[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of exclusive SOFREP stories of what led to the MACV-SOG Bright Light mission that haunts SOG Green Beret SSG James H. Shorten (Jones) to this day. It has taken him back to Cambodia twice and he hopes to return to Cambodia in 2018 to help DPAA officials locate and return two Air Force pilots he and his recon team tried to find in 1970.]

Because darkness closed in quickly, RT Delaware’s launch into Cambodia was delayed until the following day. During the morning pre-mission briefing, Shorten was told that the first F-4, code-named Cobra-83, reported that Cobra-84 crashed into the first hill with a huge fireball and explosion; it skipped across a second hill and came to rest on the third hill. Armed with that information, One-Zero Shorten boarded the first Huey with three Montagnard team members, and the newly-minted One-One Homer Hungerford and two Montagnards, and they climbed into the second chopper and headed toward Cambodia. In the distance, the weather looked “a bit stormy” but the helicopters climbed to approximately 4,000 feet and headed toward the northern portion of Cambodia and the crash location.

During those long helicopter rides west over the beautiful, dark emerald-green jungle below, Shorten’s mind turned back to prior insertions when bullets began tearing through the thin, aluminum helicopter skin. “It’s a pretty scary situation,” he said years later, with the memories still etched deeply into his mind. “You don’t know if the helicopter’s going to explode or if the pilot’s going to take a round and lose control and crash. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

His reverie ended when the pilot told him, “Carrot, we’re descending. Get ready to unload.” Moments later, the Huey was approaching the LZ. As the chopper descended into Cambodia, Shorten could see the complex of trails that made up the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and within seconds he could see the bridge the Air Force jets were trying to bomb. The next visual jarred Shorten: “I could see the burned out path from where the jet hit the first hill.”