It was such a fine line, this difference between a legal and an illegal killing.  In the shadowy world of espionage and counter-terrorism, the line was even more difficult to define.  Yes, the men and one of the women under his command had already killed more than two dozen people since the operation began in El Salvador less than a week earlier.  But those deaths all fell within the hazy edge of legal killings.”  -excerpted from “A Mission for Delta” by L.H. Burruss

In the publishing world’s search for authenticity, they often procure the names of writers who have been there and done that, but generally being a great soldier does not make one a great writer.  Because of this, we end up with a slew of ghost-written mish-mashes of fictional memoirs and non-fictional novels.  However, a relatively unknown author named L.H. Burruss broke the mold long before the world ever heard of the late, great Tom Greer who wrote under the pen name Dalton Fury.  Lewis “Bucky” Burruss may not have been to all of the rodeos during his time as a career Army officer, but he went to quite a few of them.  Jokes aside, Bucky served in “Mike Force” with Special Forces in Vietnam.  After the war he was sent on an exchange to the UK and completed British SAS selection before Colonel Charlie Beckwith tapped him to come help stand up Delta Force in the late 1970’s where he then served as A-Squadron Commander and later as Deputy Commander of the unit.

Bucky (referenced as “Buckshot” in Beckwith’s Delta Force memoir) wrote an incredible non-fiction account of his time with “Mike Force” in Vietnam.  Unfortunately, not many have read the book but it stands in a league of its own alongside other Green Berets who also happened to be exceptional writers like Jim Morris and John Stryker Meyer.  I’ve read a lot of SOF memoirs and I have read a lot of Vietnam memoirs as well.  “Mike Force” would easily make my top three.  After writing about his experiences in Vietnam, Bucky turned his eye towards fiction and has written a number of novels in the espionage and military thriller genre.  Honestly, I have had some Special Forces soldiers tell me that Bucky’s book about Mike Force is exceptional but that they never really cared for his fictional works.  Having read his novel “A Mission for Delta” I would beg to differ and will explain why.

Also, as a fair warning, I will be covering pretty much the entire plot of the novel in this review so if you don’t want to read spoilers, hold off and come back to read this after you finish the book.  I figure that since the book is fairly obscure and since it was published in 1991 that you have either read it or you haven’t.  Hopefully this review gets some folks interested in tracking the book down and taking a renewed interest in it.  “A Mission for Delta” is a hidden gem of a book, one that will make you question some of the things we have been told about contemporary history, and one that will make you wonder what the hell was really going on during the Reagan years.

A Mission for Delta” takes place against the backdrop of the twilight years of the Cold War and the on-going Iran-Contra hearings.  At Fort Bragg Delta operators are taking their seats, preparing for a mission brief.  Just about everything at the unit is compartmentalized, with teams working their own independent operations.  While they know that their teammates are running ops as well, what they may not know is that their missions are actually inter-connected with one another, playing towards the same end game.  Throughout the novel, two men will quietly meet for a side bar outside of official briefs, the CIA director and Delta commander hashing out their own plan, and then only briefing part of that plan while only two or three people in the world know the full scope of the actual mission.

Sergeant Major Matt Jenson walks up to a cork board where Delta’s intel officer had just thumb tacked a picture to.  He recognizes the face, but saying nothing.  Stoic, seasoned, and professional, Jenson plays his cards close to his chest, just like everyone else.  Jenson and so many other Delta operators in the novel have their origin story (if you will) in the Vietnam War.  Jenson goes as far as to describe himself as a creature of Vietnam at one point as his experiences in MACV-SOG were so formative.  The Delta commander himself had been a part of the Phoenix Program.

As the mission brief begins, Colonel Garret (the Delta commander) informs the small group of men that no one outside that room is to be told of the mission and that their operations officer (Major Ames) was just returned from the White House where he received the mission from the National Security Council.  Of interest, is that this implies that the Pentagon is cut out of the chain of command and that Delta is taking orders directly from the White House.  In real life, Delta’s chain of command was a point of contention.  The unit was stood up to tackle POW rescues behind enemy lines but policy makers were primarily concerned with hostage barricade and tubular assaults (aircraft hijackings) scenarios at that time.  The order to send troops into a foreign country to conduct counter-terrorism missions is inherently political.  With guns held to the heads of hostages, demands being made, and the clock ticking, the assault element needs a streamlined chain of command.  However, what we are told in the literature is that Delta works for the Secretary of Defense and the White House.  In this case, the SECDEF is nowhere to be found and the unit is taking orders from “Rollie” who is a NSC advisor and even the CIA director at times.  More on that later.

Jenson’s target is Emilio Ramirez AKA Raul Valenzuela who is on the lam in El Salvador.  Jenson then lets it slip that he served with Valenzuela in MACV-SOG where he disappeared on a mission “across the fence” in Laos.  What Jenson keeps to himself is that the mission was the recover a small canister of plutonium taken from the university reactor at Hue City shortly after the Tet offensive.  Valenzuela was known to be a sneaky son of a bitch who was good in the woods.  Back to reality, about 50 MACV-SOG men are still unaccounted for in Laos and Cambodia.