One of the more amazing stories to emerge from the eight-year secret war during the Vietnam War took place on October 5, 1968, west of the A Shau Valley—one of the deadliest targets run by recon teams based at the top-secret compound in Phu Bai, FOB 1, run under the aegis of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam–Studies and Observations Group, or simply SOG.

Earlier in 1968, the communist North Vietnamese Army (NVA) had inflicted severe losses on SOG recon teams running missions in the A Shau Valley and west of it in Laos. That valley was a key location where enemy troops and supplies were funneled down the notorious Ho Chi Minh Trail into South Vietnam to take the war into major cities in the northern sector of South Vietnam, Hue, Phu Bai, and Da Nang. Earlier in the war, three Green Beret A Camps were overrun by NVA and Pathet Lao troops. By the fall of 1968, NVA gunners were bringing in more anti-aircraft weaponry and special, highly trained sapper units were created to hunt down SOG recon teams. The communists offered what amounted to a “Kill An American” medal for any NVA soldier that killed a SOG recon man.

As the weather cleared over the A Shau Valley on Oct. 3, 1968, the brass assigned recon team ST Alabama to run a target just southwest of the A Shau Valley. Specialist Fourth Class Lynne M. Black Jr., a combat-hardened paratrooper who served one year earlier in the war with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was introduced to a new team leader. The sergeant was appointed team leader of ST Alabama only because he had more rank than Black, who had more experience fighting the NVA than the sergeant. Black was introduced to the new One-Zero (code name for team leader) and they were ordered to fly a visual reconnaissance (VR) over the target.

VRs were flown as close to the launch date as possible and usually in a small, single-engine observation aircraft flown by two Vietnamese pilots. In this case, the VR was flown two days before the target launch date of October 5, 1968. Black and the new One-Zero flew in the rear seat of the small aircraft. The primary and secondary landing zones had been selected when the aircraft was hit by 12.7mm heavy machine gun fire.