Note: This is part of a series. You can read part one here.

After seven days of weather delays, false starts, and enemy rocket attacks at the top-secret Military Assistance Command Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) compound in Kontum and at the Dak To launch site, Green Beret Capt. Eugene McCarley gave the order to move out to 15 Green Berets and 120 Montagnard mercenaries who were based in Kontum, at Command and Control Central (CCC).

McCarley was the commanding officer of the B Company Hatchet Force selected to conduct a mission far beyond the area of routinely authorized SOG operations: This operation planned to go south of the Bolovens Plateau on Sept. 11, 1970, and would go deeper into Laos than any SOG operation in history. The CIA’s Operation Gauntlet was launched Sept. 3, 1970, with 5,000 irregular troops, according to DoD reports. The communist North Vietnamese Army was attacking in force, bogging down that operation. Company B’s mission was to take pressure off of the CIA’s operation by “raising hell in Laos,” McCarley told SOFREP recently.

On the morning of Sept. 11, four of the powerful, Marine Corps CH-53D Sikorsky twin-engine helicopters in HMH-463, based at the Corps’ Marble Mountain Air Facility, landed outside the CCC compound and loaded up the 136-man unit. SOG brass had turned to the Marine Corps’ aviation wing that flew the largest troop carriers to reach deep into Laos, 25 kilometers beyond the normal SOG area of operations. A fifth CH-53D helicopter followed the flight as the SAR (search and rescue) aircraft in case one of the four choppers got shot down.

Escorted by six Marine Corps HML-367 Cobra (call sign Scarface) gunships, the helicopters headed north to refuel at Dak To before heading into the target area. After refueling, they flew north, parallel to the border for a while before taking a left turn, heading due west into the target area. As the small air armada churned westward, a small pathfinder team was inserted to secure the LZs before the CH-53Ds arrived. B Company First Sgt. Morris Adair, SSG William Scherer, and Sgt. David Young secured the LZ with no enemy response. In short order, the forward air controller, code name Covey, began directing F-4 Phantom jet bombing runs, followed in close order by Air Force A-1 Skyraiders and Scarface gunships.

A CH-53D Sea Stallion like the ones that ferried the assault force.

Air Force Lt. Col. Mel Swanson, the commanding officer for A-1s said the LZ “resembled most SOG LZs—hot. It was another day at the office for our SPADs (A-1s); we prepped the LZ and provided firepower wherever Covey sent us.”

“It was a hot zone from the moment we arrived,” Scarface Cobra pilot Joe Driscoll told SOFREP. “We took several hits on the first gun run. During the insertion of the team, Scarface pilot (1st Lt.) Sid Baker and I were surprised by the volume of fire. In fact, we took hits in our rocket pods, we had bullet holes in our tail boom, and they shot out our radio. When the Cobras made their final gun run, we followed our SOP, which was to stay in formation and keep an eye out for enemy soldiers firing at us.” Because they had no radio contact, Driscoll and Baker simply flew through the pattern to cover the ship in front of them without firing. “The enemy didn’t know we had no radios…I’ll tell you one thing, that was a hot target,” Driscoll said. “We were moving targets, the CH-53s were static targets, but they went in, dropped off the troops and got out of there posthaste.”

And, the CH-53Ds were big targets. McCarley said all of the CH-53Ds were hit by enemy ground fire while en route to the target. “I’d never received so much ground fire while flying to a target,” he said. “It sounded like a BB gun shooting a tin can.” It wasn’t BBs that the troops heard, but enemy rounds. By the time B Company exited the helicopters, four Montagnards had been wounded from enemy gunfire. One died while flying back to base. Green Beret medic Sgt. Gary Michael Rose added: “It was strange, exiting the chopper, stepping over the WIAs to get on the ground.”