In Vietnam, the Military Assistance Command's Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) fielded small recon teams in areas infested with VC and NVA. Because SOG operations suffered extraordinary casualties, they required extraordinary soldiers. So when Capt. Thom Nicholson arrived at Command and Control North (CCN) in Da Nang, SOG's northernmost base camp, he knew he was going to be working with the cream of the crop.
As commander of Company B, CCN's Raider Company, Nicholson commanded four platoons, comprising nearly two hundred men, in some of the war's most deadly missions, including ready-reaction missions for patrols in contact with the enemy, patrol extractions under fire, and top-secret expeditions "over the fence" into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. Colonel Nicholson spares no one, including himself, as he provides a rare glimpse into the workings of one of the military's most carefully concealed reconnaissance campaigns.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.15(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.75(d)|
About the Author
As a civilian, Mr. Nicholson was a registered professional engineer. He received an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University and graduated from National Defense University and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff School. After military and civilian retirement, he started writing novels, many about the Civil War and the American West. He and his wife, Sandra, have five children.
Read an Excerpt
Welcome Back to the War or
It’s a Dirty Job, but Somebody’s Gotta Do It
The air was sticky—humid and hot, just as I remembered—as I stepped off the big silver bird chartered from Pan Am. There was the same old familiar smell; rotted vegetation, sewage, and burned jet exhaust, all fighting for nauseous supremacy. “Hell,” I grumbled to myself, “what’d you expect? This is Vietnam, you ain’t been gone that long, trooper.”
My thoughts returned to the scene at the airport in St. Louis. My young wife, our two little ones in her arms, all sobbing as I climbed on the plane that was to carry me away from all I loved. I doubt if the boys understood what was going on, they were so young, but the tears being shed by their mother had both of the youngsters wailing away. The sight is etched in my memory forever, all three of my loved ones’ faces contorted with grief and streaked with tears. I thought my heart was going to break as well. I sat down next to a grandmotherly woman, who wisely looked away while I wiped the tears from my eyes and attempted to compose myself.
“Going off to Vietnam, son?” she finally asked. The polite question gave me a chance to talk, if I wanted to.
I didn’t. So I just nodded and turned my face to the window, staring at the white clouds floating beneath the plane. She never said another word to me the rest of the trip to San Francisco. Bless her kind heart.
After a time, as the miles between my family and me increased, the lump in my throat diminished enough to allow me to suppress the almost physical pain of leaving. I was to spend the next fifteen months endeavoring to hold back the persistent nausea of separation. Any time I let it surface, the hurt was back, sharp and heart-wrenching as the day I left.
I inhaled again the distinctive odor of Vietnam. To this day, I can recall the smell; it has soaked into my memory like sewage on a sponge. I squinted in the harsh sunlight around the concrete apron of the massive air base at Cam Ranh Bay, Republic of South Vietnam. I was a young captain in the U.S. Army arriving for my second tour of duty. I was lean and mean, the product of a refresher course at the Jungle School in Panama, the Canal Zone, and anxious to find out what I would be doing the second time around. I had served the first tour as executive officer in a Special Forces A-team in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. I had seen the elephant (been under enemy fire), as the old army saying went, and was ready to boss some men in combat, the most challenging assignment to which an army captain could aspire.
A continuous relay of F-4 Phantom fighter planes streaked off the hot concrete runway and into the harsh, blue sky, the jet engines’ roar drowning out any hope of conversation, their sooty, black exhaust drifting away with the slight breeze. The 230 men with me, and a single female soldier, shuffled toward a concrete-block building with a red sign over the door: 2023D PORT AUTHORITY, WELCOME TO SOUTH VIETNAM. Underneath a smaller sign read: NEW ARRIVALS FOLLOW THE ARROWS TO CENTRAL PROCESSING.
Sweating in the fierce sun, my group of new arrivals obeyed like mindless automatons and entered a large room at the corner of the building. An air force sergeant, his nose red from sun or booze or both, stood beside a long, wooden table, and, as soon as the door shut behind the last man, launched into a droning monologue about in-processing, how to conduct yourself, etc., etc. I don’t remember another word he said and doubt if he could have five minutes after he finished.
I glanced around at my fellow travelers, all innocent, new fresh meat for the war. Just then, somewhere else within the building, two hundred plus lucky survivors were hearing their final out-briefing, probably given by another bored sergeant, before loading aboard the plane I’d just exited. They were about to depart for a long-awaited return to the real world, the land of the big PX, the good ole U.S.A. “Oh well,” I consoled myself, “only 450 days to go, and counting.”
