Part Three:


B-52 Team on a Hot LZ

By Jim Morris
Excerpted from War Story, Paladin Press, 1983, Chapter 32

EDITOR’S NOTE: Read “Project Delta: Part One” and “Part Two: Project Delta In Action” in the December 2021 and January 2022 issues of the Sentinel.

Our ship flared out about thirty feet up and settled slowly to earth. When she was about five feet off the ground, Ken Nauman hitched the seat of his pants and dropped out of sight. I barrelled out after him, jumping off the skids; landing bent over, running for the edge of the LZ where a perimeter was starting to form. I hit the ground behind a dirt bank covered with dry reeds and looked around.

The choppers lifted off, whipping rotors pulling them skyward. Vietnamese Rangers ran in 360 degrees to fill in a good defensive perimeter. Rotors blasted dust into the air, into our hair, teeth and eyes and down the backs of our necks. The gunships went around again; rockets whooshed and cracked, machine guns chattered, miniguns bu-u-urrped out their streams of fire.

When the dust settled everything was still. There was no firing. I got up and looked closely at the gentle hills, the lush green jungle. There was no movement.

Ken sat about ten feet away, looking bored, next to the Vietnamese carrying his radio. He took the handset and said, “Crusade Zero-five, this is Zero-six. Over.” There was a pause and he said “This is Zero-six. You in position? Over.” Another pause. “Roger, out.”

Ken was of medium height, and generally looked bored. He had big, soft, baggy eyes. He was twenty-nine but looked far older. Three tours in Nam had aged him. He got up and started to stroll off, head down talking into the handset, radioman trotting along behind.

We walked over a dugout dirt bank and came up on a Vietnamese lieutenant kneeling, talking into his own radio. He was getting positions from the Vietnamese commanders. Ken explained he was Lieutenant Linh, commander of the first lift.

The lieutenant wore his helmet cocked back, chinstraps dangling on either side of his chubby cheeks. He looked like a younger version of Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia. Ken went over and knelt beside him for a moment, checking to see if they were getting the same information over the radio. Then he nodded and walked away.

I stayed and shot some pictures of the lieutenant talking into his radio.

A three man sixty millimeter mortar crew hustled around under Linn’s direction, trying to keep their tube out from under the trees. They fired handheld, the skinny mortarman moving his little knee-high olive drab pipe proudly, with great precision. When he was satisfied, they’d drop two or three rounds down the tube and then shift again.

After a few minutes I wandered off to find Ken.

He stood on the edge of the LZ looking out across it. There was a huge B-5 2 bomb crater to our right front and another one further to the left front. And to our immediate left front, about thirty meters away sat a UHID, a Huey helicopter.

I nodded toward it. “What’s that doing there?”

He shrugged. “Shot down,” he said.

No bullet holes were visible, but it sat still and empty. It looked dead.

“Everybody get out all right?”

He nodded. “Uh huh.”

“When’s the next lift coming in?”

He pushed his hat back on his head and said, “It’s overdue now. I hope to hell it gets here soon. We’re just sittin’ here waiting for Charles to get his stuff together. We’re not making any money here,” he said, jerking is head toward the trees. “Let’s go get in the shade.”

We walked off together, Ken, the radioman and I, automatically keeping five yards between.

In Lieutenant Linn’s shady nook we crashed under the trees. There was a little bit of breeze and the shade. Everything was quiet. The mortarmen were flaked out around their tube, eating rice and fish. I opened my pack and got out a long range patrol ration. Chili. Slitting the heavy OD envelope, I took out the plastic bag inside, filled it half full of lukewarm canteen water, then stirred the dry crumbly red mess with a plastic spoon. Five minutes later it looked like real chili, complete with beans. It was a little bland but not bad.

“Hey, Ken,” I said, waving the bag, “you want half of this chili? I can’t eat it all.”

He lay under a tree, head on his pack, hat over his eyes, smoking a cigarette. “No thanks. Babe,” he said, not moving, “not hungry.”

I finished the chili, lay down, lit a cigarette and mashed my own hat down over my nose. Bright sunlight turned all the tree leaves around us to pale translucent green.

Lieutenant Linh sat crosslegged under a tree, one arm propped up on his radio, eating sausage. He held out a slice to me, smiling.

“Da Khong, cam on Chung ‘Uy,” I said.

He ate that slice and cut himself another. Breezes blew, tree limbs waved, shivering the translucent leaves. We sucked down cigarette smoke and the day grew hotter. We waited. The sun burned through the trees and the shade drifted away with the sun. I took off my hat to wipe the sweat from my forehead and the inside of my eyelids turned red.

“Hey!” Ken said.

