An impressive group of young men have successfully completed what has been described as the most difficult military training program in existence—Air Force Pararescue. Now they’re ready to don the maroon beret and receive their orders. In the jungles of Vietnam and all around the world, they’ll use their training to the utmost and strive to live by their creed: “These things we do that others may live.”
Seven young men make up Pararescue Class 66-November, and their newly formed bonds of kinship will help carry them through missions that test the limits of their training and their skills. Only time will reveal their successes and failures—and the future that awaits them as specialists working to save the lives of others.
This novel tells the story of seven Pararescue Specialists in the 1960s and ’70s as they use their training to save the lives of others.
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GOING 'IN-COUNTRY' CLARK AIR FORCE BASE PHILLIPINE IS.
Airman Second Class Lee Davis stepped out of the shower, bent stiffly and toweled off trying to dislodge another bit of the gummy jungle filth that still seemed to ooze from his pores. He moved painfully to the sinks and his shaving kit. The visage that peered back from the mirror was not his own. A hundred dozen 'wait a minute' vines, creepers and thorny scrubbery had left welting scratches on his exposed skin. Hordes of flying-biter-thingies had raised swellings, bumps, and numerous scabbed cuts and abrasions that made Davis' entire face, neck and upper body look as though he had been on the receiving end of a well-organized gang thumping.
Davis massaged his aching shoulders, scrunched his neck and endeavored to loosen the knotted muscles. His body still ached and his back and shoulders bore greenish-purple marks where the frayed straps and the steel frame of his rucksack had dug and twisted as he groped and fell through the jungle.
Davis and Garvy had their heads about them enough that when they were released from training, before hitting the barracks and the showers, they had shuffled into the small Class VI Convenience Store and grabbed not only several six-packs of beer, bags of anything edible, ice and three large bottles of aspirin. With a half-cold beer, Davis swallowed three aspirin, hoping that they would provide some Relief. Then he checked his watch, flopped on the military bunk with its lumpy mattress and fell instantly into a deep sleep somewhere near a state of coma.
MID SEPTEMBER NAKHON PHANOM, ROYAL NAVY BASE, THAILAND 'NAKED FANNY'
Over the roar of the C-130's engines, the loadmaster screamed at the eight men strapped into the tattered nylon seats along the fuselage. "Make damn sure your asses are strapped in tight! This is a real no shit and honest to God combat zone and we're gonna make a tactical approach and landing." He grinned, "Not to worry, but if we do crump this bitch, get out and away from her and make damn sure you have your weapon. If you have one!"
Some of the men looked at each other as if to say, Oh Jesus, what the hell have I got myself into!
Cassidy, pulled the seat belt a little tighter, checked to see where he could get out if bad things really happened and checked the safety on his pistol. The issue Colt .38 caliber 'snake shooter' with three-inch barrel was packed in his duffel bag loaded and in a small survival pack on top of everything else. A last resort just in case. Under his left arm hung a modified shoulder holster with a real man-stopper weapon, his grandfather's Model 1911, .45 caliber pistol and two extra mags of ammo. Combined with the mesh survival vest, survival knife and boonie hat pulled low over his face, Cassidy looked more like a returning combat vet than someone going to war for the first time.
"You been 'In-Country' before." It was a statement not a question from the loadmaster.
Cassidy shook his head. "No, but I know which end of these things to point at the bad guys!"
The loadie grinned and took his own seat and strapped down Tight. Seconds later there was a noticeable change in the engines Roaring. They screamed to max power, the left wing went low, as the nose of the aircraft dropped, and the big aircraft dived out of the sky.
Like a roller coaster at Coney Island, the '130 took the plunge, turned and then went nose high as the pilots brought the bird on a very short final. The wheels rumbled down and seconds later there was a heavy yelp of tires grabbing Mother Earth, an instantaneous roar of reversing engines, and what sounded like an erratic buzz-saw below the undercarriage of the aircraft. A moment later there was a whining sound as the rear ramp of the aircraft lowered and the cargo compartment filled with gritty dust and the stench of burning kerosene jet fuel.
