Tom R Waskovich
Awarded the Air Medal
I joined the Army right after high school and wanted to be a paratrooper like my dad who served in WWII. I felt I was going to be drafted anyway so it seemed better to join up.
Somebody said never to volunteer for anything. I guess I was a little contrary back then and volunteered for everything.
At the age of 18 I went to the Infantry OCS (Officer Candidate School) and was a TAC (Tactical) Officer at Fort Benning for three months. Before I knew it I was volunteering for jump school, and Special Forces. I really wanted to join Special Forces and had heard of a Mrs Alexander who handled Special Forces assignments at the Pentagon. I called her for a couple of weeks unsuccessfully and finally sent her a dozen roses. The next time I called, she told me that I must really want Special Forces badly and to stop calling me. I will get your orders out.
Within weeks I was off to jump school at Fort Benning as young second Lieutenant, 19 years of age and then went to the Special Forces Officer Course. I decided early on, that if I was going to fight, that I wanted to be the best trained that I could be and that I wanted to fight with the best bunch of guys and therefore Special Forces.
On January the 1st 1969 I landed at Ben Hoa processing center in Vietnam. I was then sent to Nha Trang 5th special forces headquarters. When my buddy and I reported in to 5th Special Forces
Headquarters we were asked if we wanted to volunteer for extra hazardous duty. We asked what it was and the Adjutant said he couldn’t tell us until we volunteered, it was top secret. We volunteered and were then told we were going to SOG. We had heard rumours about it but were not sure what it was. Eventually I was sent to Command and Control Central in Kontum.
I think I was the youngest Officer to run Recon in SOG, I had just turned 20, two months before arriving in SOG.
While at CCC, I started as the 1-2 on RT Wyoming with SSG Jon Davidson who was the 1-0 for the team and Sgt. Craig Davis who was the 1-1. As you will probably be aware rank did not matter, experience did. I then went on to be the 1-0 of RT South Carolina, until I contracted malaria then was transferred to hatchet force as a platoon leader.
We could drop out of SOG any time we wanted but very few ever did. We knew the odds but frankly we were all bat shit crazy or I guess it is probably better to say we were all professionals and had confidence in ourselves and our abilities. Our job was extremely important and could save lives …..yea, think that is a better answer than bat shit crazy !
We all carried CAR 15s with 20 magazines only loaded with 18 rounds instead of 20 to prevent stress on the springs, five frag grenades, two smoke, one CS, claymore, 7 days chow and four canteens.
On our teams one guy carried the PRC-25 radio, one carried an m79 and the 1-0 might carry a high power .22 with a silencer if a prisoner snatch was planned. For those that don’t know we would use CS gas powder in an old insect repellent bottle to squeeze on our back trail if followed by dogs/trackers. Other items varied per mission but the above was pretty much standard on our team.
We might carry a vehicular mine if that was the mission or other items depending on the mission. The 1-0 also carried morphine syrettes for wounded or to quiet a prisoner.
When on my first mission as a 1-2 with RT Wyoming, Jon Davidson was the 1-0 who was an outstanding 1-0, I must say.
My role was as the RTO. We had a mission to observe a certain part of the trail to try and locate an NVA battalion bivouac area. Jon and I got to the trail along with our Montagnard team leader 0-1 and observed within five feet of the trail as we watched regular NVA and labourers passing by. We started to pull back and one of the bad guys must have heard something and there were three warning shots and a pursuit was on. The NVA and dogs chased us for the rest of that day, we put down CS gas powder to throw them off the trail. It was getting towards dusk and Jon identified a RON site, where we formed a perimeter and rested. Jon wanted us to be alert and awake so he passed out green hornets also known as Dextro Amphetamine tablets.
The next day the NVA were on us at first light, we tried to lose them by wading in a stream, but that did not work. I called an air strike to our rear. We made a signal mirror contact also known as popping a shine, to show our location. They dropped CBU, cluster bomb units to our rear then a hatchet force was inserted to follow up on the NVA position. We led the hatchet force in the direction of the NVA bivouac area. Davidson and I and our team were in the lead when we hit a high speed trail and immediately spotted two NVA coming toward us, maybe 20 feet away. We all opened fire and for some reason we all shot the guy on the right and the guy on the left set a new land speed record fleeing the scene. The guy on the right was very dead. Bottom line, the bad guys were mail team and a lot of good intel was secured.
