A Christmas to Never Forget
ST Idaho’s concerns about getting spotted by the enemy turned out to be true. As they approached the landing zone at a very low altitude, they noticed a few locals spotting them. Although these hill tribesmen weren’t North Vietnamese, they often cooperated with them out of necessity.
Despite getting spotted, ST Idaho went ahead with its mission.
The H-34 Kingbee put the team on a knoll inside a canyon surrounded by mountains. The SOG commandos immediately noticed that a thick, 10-feet tall blanket of elephant grass covered the area. The vegetation made their going very slow as they looked for a place to bunk down for the night.
As the team was patrolling very slowly to the high ground, the pointman suddenly fired. Everyone hit the deck as a hail of North Vietnamese fire, including rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire, rained on ST Idaho.
There was little merit in continuing with their mission now that the enemy had found them — most probably because of the locals who had spotted them — so Meyer declared a Prairie Fire, vectoring every available aircraft in the region to their position and called for an extraction.
The SOG commandos rushed towards the landing zone to await the incoming H-34 Kingbees. But it was a slow going because of the elephant grass. The special operators could hear noises all around them but the northeast. But Meyer, an experienced team leader, thought it was a ploy to ambush them. His gut feeling was soon proven true when an airborne forward observer spotted massed North Vietnamese troops in that direction.
Although they didn’t know it at the time, ST Idaho had just been saved by another SOG team a few miles away that had intercepted enemy radio transmissions. This was the first and only time a SOG team received tactical intelligence on the field.
ST Idaho continued its path to the landing zone, making sure to avoid the northeast, all the while lobbing grenades wherever they heard noise coming from.
Then, with the helicopters inbound and as they were approaching the landing zone and safety, smoke began engulfing ST Idaho. The North Vietnamese were using the tactical environment to their advantage and were trying to burn the SOG commandos alive or force them to surrender.
In those final moments of their mission, the special operators used everything they had to stop the flames, even going as far as to detonate strips of C-4 explosives to knock the advancing flames back. North Vietnamese troops were just behind the flames, waiting to pounce at the disoriented ST Idaho.
Then, like out of a Hollywood film, the H-34 Kingbees arrived. At first, they had trouble spotting the team and touching down because of the heavy smoke, but the South Vietnamese pilots once more pulled it off and came low enough for the team to climb on board.
Mere moments after they had cleared the landing zone, flames devoured the spot where ST Idaho had only recently been on.
Suffice to say, the SOG commandos were surprised that everyone on the team came out not just alive but without any serious wounds. After surviving such a close call, Meyer remembers that he was astonished that “we were still alive,” wondering to himself that night if he would survive to see his 23rd birthday, which was only a few weeks away.
For Meyer and his team, this was the second close call in a little over a month. But such was the life at MACV-SOG, where the casualty rate exceeded 100 percent.