I pushed my hat back a little and looked at his inert form. “Huh, what?”

“How’d you like to have one of those cold cokes we were drinking before we left?”

I smiled cruelly. “How’d you like to have a big orange drink in a tall waxed paper cup, so full of ice you crunch on it for half an hour after you finish your drink?”

“Why you rotten son of a bitch,” he muttered, without moving.

I glanced at my watch. “We’ve been here almost four hours now,” I said. “The longer we wait, the more trouble we’re going to be in when we move.”

Ken stirred uneasily. “What I’m afraid of is that we’ll get moving late and get in a firelight about six-thirty, just when we don’t want it.”

I pushed my hat lower, dimly hearing some sounds in the distance.

“Incoming!” Ken said.

Without consciously moving I found myself face first in the dirt, M-16 in the firing position. Four B-40 rockets exploded out on the LZ and there was the sound of four more being fired.

When Ken saw they didn’t have the range on us he sat back up and got on the radio, talking intently into the microphone. “Falcon, this is Crusade Zero-six, Zero-six. Over. Falcon…Roger Falcon Two-two…Oh! Hi John. Good to have you out. What’ve you got? Over.”

A little Air Force 02B aircraft buzzed around, front and rear propellers outlined against the sky. It was Falcon, the Delta Forward Air Controller.

Ken looked up and said, “Keep low. We’re gonna have some F-105’s in here in a minute.” He looked at Linh. “Chung ‘Uy, you get adjustments from the companies over your radio and feed them to me. I’ll keep adjusting the aircraft.” Then back into the microphone, “Hey John! You see the high ground about a hundred meters north of the LZ. Put your marking round in there.”

Calling In Air

Two flights of F-105’s appeared over the horizon. They roared in low over the LZ and swung, clean, sweptback and beautiful into the sky. The little FAC dropped over in a tight 180 and buzzed the hill mass Ken had indicated.

Crack-whoosh-WHOMP! went the marking round, leaving a plume of white smoke hanging over the target.

“Very good!” Ken said. “Bring your first round in right there.”

It was very quiet after the marking round. The B-40’s quit falling.

The fighters came around and the first one came in on the target.

“Hit it!” Ken said and fell to earth.

I sat up and watched. They hit. The entire landscape jumped and I picked a jagged piece of hot steel off my lap. I decided after that to do what the man said.

“That was pretty good, John,” Ken said. “Put ‘em in on that ridge line right there.”

The jets peeled off one after the other and came in. The arc of the falling high-drag bombs was slow. We hit the ground a fraction of a second before they struck and were all right. Ken put in napalm too. We didn’t need to crouch for the huge orange and black blossoms ballooning across the horizon.

When the aircraft dumped their loads and headed for home it was quiet again. The FAC kept buzzing around, and for that or other reasons Charles left us alone.

A few minutes later we heard the whop-whop-whop of returning helicopters. I cradled the rifle under my arm and got out my camera, walking down to the edge of the LZ.

Two gunships circled the LZ. Apparently the other had been hit that morning. A cloud of slicks whirled in to dump their troops, UHID’s from the 281st and Marine CH-46’s.

Two and three at a time the slicks landed. Tailgates on the big CH-46’s dropped, troops poured off the ramp and the choppers clawed back into the sky. One limped in smoking and the crew barreled out with the troops.

A Huey lifted off, shuddered, started to go down, shuddered, straightened up and limped over the horizon. Another went through the same drill and crashed in the trees about two hundred meters past the LZ. Right where Charles was. It began to occur to me that all the firing wasn’t coming from our perimeter.

When all the ships were gone it was quiet again. There were three ships down on the LZ and I had seen one more go down. That was four. I didn’t know if there were others or not. One thing for sure, everybody wasn’t here yet. I didn’t know if Ken was going to try to bring in another lift or not. He wasn’t there to ask.

Some guys were out on the LZ poking around the first Huey that went down. There was no firing so I went over to see if there might be any pictures. Two guys from the Project sat in the door on the shady side, smoking. A couple of others looked in the pilot’s compartment. The machine guns had been taken out.

I sat down in the doorway, got a cigarette out and gave the interior of the chopper a quick once-over to see if maybe there was any ice water inside. There wasn’t.

“You guys just get here?” I asked, taking a drag on the cigarette.

There was a burst of automatic weapons fire and the dirt kicked up around us. Other weapons joined in and the LZ became a field of little dirt geysers. The guy I was talking to started running.

Project Delta Veterans at memorial stone placed in their honor at USASOC headquarters.

Capt. Ken Nauman calls in airstrike from bomb crater. (Photo courtesy by Jim Morris, courtesy Soldier of Fortune Magazine)