New team members were usually recruited through existing team members who could verify their background.
Our team members were Montagnards and we trained regularly when not on missions, on movement, breaking contact, immediate action drills etc. new members trained also and were monitored for progress and ability.
Not sure of standard operating procedures or SOPs when it comes to other sites but think they were similar to ours. I always preferred the CAR 15, but I had to carry a Swedish K or other non US weapons when in Cambodia. I did not carry a back-up weapon unless planning a prisoner snatch.
All Americans in the team had maps and everything was sterile, even down to your underpants, if you wore any.
The teams that I was in, never carried heavy machine guns due to the need to move quickly. As example we had our immediate action drill which did not call for heavy machine guns. The faster you moved the better off you were.
When in a fire fight, you would drop your mags and reload as fast as you could, any extra second to put a mag in your shirt pocket could make you die. Fire as fast as you can, kill the bad guys then pick up mags if you had time and di di (Vietnamese for run quick) shoot and run and leave them there if you didn’t.
I had a SOG knife, but carried a $19 buck knife my dad got me before I left to Vietnam. I wrapped the sheath and handle in black tape and carried upright on my web gear.
Modern Forces Question…. You see a lot of photos of guys running knives on their STABO’s or M56 webbing. Some carried them upright like you did and some carried them downwards, what was the reason, personal preference or you felt it would drop out.
For me it was more secure to carry my knife in the upright position.
A lot has been made of fancy knives, but all you really used it for was to cut C4, demo cord, and open rations or dig holes. I did not need a Randall for that. If you were ever down to just a knife you were in shit city and probably were not leaving.
This is a photo above is of me heading out for a local patrol around the camp, not across the fence (Laos), note the knife.
I did not use spray paint on my jungle greens, although a few did and a couple teams used NVA stuff. Don’t know where they got the spray from.
When R&R came along. I took several trips to Bangkok, you could travel wherever as long as you had the money and the time, usually I never had the time.
Trip to Bangkok, 9/69
I was on active duty for just under 3 years. I left the army as a First Lieutenant. After SOG, I went to college and graduated with honours with a degree in Anthropology. It made sense, when working with indigenous tribes and appreciating their culture that I should follow this path.
In mid 1970s I joined reserves for 25 years and retired as a Major (I was unable to attend Command and General Staff college and therefore was stuck at that rank.)
I then went on to work in government as an elected official (served as Mayor in my town) and an appointed official in Ocean County New Jersey.
Two VN friends made it to the States and I have been in contact with them. I met one in AZ, and it was great to see him. He was on Fred Zabitosky’s (MOH) team for a while and the other was on Dick Meadow’s team.
I also met a Vietnamese friend who had spent seven years in a re-education camp and lost his family and all belongings.
I am in contact with most SOG guys I served with and many belong to the SOA (Special Operations Association) and meet regularly. Locally we have 4 or 5 SF guys that have lunch every couple of weeks.
Awarded the VN Cross of Gallantry from Col. Ngo Teh Linn , Commander of the VN Special
Commandos Operation Nightcap
I was on Operation Nightcap. You may want to check out the book “Running Recon” by Frank Greco / John Plaster.
