING WITH THE U.S. ARMY'S ELITE!"  SO FINALLY WE GET OUT OF BRIEFING. I STILL REMEMBER HOW SERIOUS THE TONE IN THE ROOM WAS WITH THE CAPTAIN OF THE GREEN BERET COMMANDOS, PULLING UP THE COVER OF THE LARGE WALL MAP OF THE TRI-BORDER AREA. (WHERE SOUTH VIET NAM, NORTH VIET NAM, AND LAOS ALL COME TOGETHER) AND GIVING US OUR INSTRUCTIONS AND BACK-UP PLANS. AND ME THINKING, "SO THIS IS WHAT CCN IS ALL ABOUT" AND "NOW I KNOW WHAT THSES MONKEY GIRDLES WITH THE D-RINGS ARE FOR" (SIMILAR TO WHAT MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS WEAR FOR ATTACHING A ROPE AND REPELLING)

SO WE LOADED UP THE TEAM AND OFF WE GO. (I FOUND OUT LATER FROM ROBERT NOE, WHO WAS IN THE SHIP BEHIND ME, CHALK#2, THAT SOME HAD ACTUALLY MADE OUT THEIR LAST WILL & TESTAMENT). I THINK WE HAD ABOUT A 12 MAN TEAM THAT DAY. WE HAD 4 OR 5 ON OUR BIRD, BECAUSE I RECALL HOW CROWDED THE CARGO AREA WAS, AND I WILL TELL YOU HOW I REMEMBER THAT FACT LATER.  JUST BEFORE WE WENT IN AS CHALK ONE (LEAD SHIP) I BELIEVE THEY (THE GUN SHIPS) PREPPED THE LZ (LANDING ZONE) WITH ROCKETS FULL OF NAILS (SMALL FLACHETS THAT ACT AS SHRAPNEL), WITHOUT HIGH EXPLOSIVE. I DON'T RECALL ANY HE (HIGH EXPLOSIVE) NOR DO I RECALL ANY F4'S (FAST MOVING AIR FORCE FIGHTER JETS, WHICH WERE COMMONLY USED ON THESE MISSIONS) SO WE GO IN TO THE SO CALLED LZ, AND I REMEMBER IT WAS A QUIET INSERTION (ABOUT AS QUIET AS HALF A DOZEN HELICOPTERS CAN BE') WITH A FIXED WING OV10 PICTURE TAKER (KNOWN AS COVEY)  ABOVE US. THE CCN MISSIONS USUALLY HAD THREE SLICKS (HUEYS) WITH THE FORTH ONE BEING A CHASE OR RESCUE BIRD WITH A MEDIC ON BOARD. THEY FIGURED IT HELPED THE ODDS OUT A LITTLE THAT ONE OF THE FIRST THREE HAD A GOOD CHANCE OF BEING SHOT DOWN. ESCORTING THE FLIGHT OF FOUR WAS TWO COBRA GUN SHIPS, ONE ON EACH SIDE USUALLY. THEN SOMETIMES WERE A COUPLE OF FAST MOVERS, AND RUNNING THE WHOLE SHOW FROM UP ABOVE WAS COVEY. FLYING IN THE COVEY WAS A SOG COMMANDO AS WELL AS THE PILOT. THIS WAS YOUR BEST FRIEND AND YOUR LINK TO THE REST OF THE WORLD. IN OTHER WORDS HE MIGHT AS WELL HAVE BEEN GOD. THE REASON I REMEMBER IT WAS A QUIET INSERTION, WAS THAT I HAD NOT BEEN ASKED TO PUT DOWN ANY SUPRESSIVE FIRE ON THE WAY IN WITH MY M-60 MACHINE GUN.

