Charles D. Case, or Chuck as he preferred to be called, was an A Squadron non-commissioned officer. The squadron sergeant major preferred to call him Dexter, which he did. Chuck was a nice guy; he would tell you so. To me, that is not something you can ever say about yourself. You can’t say you are a good parent, a funny person, a good judge of people, or a nice person; rather, those are observations and statements reserved only for others to say about you.
Everyone on a combat team brings something to a fight: the fast runner, the adept climber, the crack shot, the accomplished boxer…and Chuck packed a ridiculously hard punch. He was absolutely fearless, had a high pain threshold, and was an indomitable fighter on the ground. Nonetheless, I can in all honesty say that Chuck truly was a genuinely nice guy. I adopted a personal policy during my time in squadron: make all of my closing statements to these men here, like it is going to be the last thing they will ever hear.
Words ring true. At the rate that the men of Delta Force perish, it wasn’t ingenuous to presume that any given conversation with one of these brothers might be my last. Enter Chuck Chase, a solid operator with a superb sense of humor, dependable, and deadly. He was a solid hand in a fight, quick to compliment others and even quicker to boost morale and pump you up if you weren’t feeling your oats. “You’re a flagship, Bart!” I heard him once say. “People rally around you and look up to you. They want to be like you and look to you for guidance.” Bart didn’t like hearing that, but it was certainly true. He would come to realize that once he found himself in leadership positions.
Chuck was, physically, a rough man. His “pats” on the back were something to brace for, and his handshake was like a bear trap if you weren’t ready for it. I’ll cite a particular event: We elected to have a family gathering for dinner at one of the town bars. We sat outside in the back at picnic tables. Chuck was stoked, and when he got stoked he would engage in some measure of physical display of brotherhood.
This evening it would be head butting. Chuck went from table to table greeting the dads in the same fashion: He put his hand behind each father’s head and slammed his head against theirs. I braced for impact. I knew it was coming and had to just take the pain. I heard a bell ring and saws stars, just like in the cartoons. Unfortunately, poor Markey-Mark C. got head-banged so hard, his wife had to drive him home and put him to bed.
Chuck was still a really nice guy. Chuck didn’t have any children, so you couldn’t really imagine how he might be around them. I wondered that myself on at least a single occasion. I would find out eventually, when we deployed to British Guyana for jungle and waterborne operations. We stayed in Guyana, living and working out of a masonry shack of sorts. It was an open-air dwelling with uncovered doorways and windows.
Nearby houses presented curious children who began to appear on the building periphery, just standing and staring at the hulking white men. The periphery eventually gave way to the building door and window ways; just half faces at first, then, full beguiling visage. We, for the most part, all just loved their unobtrusive presence, and candy was the order of the day. “Don’t feed the monkeys!” Chuck bellowed, “They’ll just keep coming back for more, and the next thing you know they’ll be robbing us blind.” Words of wisdom. He was right, you know, but who could resist?
I chatted with the kids often. Their names were Winston, Rudolph, Henderson, Hadley, and Genghis. Excruciatingly odd names for the Third-World gouge of jungle habitat they lived in. They only spoke English, but it was an old English, one that hadn’t evolved the way ours did back in the States. Parts were missing, and they had accents that leaned toward Great Britain more than anything. I engaged them with mindless banter about what they wanted to be when they grew up, and what they had learned in school for the day.
Chuck and the kids had an understanding: They stood clear of him, and he wanted it that way. There came a day that we dedicated to practicing a waterborne infil/exfil technique that we exclusively developed in The Unit, called the Delta Queen. The technique involved the launch and recovery of a fully loaded F-470 Zodiac Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) by way of the swift and giant CH-47 Chinook helicopter, or as we affectionately called it, the “Shit-hook.”
On this particular day, Chuck was assigned to guard our shack. He busied himself with priorities of work, remaining gainfully employed while the rest of us headed for the boat dock and helo pad. I conducted all interactions with my own troop, and then had the dubious honor of remaining with the other two troops, since I was “coming from Key West Scuba School and had the most waterborne experience.” Fifty three Delta Queen operations later, I was staggering back to the shack to swap out some of my combat gear for other gear that wasn’t shredded to within a quarter inch of its usable life. As I approached the shack, I fully expected to find the good Charles Dexter Chase sprawled out on a cot reading a Harlequin Romance. Instead, this is what I found of the Grinch and the neighboring chillins’ of Hooville:
Dexter the ogre had pulled out a camouflage paint kit and had drawn on their war faces.
“Hi Chuck,” I piped up.
Chuck turned with a jerk and a flush of red came over his mug. “Just trying to straighten up around here, George, but these kids keep interrupting.”
“Ah, Chuck…and is face-painting supposed to force the kids to give back all our stuff they stole?”
