Last year a friend asked me if I had ever heard of a movie called “Operation Dumbo Drop.” I said that of course I had. He said he had watched the movie recently with his grandkids and from the moment he heard the words “Ban Don,” he froze, for the words “Ban Don” had a special meaning for this guy.

The movie, “Dumbo Drop,” with Danny Glover and Ray Liota, is about a squad of U.S. support soldiers, led by two Special Forces captains, getting an elephant for a remote village to replace their elephant that was killed by the VC. Getting the replacement elephant transported to its new home is the point of the story and eventually involves strapping a parachute onto the pachyderm, hence the title, “Dumbo Drop.”

Putting aside the idea of two SF captains playing elephant nannies with a squad of REMFs, it is a cute movie, funny and fun to watch, the violence is minimal, and the movie overall is one of those that makes the Vietnam War seem like it was an uproariously good time. But, some movies are like that.

The truth is that there actually was a Ban Don village. Ban Don was a small, remote village northwest of Ban Me Thout in the Darlac Province near the Cambodian border in the Republic of Vietnam. During the war, few people had been there except for Special Forces soldiers. Next to Ban Don was a Special Forces camp, A-233 at Tran Phuc, which was under B-23 of the 5th Special Forces Group.

The French built the original camp at Ban Don during their part of the war. U.S. Special Forces teams moved into the camp in the early stages of their war, but eventually abandoned it after the Montagnard uprisings. From late 1965 to early 1966 the troublesome Rhade Yards were moved to a new camp at Tran Phuc. Ban Don and Tran Phuc were of strategic importance due to a major North Vietnamese Army infiltration and supply route which ran nearby and screamed for interdiction.

Said my friend, “As all of us SF men know, there are many missions that befall Special Forces ODAs. The unwashed masses think we Green Berets are barbarian commandos who eat snakes and burn villages. Those of us who have been privileged enough to wear the Green Beret know that is not always the case and that often our job is ‘winning hearts and minds,’ and that often leads to civic action operations.”

There are varying ideas about “civic action.” The purpose of civic action was, and is, to improve the living conditions of the indigenous population through various means, such as improving sanitation, irrigation and crops, building schools, digging wells, propagating livestock, etc. In some cases, helping the locals to establish a business is the right civic action project. And that is how Operation Barroom came about.

The central highlands of South Vietnam are covered in deep forests, often of triple canopy. Good timber is abundant. However, the central highlands were remote, in relation to the lowland areas of South Vietnam, and roads were mostly unimproved. No improvements to the infrastructure had been made since the French had left. Making use of that lumber resolved a number of challenges toward winning the hearts and minds of the people in the region. But, getting it out posed a problem.