JIMMY SAID WISECUP "YOU ARE CLEAR DOWN LEFT" AND I SAID "YOU ARE CLEAR DOWN RIGHT" AND THEY NAILED US!!!  THE TIMING WAS SUCH THAT IT SEEMED AS IF THEY WERE LISTENING TO OUR INTERCOM! (IMPOSSIBLE OF COURSE) THERE WAS A LOUD EXPLOSION, BUT NOT HUMUNGOUS. (IS THAT A REAL WORD')  THEY HAD HIT US WITH A R.P.G.! (A ROCKET PROPELLED GRENADE) RIGHT NEXT TO MY GUN WELL (TO MY RIGHT, TOWARDS THE REAR OF THE AIRCRAFT) TO THIS DAY I DO NOT THINK IT EXPLODED ON CONTACT AS IT WAS DESIGNED TO. RATHER IT WENT PART OR ALL OF THE WAY THROUGH THE BODY OF THE AIRCRAFT BEFORE IT WENT OFF. (I DISCOVERED LATER ON THE REASON FOR THIS, WAS THAT THEY HAD FIRED AT SUCH CLOSE RANGE, THE ROCKET DID NOT HAVE TIME TO ARM ITSELF) ALSO I DO NOT RECALL ANY METAL FLYING, WHICH SUBSTANTIATES THIS THEORY.

IT ALL HAPPENED SO QUICKLY!  AS SOON AS THE R.P.G. HAD BEEN FIRED, THEY OPENED UP WITH SMALL ARMS. I'M SURE THEY COULD SEE ME, BECAUSE THEIR MUZZLE FLASHES WERE THAT CLOSE!  I HAD RETURNED FIRE AR FIRST IMPACT, AND THAT MIGHT HAVE HELPED TO KEEP THEIR HEADS DOWN.  I DON'T REMEMBER, BUT I'M QUITE SURE THE TEAM FIRED BACK ALSO, AND JIMMY ON THE OTHER SIDE WAS BUSY ON HIS M-60. IT TURNED OUT LATER ON THAT THEY WERE ON BOTH SIDES OF US.

WISECUP IMMEDIATELY PICKED THE BIRD UP OFF THE TOP OF THIS BIG HILL WE WERE ON AND DOWN THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN WE WENT. I HAD DREAMS FOR A LOT OF YEARS AFTER THAT BECAUSE I WAS SCREAMING "SIR, MY WELL'S ON FIRE, MY WELL'S ON FIRE!!!  THE FLAMES WERE LICKING THE SIDE OF MY FACE, EVEN WITH MY HELMET ON. I REMEMBER FOR 5-6 YEARS AFTER THAT MY RIGHT EYE AND CHEEK WERE VERY TENDER AND SUNBURNED QUITE EASILY. THAT'S PROBABLY WHERE GIL AND THE BOYS CAME UP WITH THE OTHER NICKNAME THAT I NEVER HEARD UNTIL RECENTLY "ON FIRE MAKOOL".

THEN I DID SOMETHING THAT I HAD NEVER BEEN TRAINED TO DO.  I UNDID THE MINI GUN CAN. (A LARGE AMMO CAN THAT HELD APPROX. 2000 ROUNDS OF 7.62mm AMMO, USED ON THE COBRA GUN SHIPS WITH THEIR 6 BARREL ELECTRIC MACHINE GUNS, AKA MINI GUNS) (IT WAS HELD ON BY A SEAT BELT SO IT COULD BE MOVED EASILY AND HELD 3 TO 4 TIMES MORE AMMO THAN A CONVENTIONAL MACHINE GUN AMMO CAN.) AND I KICKED IT OUT. I GUESS I FIGURED IT WAS GETTING SO HOT, THAT ALL THAT AMMO WAS GOING TO START COOKING OFF. I ALSO STARTED HEAVING SMOKES OFF THE CHRISTMAS TREE. (VARIOUS COLORED SMOKE GRENADES FOR MARKING AREAS FOR LOCATING PURPOSES) (THE CHRISTMAS TREE WAS A NICKNAME FOR THE POLE THAT SAT NEXT TO EACH GUNNER'S WELL. IT RESEMBLED THE STARTING LITES AT A DRAG STRIP WHEN ALL THE SMOKES HUNG ON IT) I'M SURE I PULLED THE PINS ON SEVERAL SMOKES ON THE WAY DOWN. I REMEMBER BY THIS TIME I HAD TAKEN OFF MY SEAT BELT TO GET AWAY FROM THE FIRE. I WAS HANGING ON THE CHRISTMAS TREE FOR DEAR LIFE AND THE WHINE OF THE ENGINE SOUNDED JUST LIKE ALL THE WWII MOVIES I WATCHED WHEN I WAS A KID. YOU KNOW THAT STEADY HIGHER AND HIGHER WHINE, UNTIL THE PLANE CRASHES.