I was on bright light duty at Dak To with my RT team (South Carolina) when Nightcap was taking place. The 90 recoilless rifle gunner was hit and evacuated. Lt. Col. Abt was at the launch tower at Dak To and asked me if I knew how to fire the 90 and if so, would I like to volunteer to go in and take his place. I said yes and was in the next chopper out and inserted and took over the 90 position. Shortly before I was dropped in an air-strike was incorrectly called in when the path of the aircraft came directly over our perimeter rather than parallel and a napalm cannister hung up and was dropped on a couple of bunkers killing several montagnards . When I got there the NVA had been putting down a heavy mortar barrage during the night along with a heavy machine gun putting grazing fire over our bunker line. The second night I was there they started the same procedure and I decided to get up on my bunker and take a look and spotted NVA trucks on the road below using blackout lights that I had witnessed on a previous recon mission. I grabbed my Montagnard assistant gunner, stood on my bunker and fired at and hit the first truck that went up in a ball of flame and rolled off the road. I then fired at the second truck and the platoon leader for the sector told me to cease fire, that the 90 was endangering the position. It turns out that the platoon leader had positioned his foxhole directly to the rear of the ninety position and the backblast from the weapon almost fried him. He then brought up 3 M-60 machine guns and we fired on the remaining trucks and destroyed all of them. The NVA had used the ruse of putting heavy fire on the perimeter, getting everyone with their heads down in their bunkers and then running the trucks by. Throughout the nights NVA would creep up on the perimeter and fire small arms or throw hand grenades.
On one particular hand grenade exchange Sgt Simmons and I were in the trench between our bunkers when a chicom landed between us ….loud bang, no shrapnel ! An NVA Lt. got too close to the BUNKER LINE and was shot and killed by one of our Yards. A captain approached me the next night and said we had to get rid of the NVA heavy machine gun. His plan was to go to the far end of the perimeter and fire a full magazine from his rifle while I would be on top of my bunker and fire at the muzzle flash. It worked, there was an explosion and a secondary and their gun was done. It certainly was interesting to be on the first top secret mission to block the Ho Chi Minh trail and we were successful. The NVA 57th transport company lost all six of their vehicles in that sector and our mission was complete.
I used starlight scope on Nightcap, but it is a shame I did not know about it being there when the trucks were coming in. I never used one on Recon.
Operation Nightcap was first at the end of March 69. Operation Spindown was a month or two after I believe in the same location. As far as I know they had the same type bunkers or used the ones that were there that we occupied. Cpt Bobby Evans was in command of Spindown.
After Nightcap I went on another Recon mission, I had severe headaches before the mission and I thought to myself, I cannot go to my commander and say I can’t go on this mission because I have got a headache, so any way I went and toughed it out and after a couple of days called for a fix from covey and when he came in to look for a shiny an anti-aircraft gun opened up on him from the hilltop next to us, so I decided that I would raid this gun, put my team online and we started up the hill waiting on my orders to attack and all of a sudden felt dizzy and fell flat on my face and went delusional and I was having a malaria attack. The team dragged me down the hill and I think the NVA heard us as there was movement to our rear, so Carlos Parker dragged me to the first clearing and called for an emergency evacuation, a Prairie Fire emergency. The helicopter could not land as there was no LZ, so they dropped strings and I was hooked on first and then the team, we got pulled through the bushes a little, but the strange thing was, it was terrible weather and actually started raining about half way through the journey along with the wind and we flew for forty-five minutes and landed at Bien Hoa which was under siege at the time. When they put the team down on the helipad none of us could move due to the straps that had cut off our blood circulation. The pilots were standing around with their .38s protecting us until a group could come down from the camp and pick us up, it was pretty funny. It was fortunate that I survived that. I was in the dispensary for a couple of weeks. In the mean time they gave Carlos the team and when I recovered, they put me on Hatchet Force as platoon leader.
The biggest lesson learned was operational security. SOG was compromised, there was a mole at the highest level and most of our operations were compromised before they were run. They knew missions that were going to be run and LZ’ s that were to be used. Probably lost a lot of guys because of it. The mole was named Francois who was discovered by LTC Speedy Gaspard decades later.
The trick was to install your own operational security. A number of 1-0s would report their insertion LZ for the pre mission briefings, but would choose another when in the air that they had not reported.
Another important lesson learned was when your unit comes across what appears to be a non-combatant most believe you either had to kill them or let them loose. Letting them loose resulted in tragedy when the bad guys would come back with all of their buddies but killing them on the spot had its own drawbacks. The solution is to bind and gag them and take them with you until you accomplish your mission, maybe using a half syrette of morphine to make them more pliable, then releasing them when you were done.