So Chuck was a nice guy—he REALLY was a nice guy. My team 2IC, Will; “Chill-D;” nice-guy Chuck; one of the baddest SEALs in ST-6, Scotty K.; and I teamed up to move into the jungle for some live-fire combat operations for a few days and nights. We conducted live-fire jungle lanes—both individual movement and team movement. The last drill we did involved breaking contact with hand grenades. Chuck and I heaved our grenades down into a depression.
“BOOOOOM…” but only one boom. One of the grenades failed to detonate. Now the team was laying down near the lip of the depression, waiting. SOP dictated that, on a mechanical misfire, there would be a 30-minute wait prior to approaching the munition. Waiting, we realized it was getting darker, and we absolutely did NOT want to to be trying to move in the pitch black of a triple-canopy jungle night. With over 25 minutes into the wait, Chuck and I decided to move down into the depression, prime the misfire with another grenade, and jump out. We eased over the lip of the depression and BOOOOOOM! The second grenade exploded, showering the team with dirt, vegetation, and insects.
“Well,” Chuck uttered with distinct resignation, “that’s why we have these SOPs, and rigorously adhere to them, you know, George?”
“You ain’t wrong, Chuck. Let’s get out of here.”
We moved a short distance to where we decided to set up base camp for the evening.
That night, a bottle of rum was produced that came from the nearby town of Bartica. Chuck, Scotty, and I mixed it with ‘orange beverage powder’ that came from a field ration, and sipped it from canteen cups by the fire as we sang every song we could think of. Chill-D was a teetotaler, so he just swung in his hammock and enjoyed the show.
Chuck’s ‘famous’ saying came from one night in Washington D.C. Chuck and I stopped to grab a late-night Subway sandwich just shy of the hotel we were staying at. Just outside the door were several gentlemen of leisure, local to the area, and with free, gypsy-like spirit.
“Gimme summa that sandwich, boy!” one of them demanded.
Chuck grinned, tipped his head in salutation, and continued to walk.
“I said gimme summa that sandwich, boy!” the cretin demanded again.
Chuck paused and regarded the indigenous idiot, then suggested, “I’m a nice guy, until I’m not a nice guy anymore.”
With that, the irate local boy jumped up spewing threats, peeling off sweater after sweater after sweater—as his wardrobe was a mobile sort that he kept with him at all times. As the gentlemen approached, Chuck gently laid his sandwich on a concrete stair and commenced with what was one of the most unforgiving onslaughts imaginable. Man after man, Chuck drove them to the ground like augered-in fence posts. He crashed them into patio furniture, flipped them, and threw them over the patio fencing like crash-test dummies. As he recovered his sandwich, we headed back to the hotel, leaving the courtyard patio strewn with clothes, supine homeboys, and wrecked plastic furniture.
Eventually, Chuck went ‘upstairs’ from A Squadron to work in research and development. Whether he actually wanted to go or not, I never knew. He came back to the squadron to visit from time to time, sometimes out of boredom, sometimes for business. He eventually came over less frequently, as The Unit was simply a fast, fast-moving train. I came into the squadron lounge after chow one day, close to 1300 hours and about time to get back to work. Chuck was there, just breaking off a conversation with one of the brothers. I was in a hurry and frankly a bit annoyed in general. I paused to shake hands with Chuck in silence and then an awkward pause.
“So, how has it been down here these day, George?” Chuck dryly queried.
I braced myself at the prospect of answering that stupid and pointless question. I didn’t have time for this, much less creative motivation. I embraced my personal policy about how I talk to these men, and let her rip: “Not worth a damn since you left, Chuck.” Chuck’s mustached grin touched both ears as he slammed his hand down hard on the bar—BOOOOM! He dipped his head in respectful salutation as he was often inclined to do. He quick-stepped out the door and I returned to work.
I drove onto The Unit compound in typical fashion, headed to our squadron parking. It was in the afternoon that I came to work that day because we would be conducting night helo assaults on mock-ups of potential targets in the Caribbean. I passed William “Chief” Carlson walking by and waved. He waved back, but in a waved-down-to stop-me sort of way.
“Did you hear about Chuck?”
“No, what the fuck do you mean?”
“He was killed this morning on Range 19. He was unloading a heavy load from a truck. The load shifted and pinned him, and crushed his head. He died immediately. Sorry George.”
Under such circumstances, one might sit for a time and reminisce about all the things you and your brother did together, all the difficult and the good times. In every case, you will eventually try to recount the last thing you ever said to him. My last words to Charles Dexter Chase were in keeping with my personal policy on how I treat these men—with dignity, respect, compassion, and brotherly love. Here’s to you, my brother. You are a class act.