NOW IS WHEN I REMEMBER HOW CROWDED THE CARGO AREA WAS, BECAUSE I REALLY NEEDED TO GET AWAY FROM THE FIRE, BECAUSE THE FLAMES WERE REALLY STARTING TO DO A NUMBER ON ME, AND THERE WAS NOWHERE TO GO. THERE WAS THIS MONTAGNARD SCOUT SITTING RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CHRISTMAS TREE. THE ONLY REASON I DIDN'T GO SIT ON HIS HEAD, WAS FOR THE FIRST TIME OF EVERYTHING I HAVE DESCRIBED, I GOT REALLY SCARED! HE HAD A LOOK OF SHEAR HORROR ON HIS FACE AS HE WATCHED THE FLAMES ENGULF ME. (THANK GOD FOR NOMEX FIRE RETARDENT CLOTHING) (YOU CAN'T IMAGINE HOW HOT JP-4 (JET FUEL) BURNS!)  THEN I REMEMBER SEEING THE TREES THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD AND WE HIT.

AN ETERNITY LATER I SHOOK MY HEAD, AND IT FELT LIKE A BOWL OF JELLY. THE REASON FOR THAT WAS I HAD BEEN KNOCKED OUT (CONCUSSION) AND IN SHOCK. WHEN THEY FOUND ME I WAS WALKING AROUND UNCONSCIOUS ON MY FEET WITH AN M-16 THAT BELONGED TO THE GREEN BERET COMMANDO ON OUR SHIP. (THEY HAD CHECKED THE SERIAL # OF THE WEAPON) (AND I NOW KNOW THE GREEN BERET WAS JIM WEISBROD FROM PHILADELPHIA) THE REASON MY HEAD FELT LIKE A BOWL OF JELLY WAS THE MEDIC HAD JUST PUT SMELLING SALTS UNDER MY NOSE TO BRING ME AROUND AND WHEN I SHOOK MY HEAD IT FELT LOOSE. I DID NOT FIND OUT UNTIL 10 YEARS LATER, HAVING A CONVERSATION IN MY 18 WHEELER ON THE CB, WITH AN EX PARAMEDIC, THAT WHEN ONE HAS A CONCUSSION THE BRAIN SEPARATES FROM THE SKULL AND IS LOOSE IN THE CRANIUM.

THE MEDIC IS MOTIONING TO ME UP, AND I DON'T HAVE A CLUE WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT BECAUSE I WAS TEMPORARILY DEAF FROM SHOCK. THEN IT FINALLY DAWNS ON ME, THAT THEIR IS A BIRD HOVERING ABOVE US, WITH THE ALUMINUM ROLL UP LADDER HANGING RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY BIG NOSE, AND HE IS MOTIONING ME TO CLIMB THE LADDER, WHICH I DO. I GOT INSIDE THE CARGO AREA AND THERE IS JIM WISECUP WITH HIS NOSE SPLIT RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE. THEN I MUST HAVE PASSED OUT.


