by Author Unknown
I recently read SOG by John L. Plaster. I loved the book and read it
with interest and looking for that “story” that might have something to
do with A/101, Comancheros and my flying days with them on CCN missions.
I remember these missions with mixed feelings. They were always a
adventure, as CCN hardly ever came out in a cold PZ, but they gave you
the feeling that you were working with the pros and doing something for
your country when you flew these missions for them. They also had the
best chow in I Corp. :-))
Although the book SOG was very exciting reading through the first
fifteen chapters, nothing jumped out at me as a mission that I was on.
Then came Chapter sixteen “Fighting Soldiers From The Sky”. As some of
you may already know this chapter has to do with the SOG HALO teams and
there missions. I had a remembrance, although just partial, of an
extraction that we performed for SOG in the summer of 1971. My memory
told me that the SOG team had parachuted in and had injury’s on landing.
I have been told that this did not happen, because SOG did not have HALO
teams. Well my CRS memory has been vindicated somewhat by page 317 of
“SOG”. John L. Plaster wrote the story of Sergeant Major Billy Waugh,
Staff Sergeant James “JD” Bath and Sergeants Jesse Campbell and Madison
Strohlein and them being members of SOG HALO team. After weeks of
training for this jump they were put in a target DZ 60 miles southwest
of Danang on 22 June 1971 on a intensely dangerous night jump at 14,000’
from a Blackbird. The book goes on to tell that Bath’s chute had blown
out in the canopies center and he had almost no control in his descent.
He got separated from Strohlein, Campbell and Waugh in the heavy rain
and his chute collapsed on a tree branch and he plunged to the ground
wrenching his knee and knocking himself out. Strohlein crashed through
the trees and was caught up in the tree with his chute. He was in his
harness with a broken arm he was stuck in the tree and could not operate
his descender . He could only talk with Bath by radio. Waugh and
Campbell landed safely. They all reported that they saw NVA during the
night, but were not discovered by them as some of them hung helplessly
from there positions.
The A/101 Avn., Comancheros, got the call be be the extraction birds
the next morning. We were chalk two in a four bird flight and chalk
three and four had Bright Light teams on board when we went out at O
dark 30. Once in the area of the team the plan was to go after Bath
first, but after talking with him on the radio he convinced us that
Strohlein needed to get out first because of his injuries and the
position he was in.
Chalk one and two were redirected to the adjoining embankment to
look for Strohlein. While three and four circled above waiting there
turn to insert the Bright Light teams. We had a hell of a time trying to
find him as it was at least triple canopy jungle that he was hung up in.
He was on the radio talking to us and trying to vector us toward him by
the sound of our rotors. This took for what seemed like a hour and we
could not see him anywhere. We once thought that we were very close and
he said he could hear us overhead.
The rotor wash moved the jungle away and I spotted a "yard" standing
below looking up at us. I leaned out and threw a string to him and it
landed at his feet, a perfect shot. He just looked up at me and smiled
but did not grab and attach to the string. We were hovering about 25
’-30’ above him and I motioned wildly for him to grab the string and
hook up. The "yard" just stood there with his rifle slung over his
shoulder and looked at me with a stupid look on his face. I was getting
pissed that he was standing there looking up at me and smiling, while I
was hanging half in and half out of the bird and we were sitting ducks
in Indian country while this idiot acted like he did not want a ride.
The GIF ask me what the problem was and I keyed the intercom told them
the SOB would not grab the string that was laying at his feet. Then I
remembered that this guy was supposed to be hung up in a tree, I keyed
the mike and asked the AC if the team was all round eyes or if "yards"
were among them, as was the usual with SOG teams, and if they could tell
him by radio to hook up to our string. I went back to motioning to try
to get this “yard” to grab the string. The AC then came back to me with
“All round eye team - NOT OUR MAN”.
What happened next seemed like it took forever to transpire and all
of it happened in slow motion, but could not of been more than a couple
of seconds. The pucker factor moved to maximum as I realized that I was
trying to get a NVA to hook up to my rig. Oh shit, I reached back to
grab my M16 that was within my reach in the CE well while I was laying
on the floor. Just as I locked and loaded it and stuck my head back out
to shoot this guy just as he too realized that I had found out that he
was not who I thought he was. He started to take his gun from a
position of slung over his shoulder. I pulled the trigger before he got
his AK up to aim and cut him down. Why he did not shoot us before this I
can’t explain. He had enough time to fire his whole clip in the bottom
of my Huey and me as I lay on the deck. As it turned out this is the
only time I ever shot a NVA/VC that I could see his eyes. Maybe he did
not want the bird to fall on him! I can still see it just as though it
was yesterday.
After explaining to the GIF what had just happened we got back to
trying to find Strohlein and I to trying to calm my nerves. Strohlein
heard the shots and we told him that Indians were in his AO. Strohlein
then threw a smoke in a attempt to help us locate him. It was then we
found out that he was actually hearing chalk one over him all this time,
but was talking to and directing us. Then we found the smoke but could
not find his location exactly through the canopy jungle and the smoke
was not helping pinpoint him. After several minutes of trying to locate
him he warned us off because he heard NVA around him and he did not want
to give his position away. The weather was getting real bad and we were
almost out of fuel so Chalk three and four inserted the bright light
to locate Campbell and Waugh on the opposite ridge line, they located
them and extracted them and we headed back to refuel.
After going back and refueling we again went back out as lead in
what was now the early afternoon with a flight of three because Chalk
four CRS took hits and was red Xed. We could not reach Strohlein on the
radio, so Chalk two and three rappelled in a bright light team to go
after Bath. They found him and and he and the team were lifted out on
strings. After circling for a while longer and trying to reach
Strohlein on the radio without any luck. His ridge became engulfed in
fog so we could not get in to low level search for him. We finally
started taking same light AK ground fire and took a couple of hits but
nothing that seemed to cause a problem, but again running low on fuel
we had to leave the AO and abandon our search for Sgt. Strohlein for the
day. After shutting it down we found two holes in the sheet metal of
the cowling for AK rounds, but no real damage done.
The next day we inserted a Hatchet force platoon to go after
Strohlein. They found his map and CAR-15. No blood was found, however AK
and CAR-15 brass were around the location. Sergeant Strohlein was never
found and is still listed as MIA. I did not know his fate all these
years until I read about it in “SOG”. I was able to tell this story from
the information I found in SOG by John L. Plaster and what little memory
I have of the incident. It is heart breaking for me to now know the fate
of Sergeant Madison Strohlein. I still have the feeling that if we had
just tried a little harder we could have found him. I will look him up
on the Wall the next time I get the chance.
At Fort Bragg there is a vertical wind tower where Special Forces
HALO parachutists perfect their skills, Strohlein Hall, named for SOG
HALO jumper Madison Strohlein, MIA and believed captured, but never
returned to his loved ones. RB