I had decided to extend my tour an extra three months in country. That way, I could go directly to Fort Benning, Georgia, upon my return and enter the Infantry Officers Career Course (IOCC). If I got home too early, I might be sent elsewhere for a year of troop duty, and I wanted to get IOCC behind me before I was assigned to a permanent duty station. I hoped the extra three months would be safe and quiet. My wife threatened to kill me if I got greased away during my extension. Her tongue could be sharper than my Ranger knife. I figured I’d hear it in my grave if I made the mistake of dying in Vietnam.
Suddenly, the bored NCO’s voice cut through my musings. “All air force personnel to Room A, army to Room B, and navy-Marines to Room D. Any others to Room C. There, you will be picked up by your respective replacement battalions and taken to temporary billets while awaiting in-country assignment.”
I grabbed my duffel bag, stuffed to the brim with the essentials I needed, like socks, shorts, and a nifty Browning, 13-shot, 9mm pistol I was sneaking in country against regulations. I also had a custom-made hunting vest with extra pockets, my old jungle boots from the first tour, several sets of civvies for relaxing when away from the jungle, and a little ditty bag filled with toilet articles.
A couple of first-timers behind me were complaining to no one in particular that they already had orders assigning them to a unit.
“Don’t believe it,” I counseled, the weight of experience giving me authority to put in my two cents’ worth. “Army Command at Saigon can reassign you to anyplace you may be needed, once you arrive in country. Your orders don’t mean squat.”
Inside Room B, a sweating sergeant first class (E-7) waited for our arrival, along with several pencil-pushing clerks from the replacement depot. We handed over our orders and were herded to army-green buses outside the door. At the repple depot, located at the far end of the runway, I wasted little time getting under a long, cool shower and into the cot assigned me, with its draped mosquito netting and clean sheets. If I ended up in the 4th Infantry Division, as my orders stated, I’d see little of either for a long time.
I reported to Officer Assignments early the next morning. To my delight, the personnel major in charge of infantry officers asked me if I wanted to go back to the 5th Special Forces Group. “They’ve had a few unforeseen casualties and are asking for SF-qualified officers.”
“Yes, sir!” I was so elated, I nearly shouted. I had hoped to be able to transfer after six months with the 4th Division, but this was better yet. I felt I belonged in Special Forces; the 4th Infantry Division was for grunts, mud-pounders, junglehumpers. I was Airborne Special Forces, a cut above such a mundane assignment. Besides, we got to wear the nifty green beret instead of the standard, army-issue, green baseball cap.
The next morning, well before sunrise, I was on the shuttle plane to Nha Trang, the headquarters of the 5th Special Forces Group, anxious to get my duty assignment for the coming year.
Was I ever disappointed. “S-5 with C Company, Pleiku,” the gray-haired older major who was the personnel officer (assistant S-1) at group headquarters told me, as he passed me my assignment orders.
I left his office numb with disbelief. S-5 meant Civil Affairs (CA). Assignment to the C-team meant higher headquarters. I’d be involved in building dispensaries and rice warehouses for villages of the local area of operations (AO) for C Company, the control headquarters for A-teams in the Central Highlands. I would be a staff puke, as far from the guns as any “Saigon cowboy,” the derogatory term we field soldiers used for the support people way to the rear. To my mind, Civil Affairs was a nothing job that involved the handling of a lot of Vietnamese money, dealing with local contractors, bribing the various district chiefs to ensure their cooperation, sending out action teams to survey potential CA projects. I wanted a combat assignment, damn it, as long as I was going to be in Vietnam. My first tour had been in a rather quiet district of central Vietnam. I had been the executive officer (XO) of the A-team assigned there, and the action had been sporadic. It made for a long and rather boring year. I wasn’t back in Vietnam to pass out tongue depressors; I wanted to shoot it out with the bad guys.
I knew the executive officer of the 5th SF Group, Lt. Col. Dan Schungel; I’d served under him at Fort Carson, Colorado, in the 5th Mechanized Division, during 1963 and ’64. Then, I’d been a gung-ho lieutenant commanding the heavy mortar platoon of his battalion, the 2/10th Mechanized Infantry. I’d worked hard for him, and I hoped he would remember that.