THE NEXT THING I REMEMBER THEY ARE GETTING JIMMY WRIGHT INSIDE THE AIRCRAFT. HIS ARM WAS DANGLING LIKE A PUPPET AND HE WAS COVERED IN BLOOD. HE DID NOT LOOK GOOD AT ALL. (VERY PALE) HE HAD ALMOST BLED TO DEATH. I REMEMBER TELLING HIM WE WERE GOING TO BE OK AND TALKING TO HIM, HOPING HE WOULD NOT GO INTO SHOCK. (I LATER FOUND OUT WE HAD LANDED AT THE ABANDONED AIR STRIP AT KHE SAHN, ONCE WE HAD GOT BACK ACROSS THE FENCE (BORDER) INTO SOUTH VIET NAM. THEY HAD GOT WRIGHT DOWN OFF OF THE LADDER WHERE HE HAD BEEN HOOKED UP WITH HIS D-RING. WEISBROD THE GREEN BERET COMMANDO, HAD BEEN HOOKED UP TO ONE OF THE STRINGS (ROPES WITH D-RINGS ATTACHED TO THEM) AND THEY GOT HIM IN ALSO. HE HAD BROKEN HIS LEG IN THREE PLACES, BECAUSE WHEN WE CRASHED HE WAS SITTING WITH HIS LEGS HANGING OUT OF THE CARGO DECK, AND THE TREE LIMBS DID A HORRIFIC NUMBER ON HIM. HE TOLD ME AT A SOAR (SPECIAL OPERATIONS ASSOCIATION REUNION) NOT TOO LONG AGO, THAT HE NEVER LOST CONSCIOUSNESS. I DISCOVERED LATER ON THAT CPT. AYERS WAS KIA, PROBABLY UPON IMPACT, AND THAT THEY HAD HOOKED HIM UP TO A STRING. THE STRING CAUGHT FIRE AND BURNED LOOSE BEFORE THE CHASE BIRD COULD LIFT OFF, AND HIS BODY WAS NEVER RECOVERED. WHY THE BIRD DIDN'T EXPLODE WHEN WE HIT, ONLY GOD KNOWS. THAT'S ABOUT IT...THAT'S MOST OF WHAT I CAN REMEMBER
.

SHORTLY AFTER THAT THEY STARTED CALLING ME MAGNET ASS...AND THAT I WAS BAD LUCK...AND I HEARD IT SO MUCH, I ACTUALLY STARTED TO BELIEVE THEM. THIS BECAME VERY DEPRESSING TO SAY THE LEAST, BECAUSE YOU MUST REMEMBER I HAD ONLY BEEN IN COUNTRY FOR ABOUT A MONTH, HAD ALREADY LOST MY CHERRY (FNG).  IF THIS WAS ONLY THE BEGINNING OF MY ONE YEAR TOUR THEROL" THING, AND THERE WAS NO GETTING AWAY FROM IT!  I DID NOT REALIZE IT AT THAT TIME, BUT MY LIFE WOULD BE CHANGED FOREVER WAS NO WAY I WAS EVER GOING TO MAKE IT HOME ALIVE. THEN GOOD OLD DEMSEY AND BERG, THEY STARTED THE "CRASH MAKOER.

P.S. WISECUP LATER TOLD ME THAT HE PICKED THE BIGGEST TREE HE COULD FIND, AND FLARED INTO IT BELLY FIRST, TO LESSEN THE IMPACT.  IT WORKED!  ALSO AT A REUNION, MY GOOD FRIEND WARRANT OFFICER CURT BODIN TOLD ME THAT HE WAS SCHEDULED TO FLY RIGHT SEAT THAT DAY WITH WISECUP, AND THAT CPT. AYERS PULLED RANK ON HIM AND SCHEDULED HIMSELF INSTEAD. (LADY LUCK...OR DESTINY') 

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  THE STORY YOU HAVE JUST READ TOOK PLACE ON 20 JULY 70 JUST INSIDE OF LAOS, NEAR THE TRI-BORDER AREA, IN A HEAVILY FORTIFIED AREA CALLED CO ROC MOUNTAIN.

CREW CHIEF WALTER DEMSEY AND HIS AIRCRAFT COMMANDER GEORGE BERG, BOTH FROM MY HOME TOWN AREA OF N.J./PHILLY WERE LATER KIA ON A CCN MISSION SIMILAR TO THIS ONE ON 18 FEB. 71. THIS STORY IS DEDICATED TO THEM, AS WELL AS CO-PILOT GERALD WOODS, DOOR GUNNER GARY LEE JOHNSON, SOG COMMANDOS CPT. RONALD WATSON AND SGT. ALLEN LLOYD, ALL WHO PERISHED WITH HELICOPTER # 255.