The loadie was on the intercom. "This will be a 'Hot Off Load' gents. We will not be shutting down the engines. When I tell you, grab your shit and get off the rear ramp so we can get this airplane unloaded. Welcome to the end of the world!"
As their transport roared down the steel runway and headed skyward, Cassidy checked his watch. It had taken less than fifteen minutes for the aircraft to land, taxi, disgorge the men and cargo, take on another dozen out-bounders and be back in the air headed for Saigon/
The voice caused him to turn, coming face to face with a tall figure in droopy jungle fatigues bearing Master Sergeant Stripes. He wore what looked like a cowboy hat with both sides tied up. "I'm Joe Duncan, Honcho of this flying circus." He extended his hand. "Good to have you here and 'The Snake' sends his regards."
Cassidy shook his Team Chief's hand. "So, aahhh, exactly where is here! I see a lot of shacks and shanties that look like they've seen the worst part of a cyclone, so where's the base?
Duncan chuckled. "Hell brother, you're lookin' at 'er!"
Cassidy did a slow turn around noting that some of the more or less 'structures' had signs, and that the flight line around them was a buzzing activity of people and machines. Several black twin engine aircraft, sat along the tarmac as another taxied from its parking spot. There were aircraft and helicopters of all types, some black, some a gray green and jungle camouflage. The only aircraft that Cassidy recognized for sure were three C-119s similar to the ones that he made four parachute jumps from at Ft. Benning. But these sported several antennae and what appeared to be a cannon and some type of machine guns along the left side of the fuselage.
There was another dozen types of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, some of which Cassidy recalled from combat recognition silhouettes used at Stead that were Russian. The rest he had not a clue. Most were painted black with various jungle schemes. Many had no markings or tail numbers. Several others carried the names and logos of companies Cassidy had never heard of. And at one, a crew was busy changing the identification numbers on the tail and fuselage.
Cassidy and Duncan each grabbed several bags of gear and headed to a battered pick-up.
"You know Henry Erwin?" Inquired Cassidy as they heaved and stacked the heavy load in the trucks bed.
"Oh yeah," replied Duncan, "The Snake was one of my instructors back in the day. There isn't much he hasn't done and when he says something about somebody it means a lot ... good or bad."
Cassidy pondered that as they climbed in the cab. Duncan started the engine and glanced at his new team member. "That's why you're here and not at one of the more established and civilized squadrons or Dets (Detachments)." Duncan let that hang in the air.
Shit! Somewhere along the line I must have really pissed off Henry Erwin and he got me sent to the end of the world as my first assignment.
Duncan noted the concerned expression on Cassidy's face. "Just to set things straight, cuz I can see what you're thinking," He handed Cassidy a small blue box, "He wanted you to have this."
Cassidy opened the box, removed the neatly folded sheet of paper and stared open mouthed at the ribbon with alternating thin stripes of yellow and ultramarine, bordered at the edges with wide stripes of brilliant blue and the bronze disc with a kneeling figure of a man holding an eagle and the simple inscription
"Holy crap", was all he could hoarsely whisper.
"I asked for you by name after 'The snake' recommended you for that. You know Erwin isn't big on handing out 'atta boys,' but when somebody screws the pooch he's real good at pointing out the 'oh shitters' in that gargling growl of his."
Cassidy chuckled and shook his head. "Oh, yeah! I saw more than one of those. When the man's voice gets real low and quiet like a far off freight train, it's time to seek life elsewhere!"
Both men laughed.
"Snake wrote the recommendation for that award himself and to assure that it went through he hand-carried it to the School Commandant and the Base Commander for their signatures. He was pretty impressed that you saved that guy's ass during training. He also told me that if it had been another student with that sonofabitch they would more than likely have recovered two bodies or not found 'em at all. The original of that citation is in the safe in my office so it wouldn't get messed up."
