In July of 1978, Major L.H. “Bucky” Burruss divided his Delta Force squadron in half at the assembly area. Bucky had served in Mike Force during Vietnam and had also attended SAS selection at Beckwith’s request (Burruss, 252). First troop moved out to take down an aircraft while second troop was assigned to breach a building and rescue hostages being held by “terrorists” inside. There was a lot riding on this one, as this was Delta Force’s final validation exercise. Both targets were hit around 4 a.m. on Camp Mackall.
Approaching from the tail end of the decommissioned National Guard AC-121, first troop silently moved up to the two hatches they had decided to breach. “Padded ladders were softly laid on the fuselage. Two hatches had been selected. In the time it takes to suck in your breath, both doors were blown and the plane taken” (Beckwith, 160). Meanwhile, second troop breached the windows of their target building, cleared away the glass with steel pipes, and flooded the structure with operators. “Within seven seconds, the terrorists had been taken out and the hostages freed” (Beckwith, 160).
Although there were some hiccups with the validation, the Army had no idea how to evaluate counterterrorist operations at this time. Delta passed the test, receiving high praise from General Mackmull and General Meyer, the latter being the deputy chief of staff of operations and plans for the Army.
“Blue Light seemed now, after our evaluation, to be redundant. Delta Force had filled the gap and we could be put on alert. If anything went down, we were ready to handle it” (Beckwith, 163).
“General Meyer agreed and Blue Light was deactivated shortly thereafter” (Lenahan, 16).
Blue Light’s sergeant major was again called into Colonel Mountel’s office in August of 1978.
“I want you to send all of your people over to Delta for a briefing,” the colonel said.
“They don’t want to go,” Blue Light’s senior NCO replied.
“I just gave you a direct order.”
“We were told we had a mandatory meeting with Colonel Charlie Beckwith,” Jake Jakovenko remembered. “Fifty of us attended.”
Others have written that there was a massive amount of animosity between Blue Light and Delta, but drilling deeper into this subject it becomes apparent that the rift was not between the two units, but rather between the enlisted members of Blue Light and Charlie Beckwith personally. In order to understand why these sentiments existed, you have to go back in time to 1965, when Beckwith was the commander of B-52 Project Delta, a Vietnam War project unrelated to Delta Force aside from the name.
Nha Trang, Vietnam, 1965:
“What kind of goddamn war are we fighting over here?” Major Charlie Beckwith asked as he drove down the streets of Nha Trang. He had just been assigned as the commander of Project Delta. His soldiers had been living in the town all weekend, hanging out at the beach, in the bars, and “getting their ashes hauled by the Vietnamese gals” (Beckwith, 54). Outraged, Beckwith grabbed one of the Project Delta sergeants and told him to gather up the men in a formation behind their compound.
“He read them the riot act…he further told them that they were there to kill the enemy, not to make money, and anyone who could not embrace his philosophy had better leave” (Carpenter, 81). Out of the 30 men assigned to Project Delta, all but seven walked out. He was nicknamed Chargin’ Charlie for a reason, and “the consensus is that you either loved the guy or you hated him. A lot of that had to do with his aggressive nature in attacking situations, a style that some considered reckless and self serving” (Carpenter, 81).
To recruit more men to replace the ones he just lost, Beckwith created a flyer that read, “Wanted: volunteers for ‘Project Delta’, will guarantee you a medal, a body bag, or both” (Beckwith, 55). Major Beckwith wasn’t kidding, either. Recruits came streaming in.
Beckwith would command the unit into 1966 when it was asked to perform recon missions in the Lao Valley, known to be a Viet Cong stronghold, in what was called Operation Masher. “This operation proved to be one of the darkest in Project Delta’s history” (Carpenter, 96). Seven Special Forces men were killed during the operation. Major Beckwith decided to fly into the valley in a helicopter, believing that if he was on the ground, it would incentivize the 1st Cavalry Division to provide the support that Project Delta had not been getting. Forced to fly low because of cloud cover, the helicopter made an easy target. “Almost at once, a .51-caliber machine gun bullet comes through the helicopter. It goes in one side of my abdomen and comes out the other” (Beckwith, 80).
Major Beckwith was then evacuated and spent a long time in recovery. Because of the casualties taken during Project Delta operations led by Beckwith, many of the Special Forces soldiers held a grudge against him—one that they carried with them into Blue Light in 1977. “Some of the rumors out at Mott Lake were true, some were not, but I cannot confirm anything from personal knowledge,” said Jim, a Green Beret who had served in Project Delta later during the Vietnam War. After the war, he went on to become an officer in Delta Force.
When addressing the widely held beliefs that many in the Special Forces community had about Beckwith, he said, “Some guys said they shouldn’t have gone on the Lao Valley mission because the weather was bad, but sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.” He added, “There are some guys who served in Special Forces and Project Delta who blamed Beckwith for the tragic lose of some recon personnel during an operation into Lao Valley. His personality and aggressive nature created enemies as well.”
Fort Bragg, August, 1978:
Colonel Beckwith stood up and began giving the men of Blue Light his recruitment speech. Beckwith “gave us the opportunity to join Delta. Most of us would have joined,” Jakovenko said. Everything seemed to be going OK, until he told the group of Special Forces Vietnam veterans that they would have to go to Delta’s section and assessment course if they wanted to become members of the unit. This caused a stir among the men. Who was Beckwith to reassess a group of men who had fought and bled on Special Forces missions in Vietnam?
One of the Blue Light sergeants asked Beckwith as much. To paraphrase his reply, Beckwith answered, “We gotta know that you’re not gonna fold when you gotta kill someone.” Suffice to say, this was the wrong thing to say to a group of battle-hardened Green Berets. The attitude of many Blue Light sergeants was one of “why do you need to assess me when you know where I’ve been and what I’ve done?” Furthermore, there were Blue Light members who had served with Beckwith in Project Delta, and would not try out for Delta Force as long as Beckwith was with the unit.
Another Blue Light sergeant, who happened to be a MACV-SOG veteran, stood up and asked Beckwith, “You call this unit 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, so is this a Special Forces outfit like the one you destroyed in Vietnam?” The briefing did not go as well as he would have liked. Beckwith then took them down the hall at the stockade to show them a few things, and then Blue Light departed. No one in the brief volunteered for Delta selection.
Several books have been published stating that Blue Light was never invited to try out for Delta Force and none of them ever served in Delta. Both claims are false. As you can see here, Beckwith did invite all Blue Light members to selection, even if he did not show much tact in how he went about it. Down the line, at least four Blue Light members went on to serve in Delta Force.
Blue Light was deactivated that same month, in August of 1978.
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