BY  J.J."CRASH" MAKOOL

To: SOG1RLNOE@sol.com    (Robert L. Noe) 

As I was looking at the site ‘specialoperation.com’ I came across a review for a book I was considering for purchase.  Imagine my great surprise when I read the comments about the author’s portrayal of the death of Lt. Peter McMurray.  I know it has been several years since all this correspondence went back and forth, but after reading all of the correspondence I feel I should correct some errors written by some of the readers in case someone is interested.  First I must verify my credibility in the affair.   

Col. Randy Givens wrote about an account that was told to him by a sergeant that later served in his company at CCN.  The account contained the following….’…the open door fell over the sgt. And sort of “scooped” him into the aircraft. It bounced him around with(out) too much damage.’…..I was that sergeant.  Below is a picture of the ‘hatchet force’ Americans I was with on the Co Roc insertion butwhite ash.

You will have to forgive me on some of the details since it has been so long.  Also, I don’t remember all the names.  We inserted from a marine base near the DMZ on Kingbee choppers flown by VN pilots.  As we were approaching I took a few pictures of the area and of Co Roc just prior to landing (These are at the end of this e-mail).  I was in the final chopper coming in to land with ammunition and another American and a couple of ‘yards.  As we were coming in to land I stood in the door ready to offload the ammunition to Lt. McMurray, who was standing at the edge of the LZ.  The VN pilots appeared to be a little anxious and came in too fast and could not slow enough.  The left tire of the chopper hit and caused the chopper to start wobbling and the pilot lost control.  One of the blades hit the ground and threw the angle of the chopper toward Lt. McMurray.  Even though he had originally been standing out of the wash of the blades the bounce threw the chopper toward him as it tilted.  The blade caught the Lt. in the head and killed him instantly.  I don’t think he ever knew what hit him.  After that the chopper continued to roll over and the blades beat the ground until they all broke off or bent.  As the chopper went over I fell out the door with the case I was holding.  The remaining cases fell on me and the chopper slid down the hill about five or six feet.  The fuel lines broke and started spraying all over the ground underneath.  I think there was one other death in the crash but I can’t remember if it was a yard or one of the VN.  The remaining passengers were able to make it out but the ammo cases had wedged between me and the chopper and I couldn’t move my legs.  I just knew that there was going to be a fire at any minute.  About when I was ready to die from fear the chopper slid a little further down the hill and relieved the pressure enough so I was able to work my way free and crawl out from under on the side of the wheel.  All I got out of the whole ordeal was skinned legs and a very sore leg.  We shot a few M-79’s into the chopper to make sure it burned,… and did it burn!  I guess the whole thing was made of magnesium because when it finished there was hardly anything left but white ash. 

My unit was a hatchet force from CCS, not CCC.  After so long I don’t even remember which company.  However,  the events I have accounted were traumatic enough for me to remember them, somewhat.  We went in to support the CCC detachment and to search for and destroy some gun emplacements in the mountain.  We RON’d on top of Co Roc that night and proceeded down the South side the next morning.  On the way we could hear signal shots.  Since it appeared we were being followed our next RON was on a small hill next to Co Roc.  During the night a small force of NVA managed to creep up to about 15 feet of our perimeter on the side of the hill we had come up.  They initiated contact early in the morning with a B-40 rocket that hit the opposite side of a tree near where I was sleeping and started a continuous spray from a machine gun emplacement.  This lasted a few minutes and then they were gone.  We had about 7 wounded, and 2 of them were brothers (yards) from my platoon.  One of them was hit in the forehead and lost the skull, revealing the brain.  A couple of hours after the ambush a typhoon rolled across the area and we were socked in with strong winds and rain.  This lasted through the next day and night and precluded any extraction until the following day.  All during this time we had to listen to the wails of the wounded without being able to do anything but try and relieve the pain for them.  The brothers both died the next day. 

I hope this account helps and doesn’t cause any more controversy

 

Michael C. Moore

Sgt. CCS  1969 – 1970

 

Staff Sergeant Jon R. Cavaiani

 4 and 5 June 1971

U.S. Army

Vietnam Training Advisory Group MACV/SOG 

5th Special Forces Group (ABN)

Republic of Vietnam

Entered service at: Fresno, Calif.