"You didn't get sent here to Naked Fanny because you screwed Up. As you can see from your surroundings this is pretty much, 'the end of the world!' And what we lack in creature comforts like hot chow, beds and showers, we make up for with heat, humidity, beetles and roaches big as your fist and rats the size of house cats".
"Staff Sergeant Tom McCabe was my Assistant Team Chief, until four weeks ago when the Doc in our little clinic diagnosed him with a complication of Malaria. The doc had him on a plane out of this backwoods paradise and headed to the world in a day. So I been runnin' the whole shootin' match. I've been trying to keep the guys scheduled for alert and training and out of sight of the admin fuckers who want to pull them for everything from KP and security to burning out the shitters."
Duncan paused, "And we fly. A lot!"
"Your home is a Quonset Hut that the engineers put up. It isn't much but it keeps the rain off. The other guys are gonna resent you at first. Some of 'em because they've been here longer, have combat missions and well," Duncan gripped Cassidy's stripes. "There's some of them that have tried to go native and just want to be left alone. But as of the second your bird touched down, you became the second ranking PJ on this base." The pick up jounced past some makeshift hangers and two green and brown camouflaged, HH-43 helicopters.
"These are our Alert Birds," Duncan nodded in the direction of a small metal building. "Alert crews are on from first light until it's too dark to fly. Right now there's six of us in the section. But that's about to change. In the next year we'll be growing to at least a dozen PJs, air and ground crews and all the support folks equipment and Vehicles."
"This little hovel, that looks like a third world shit hole is about to get a huge face lift. In another two years you won't recognize this place and the operations will be going farther north and I mean right into Hanoi and Haiphong.
We're also getting new birds. Sikorsky claims this thing can fly nearly eight hundred miles without refueling. That means we'll be going right up to the border between North Vietnam and China to recover crews that get shot down."
We're gonna drive around for a while before I drop you at your five star accommodations. I want to tell you a few things about this place and what we do and I don't want a lot of little ears to pick up on and then repeat to the other little guys who talk everyday to Hanoi. There's probably as many of those little bastards working for the guys up north as we have working for us."
For the next hour as Duncan drove around the base, Cassidy got an up close brief on, NKP, the Det's current operations and 'the secret war' in Laos.
"Christ, the only ones the war in Laos is secret from are the couch potatoes and protesters back home. Uncle Ho and the boys in Hanoi know we're there, the White House, Kremlin, Beijing, and the press all know we're over there. But, as long as we keep denying it, and the Ruskies don't push it, that war across the river doesn't exist."
The pick-up squeaked to a halt in front of a long half-round building covered in sheet metal. Along the sides, sandbags were stacked to over seven feet high. Adjacent to the Quonset hut sat another squat structure covered in several tiers of sandbags and sections of what looked like telephone poles laid side-by-side to form heavy overhead cover. Duncan and Cassidy grabbed gear and headed into the deserted barracks. "Keep your shit up off the floor and your wall locker secured. What gets left out gets 'ett by rats or grows legs when nobody is in the barracks. Grab a shower, and get changed into civies. The rest of the guys are over at 'The Office' and we're gonna meet up with them there.
NKP city wasn't Reno by any stretch, but the street noise, honking horns, crowded bustle and vendors hocking everything in high pitched voices, reminded Cassidy of his first night on 'The Strip.' The Office by no means looked anything like the bars that lined the streets and filled spaces among the casinos. It sure didn't meet any building code with its creaking floors, flashing neon lights, loud music, and warm beer. The Office was a 'watering hole,' plain and simple. If you wanted more upscale you went elsewhere.
