The Big Day Arrives
Then finally, after smoothing out the usual wrinkles of an unique, top-secret operation, they were off to CCN, where they waited, and waited, and waited for suitable weather. When the big day, er, night came, off to Laos they went. And at 17,000 feet, over enemy territory at oh-two-hundred hours, Cliff was the first one off the ramp. About five seconds later, he was also the first one to hit clouds and icy cold rain with zero visibility. Then, the sopping wet bag holding the newfangled, non-water-proof direction finder blocked his view of his altimeter.
But not to worry, there was sufficient light when he broke out of the clouds at about 2,000’ AGL, so the biggest problem he faced with the landing was the tree that caught his parachute canopy. After dispatching with that problem (we call them issues, today), he secreted the ‘chute and set out for higher ground, thinking he knew where he was. Once he had both feet solidly on terra firma, Cliff took out his new, top-secret transponder device didn’t work, because it wasn’t waterproof. There was a moment in time where Cliff felt terribly alone: he was deep inside Laos, alone, in the rain, in triple-canopy jungle, a transponder that didn’t work and none of his teammates within sight.
By chance, Cliff encountered one of the two indigenous team members later that day, and they hung out together for the next three days, while the rest of the team found its self spread over a six-mile arc, about six miles from where they thought they had been dropped. The good old Air Force lads had, as it was later learned, dropped the team over the wrong mountain range, thus, none of the maps that the team members carried were accurate. SOG SOP dictated that recon men only carry a small cutout from a map of the actual target area. So, Cliff and his team abided by the SOP but because they covered the wrong mountain range, the maps were also completely useless. But on that third day, covey flew through the area and determined what their actual dispositions were and the next day, they were extracted.
After the Mission
The mission was not a total SNAFU though, as some enemy dispositions were noted and their extraction was flawless. Upon reaching Da Nang, they were whisked away to SOG HQ in Saigon, where they were treated to a sumptuous midnight buffet. The mission was declared a success, if only because there were no casualties. Now what could you say went wrong? It was, after all, an airborne mission. After having the pleasure of Cliff sharing his story from the historic, first SF SOG combat jump, I came up with a suggested nickname for hard-working SFA Executive Director: Mr. Modesty. Like all SF speakers who have appeared before Chapter 78 over the years, they are all modest, truly quiet professionals and Cliff was the epitome of that model soldier. Some of the most interesting pieces of information about that mission emerged during the Q&A segment of the meeting.