Born: 2 August 1943, Royston, England.

Citation:

STAFF SERGEANT JON R. CAVAIANI , UNITED STATES ARMY, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group Army Vietnam Advisory Group Staff Sergeant Jon R. Cavaiani distinguished himself on 4 and 5 June 1971, as platoon leader of a security platoon providing security for an isolated radio relay site located within enemy-held territory in the Republic of Vietnam. On 4 June, the site came under an intense barrage of automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenade and mortar fire from a superior enemy force. Sergeant Cavaiani, acting with complete disregard for his personal safety, repeatedly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire while directing the platoon’s fire and rallying the platoon in its desperate fight for survival. Simultaneously, he returned heavy suppressive fire on the assaulting force. Due to his ground direction, three extraction helicopters were able to land and evacuate the majority of the platoon although increasingly intense enemy fire kept other helicopters from landing. Forced to stay overnight, Sergeant Cavaiani directed the platoon to strengthen their defenses. On the morning of 5 June, with heavy fog restricting visibility, a superior-sized enemy force launched an annihilation attack on the American unit.  Advancing methodically in two ranks, the first rank fired a heavy volume of automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire at the same time that the second rank threw a steady barrage of hand grenades at the beleaguered force. Sergeant Cavaiani returned the heavy barrage of small arms and hand grenade fire, but was unable to slow them down. Ordering his platoon to escape, Sergeant Cavaiani recovered a machine gun, stood up and began sweeping machine gun fire against the two advancing enemy ranks. Through his valiant efforts, the majority of the platoon members escaped. While inflicting severe losses on the advancing enemy force, Sergeant Cavaiani was wounded numerous times. He eventually escaped, only to be captured after ten days of evading the enemy. He was released from captivity in March 1973

 

LETTER DISCOUNTING THE REPORT THAT CO ROC HAD 122 MM - “Guns of Navarone” myth is false.
August 30, 2008

Donald E. Zlotnik, Major, Special Forces (Ret.)
Angelwood Estate, 5855 Allentown Road, Allentown, Ohio 45807 zlotnikde@earthlink.net    567.712.0029
Author: “Eagles Cry Blood”; Survivor of Nam Series (Baptism, POW, Black Market, Court-Marshall); Fields of Honor series (MOH, DSC, SS, BS”V”, Soldier’s Medal)

Bob Noe!

I was referred to your website by a friend of mine. You have done an excellent job putting together the short blurbs on SOG KIAs—well done!

We served together at CCN. I recall you being with one of the Hatchet Platoons—under Captain Taylor(?) I was the logistics officer (reward job for doing good work elsewhere), on the CCN staff. It was a very interesting job in that I had the opportunity to sit in on all team briefings with Speedy Gaspard and I spent a lot of time reading the After Action reports in the TOC at night. Being in charge of re-supply and getting the best equipment available for the teams—I took my job seriously. I recall spending a few nights on RR Hickory and with the Launch Sites—in fact one of my best friends ran Quang Tri—Bill “Liam” Atkins. Bill and I went through training group together as enlisted men and ended up with the 173rd Abn Bde during Dak-To—Bill was an FO with the 4th Bn when they took Hill 875. He ended up with Sealous Scouts in Rhodesia and South Africa.....

edited

I read on your website where CCN RECON “confirmed” the NVA had 122mm gun positions dug into the east side of Co Roc Mountain—actually that is a myth. I don’t know where that started, unless it was with the Marines at Khe Shan when they were under siege. The NVA had 122mm cannon—but they had them about 5500 meters WEST of Co Roc and when they fired them toward Khe Shan it SOUNDED like they were coming from the face of the mountain but they were actually rounds coming over the “lip” of the mountain.

