Note: This is part of a series. Read parts one, two, three, and four here.

For three and a half days, the Green Berets and their Montagnard counterparts of the MACV-SOG (SOG) B Company hatchet force had successfully accomplished their mission: Take pressure off of the CIA’s Operation Gauntlet in southern Laos on the Bolovens Plateau west of their operation while grabbing hundreds of NVA (North Vietnamese Army) reports, maps, code books, currency and other critical pieces of intelligence from an enemy base camp. However, halfway through day four of this top-secret foray, Operation Tailwind switched gears from a tactical mission into one of survival.

By midday on September 14, 1970, B Company had received weather reports of a major storm front moving in. Also, observations by forward air controllers (code-named Covey) and Marine Corps Cobra pilots from HML-367—call sign Scarface—reported hordes of NVA and communist Pathet Lao troops moving east to confront and eliminate the men of B Company. Those factors changed the operational orders from disrupting the enemy to survival and getting all of the valuable seized NVA intelligence reports back to base and SOG headquarters in Saigon for review by intelligence specialists.

An Air Force OV-10 Bronco similar to this aircraft served as a forward air controller during the top secret SOG Operation Tailwind in September 1970.
An Air Force OV-10 Bronco similar to this aircraft served as a forward air controller during Operation Tailwind.

Following Scarface Cobra gunships into the LZ, the first and second Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallions extracted the first and second platoons of B Company, which included all of the wounded Montagnards and several of the wounded Green Berets. However, when the third heavy-lift Sikorsky from HMH-463 descended toward the LZ, the volume of enemy small-arms fire increased, despite A-1 Skyraider pilots Art Bishop and his wingman, Don Feld, hammering enemy positions with CBU-30 cluster bombs that contained potent CS gas.

CH-53D Sea Stallion pilot 1st Lt. Don Persky and his copilot, 1st Lt. Bill Battey, were concerned about the amount of rounds hitting the heavy-lift chopper. “On our final approach, we took heavy enemy fire,” Persky told SOFREP. “We knew that this was the last element on the ground and that we had to get them out.”

SF Sgt. Mike Hagen said, “I can tell you that big bird was a welcome sight to us. We were all beat, we were all wounded, and we were all ready to go home, believe me.”

B Company commander, Capt. Gene McCarley, Hagen, medic Sgt. Mike Rose, and First Sgt. Morris Adair held a tight defensive perimeter with a few Montagnards as others beat a hasty, but orderly, path into the large Marine warbird. Dozens of NVA soldiers surged out of the CS gas clouds toward the LZ. McCarley was on the radio with Covey. “He said, ‘You have to get out of there now! There’s hundreds and hundreds of them coming after you! Now!’”

As McCarley spoke into the PRC-25 handset, a Montagnard team member standing between McCarley and the radio operator was killed by enemy gunfire as he fired his weapon at them. “He got shot in the head,” McCarley said. “There was blood all over the place. Another Yard (Montagnard team member) looked at him and turned to me with a sad look and simply said, ‘He’s dead.’”