They had hooked up with the rest of the team, had several pitchers of beer and moved on to LEE QUAN'S PALACE where Cassidy was introduced to Thai cuisine with the aroma of curry, jasmine, and another dozen spices. The food arrived on large plates and in huge bowls. Panta Norasingh, Thai Tom Yum, Thai Red Curry Chicken, and Khao Neeo Mamung left Cassidy and the others satiated in the nearly empty restaurant. "I may not be able to pronounce any this stuff," Cassidy proclaimed with a loud belch, "and I may never be able to eat again, but as my old man told me, 'Those Thai's sure as hell can cook!'"
HAMILTON AIR FORCE BASE, CALIFORNIA
Simon Nixon life turned into a whirlwind almost as soon as he arrived in Northern California. PJ Team Chief MSgt Ron Woodstock met him at San Francisco International Airport and he shared lunch with the new PJ before heading to the base.
Woodstock was a well turned-out senior NCO, with a quick and genuine smile and a handshake grip that made Nixon wince and check his fingers to assure they were still in working order. "I usually pick any new guys up, but it's been pretty slim pickings from the School House with the buildup in 'Nam. Hell, we only have eight guys in the section and we're always getting tapped for some thing or another. I just got hit with a memo from the head shed at Scott Air Force base this morning to put somebody on Temporary Duty (TDY) to Thailand for 179 days." Woodstock shook his head and noted that Nixon's attention was on his last statement.
The young PJ held his bosses gaze. "I'd like to go," Nixon quietly Commented.
"Why?" asked Woodstock. It was a simple and straightforward Question. "You just got here and haven't even been to the base."
"That's what I trained for and it's where I should be," answered Nixon with no hesitation.
And that was pretty much that.
Woodstock bought lunch, and they talked about the assignment. Woodstock pulled a copy of the order from his fatigue pants pocket. "Nakhon Phanom." He chuckled, remembering how the First Sergeant had mispronounced it and then boomed, "Well, she-it! None of the brass can pronounce the name of the place either. Hell it's way up in Northern Thailand and we had to look twice at the Atlas to see exactly where it was." Woodstock looked directly at Nixon, holding his eyes. "You sure you want to do this."
Nixon didn't break his Team Chiefs scrutiny. "Yeah. I am."
Woodstock excused himself before their lunch order arrived and in less than five minutes he was back. "I just talked to the First Shirt. He thinks you're crazy, but when I told him there would be a lot less paperwork for him then out-processing one of the guys already on-board." He paused, "and because everything in your brainpan is fresh, he saw the logic in sending you. Now it'll be up to the guys at Scott to approve the orders. We should know in a couple of days. So don't unpack!"
"The quirky thing is that as your NCOIC, I'm supposed to write an evaluation on you when you go TDY or PCS to another unit." He eyed Nixon's empty plate and milk-shake glass. "Hmmm, let me see, first impressions are that this is a young man who knows how and when to eat." Both men laughed.
Forty-eight hours later Nixon was on TDY orders for NKP.
I can now say that I have at least 'seen' the west side of the country, but not much else.
I got to my unit at Hamilton Air Force Base, met my Team Chief and found out over lunch that there was a unit over in the war that needs a PJ for six months. I said I'd like to go and BANG, just like that I'm on orders and headed west.
I am now getting shots for everything from Malaria to athlete's foot and hangnails, heck you name it. I told you about all the stuff we did in our medical classes, now my arms and butt look like I'm back in training. And I know some of the guys they have giving shots in the clinic never graduated a medic course.
Tomorrow I will draw about five hundred pounds of new uniforms, boots and gear. Beside all the stuff we got at the schoolhouse, I have been issued enough junk to start a good size pawn shop or second-hand store back on the street.
I have no idea where I will be in six months, but I know for sure that you're getting me off the street, keeping me in school and helping me get into the Air Force were the best things that could have happened to me. You saved my life man and for that I can never thank you enough.
When I get where I'm headed I'll drop a line.
Until then Take care.
Excerpted from "Pararescue: You Must Be Mad!"
Copyright © 2017 Martin F Caldwell.
Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
First Steps, 15,
'Everyone's Mad Here!' The 'Lone Wolf', 313,
Editor's Note, 323,