Rebuttal to the myth assertion:  Bob, have to comment on the last offering (myth of guns). I was at Lang Vei which was on one side of the Se Pone and Co Roc was on the other side. First off, anyone that has been on Co Roc or even seen it will confirm that on one person or group could recon it enough to verify that something was "not" there. Don't understand some ones fixation with "were they there or were they not there".  I don't know what they were shooting that was making big holes in the ground but the flashes were coming from the east side of Co Roc because we used back azimuths to attempt to fire them up with a 4deuce. We would talk Covey in and tell him when he was over the flash spot and he could see no guns. Now, they may have run them back to Dien Bin Fu between fire missions but arty nor air could stop them from firing.-Longgrear [Note: I have spoken to several guys who served at Lang Vei at that time and they all tell me that they were being fired upon by a heavy weapon from the East Side of Co Roc--RLNoe)

Before I join CCN in October 1969, I was with the 5th Division in Quang Tri—as an artillery commissioned officer back then there wasn’t an SF branch and we had to maintain proficiency in both SF and Artillery—anyway, I formed a special unit called Project Death Watch. I designed, trained, implemented and led the teams of one and two man “stay-behind” forward observers. I used my SF training and it paid off. The original plan was to leave a single man behind on a patrol who would hide and then call in artillery and air on LARGE NVA units. After a couple of missions, I decided a single man was just too stressful and doubled the men up, which worked perfectly.  In the past the RECON teams had to let large NVA units alone because it would have been suicide to engage. With my concept—the NVA didn’t know there was a man close by calling in air strikes and artillery—accurately. It was a highly successful program—My Point: During Task Force Remagan, an armored battalion with mech infantry attached and a 155 battery went back onto the Khe Shan plateau and my Death Watch teams went with them. I got permission from the TF commander to cross the Rao Quan (Xe Phon? Getting old.)River into Laos and my three man team reconned portions of the east wall of the mountain and the southern slope around to the back of Co Roc Mountain. We conformed there were no cave openings on the face of the mountain where a 122 could fire accurately and have a lateral/horizontal ability to adjust fire. Also when I returned to the base in Quang Tri—I met with marines who were there during the siege and none of them ever saw muzzle flashes on the face of the mountain during artillery attacks—day or night.

I believe it was in 1969 or 1970 a SOG team discovered a 122mm artillery battery in Laos near Co Roc and brought back a sight(?) from one of the guns.  So I thing the “Guns of Navarone” myth is false.

I see from your website you spent quite a bit of time at RR Hickory and Jon Caviani is your friend. I have always wondered how the NVA could POSSIBLY take RR Hickory with all the armament and defense equipment we had up there. To me it was one of the most defendable positions in all Vietnam and a platoon of Nungs in a stationary position—with overhead cover—are a mighty tough thing to dislodge. The only thing I can conclude is SOG decided to leave the area and abandon Hickory. Like I said earlier—I’ve spent time on Hickory and as the logistics officer knew the weapons inventory up there. Bill Atkins was a friend of Caviani's also and told me his version of the story.

Do you have a copy of the After Action reports on how Hickory fell? I would be interested in reading them. In 1974, when I was on BG Emerson’s staff at the USAJFKCMA—I was given an ASA report to read concerning RR Hickory by the G-3 who knew I had served with CCN—the ASA report was a copy of the NVA commander’s report on how he took Hickory. It was quite interesting at the time and was classified TOP SECRET because it contained some very sensitive information.

edited

I worked with Bobby Blaterwick (S1) trying to get every man who crossed over into Laos on a mission—recon or Brightlight to receive an automatic Silver Star for their first mission. After having served with SF and line units in Vietnam (3 tours)—there is no doubt our operatives were some very brave men—but the problem with serving with brave men—what in a line unit would be considered heroic—was everyday stuff for our guys. Sadly—many SOG men left Vietnam with no valor awards and had to compete with line units after the war for promotions.

edited

As for me—I served with some mighty fine men—many of them died during the war; Bill Martin, Jim Helton, Jerry Parmentier, Ron Fike, Ed Shubert, Mike Brown, Gordon Yntema and Rich Busenlhner—some the war screwed up so bad they never recovered.


Donald E. Zlotnik
7th Gp, A-253, A-426, CCN, USAJFKCMA