Thirty plus years later, Di Benedetto went to the Virtual Wall website and decided to type in Shue’s name. “I must admit, when I typed his name in I had hoped it wouldn’t come up. When it came up, I was heartbroken. Saddened beyond words. During that sad day, I made a vow to myself that I would never forget the men, like Donnie who served America in that war, in that deadly secret war.” He purchased a POW/MIA bracelet with Shue’s name on it. He wore it faithfully everyday as his responsibilities at PcW grew requiring international travel as well as meetings at the five PcW offices he oversaw in Rome, Florence, Naples, Palermo and Bari.
Being an avid reader of history with a strong sense of admiration for the United States — his grandfather worked in the U.S. for 10 years before WWII erupted, he read military history books and began to learn about SOG. By early 2008, he had purchased my non-fiction book On The Ground – The Secret War in Vietnam, which mentioned the November 3, 1969 mission in Laos when Shue’s team, RT Maryland was overrun by communist soldiers. Shue and his teammates Bill Brown and Gunther Wald were never heard from again.
Nick Gathers Intel
On October 14, 2008, I received my first e-mail of introduction from Nick where he expressed his appreciation of SOG’s unique place in history and he had many questions about RT Maryland. Over the following weeks we exchanged many e-mails. And, finally I received a phone call from Nick. We spoke for quite a while before I realized that he was calling from Rome, Italy — not Rome, GA.
Over the next few months, we developed a friendship as he asked deep, knowledgeable questions about SOG. By the spring of 2009, we had exchanged e-mails on everything from RT Maryland to our family history to new SOG books hitting the market place such as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by Lynne M. Black Jr. As all of this unfolded I gave LeTourneau updates on Di Benedetto and how he wanted to meet Black, LeTourneau, Bargewell and other SOG recon legends and was contemplating attending our annual reunion in Las Vegas of the Special Operations Association, formed by SOG recon men after the war.
On November 16, 2009, things became much more interesting when Di Benedetto casually mentioned in an e-mail: “…I just finished corresponding with a travel agency in Laos.”
Four days later, I received an email with an itinerary that took him from Rome to Dubai, to Bangkok and finally to Vientiane, Laos, with plans to helicopter into Salavan Province with the hope of being able to land on the exact location in Laos where the SOG Forward Air Controller last observed RT Maryland, as the team was setting up its RON (Rest Over Night) on November 2, 1969.
Over the next 20 days Di Benedetto worked with Laotian authorities to visit that site in the jungle and a nearby village Ban Chakenvy Tai (he later learned that its name had been changed to Koung Ban Kong). Later he was authorized to build a water line from the Nam Xe Kong River into the village in an attempt to spend enough time there to make friends with some old people who might have had some knowledge of what happened that fatal night and perhaps provide information useful to tracking the remains of those men. In between he had to return to Rome to work in his fledging international consulting business.