April, 24th, 1969
Quan Loi Airfield
Adjusting his olive drab skull cap, he pushed another .38 revolver between his utility belt. Shouldering the trusty M3 greasegun with its long silencer, he gave a quick tug to the multitude of grenades cinched at various points on his torso. Feeling them secure; he inspected the rest of the teams’ gear as they stepped on the skid and pulled themselves aboard the Huey.
The last on, he listened to the engines begin their low whine, rising in decibels as the blades rotated ever faster until the helicopter’s distinctive chop echoed among the dozens of green buildings and barracks that served as one of S.O.G’s launching pads.
The Huey nudged its way into a gentle hover then rotated to the right, dipping its nose, rising over the perimeter fencing into the morning sky, carrying with it a Special Forces legend who’d ran countless missions as these and defied the odds.
So much and so well, in fact that Radio Hanoi dubbed him ‘Mad Dog.’
Green Beret Sergeant First Class Jerry Shriver knew the luck that always seemed to accompany him departed the moment the Huey left earth.
Today, as the chopper joined with others heading toward the insertion site just across the border in Cambodia, the men of the “Hatchet Force,” a 100 man group of American and indigenous personnel of the super secret S.O.G. (Studies and Observation Group), knew this mission held special meaning. Because within this target area hid COSVN, the Central Office for South Vietnam, the communists massive underground complex that ran combat operations in the South.
Shriver understood the elusive prize of COSVN had evaded planners for years. Called the “Pentagon of the East,” it held mythical status among bigwigs in Saigon and Washington. If destroyed, the ramifications of such a feat would far exceed the effort made to remove it.
For Shriver, though, it was more personal. The night before, wearing his trademark smoking jacket, he told friends he would not return.
Prior to the April 24th mission, Mad Dog had accumulated mythical status within S.O.G as a fearless warrior who thrived in battle, possessing an almost sixth sense about him when detecting danger, and using his will and experience to overcome it.
Tall and thin, with a narrow face topped with a crop of blond hair, he spoke little and had few associations with those not part of his unit. He trained alongside his men on off days and seemed to live only for the next mission. After hours of drilling, sometimes he could be found at the NCO’s club sitting alone downing a case of beer, or every night, sleeping in the barracks cradling a loaded rifle in his arms.
Yet despite his hardcore persona, among the indigenous forces, specifically, Montagnards, both on his team and in the many villages he frequented, there was a reverence for this man who used his entire paycheck to buy them food; clothing and anything else he could get in providing them the basic necessities of life. His concern for them was genuine, and back at base he’d even had an extra room added on to the Montagnards’ barracks, so he could spend more time with them.
Once duty called though, and he donned that skullcap and secured the last of his many revolvers, Shriver became all business. No matter how grave the situation, his ability to remain calm under pressure reassured those who served with him, especially, the ‘Yards.
Recounting one such case, North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers enveloped his Recon Team and it appeared on the verge of being overrun. AK-47 fire poured from all directions, and enemy moved little by little toward the team’s perimeter. A Forward Air Controller circling overhead realized what was about to happen and radioed Shriver the last words he might ever hear.
“It sounds pretty bad.”
“No. No. I’ve got ’em right where I want ’em, surrounded from the inside,” Shriver snapped back.
He and his team raked the jungle with automatic fire, bullets and grenades pummeling the NVA until their advance faltered and they began to withdraw. Shriver then led his men out of the kill zone under the watchful eye of the FAC, found a landing zone and was extracted, unknowing that his words would resound through the years.
His numerous missions often ended under similar circumstances, but Shriver shrugged it off. After debriefing he’d often head out with another team, just as his previous team mates settled into their barracks. The jungle was his home along with the fighting, and he longed to be part of it. No recon man ever proved better.
“He was like having a dog you could talk to. He could hear and sense things; he was more alive in the woods than any other human being I’ve ever met, explained S.O.G comrade Bill O’Rourke.
For the occasion, Shriver often carried perhaps the oddest assortment of weapons during the war. There’d be 6 or 7 revolvers on him as well as his primary weapon, becoming at one point a Marlin lever action rifle or a sawed off shotgun. He also carried several knives of varying sizes all over him. For certain, he was the most heavily armed man on each chopper ride he took.
Away from the action, back at base, his closest friend was Klaus, a German Sheppard he’d bought in Taiwan. One night in the NCO club some recon men got the dog sick from feeding it too much beer. After it defecated on the floor, the men rubbed its nose in it and threw him out. A short time later Shriver walked in, had a beer, removed his jacket and laid a revolver on the table. Then he pulled its hammer back and his pants down, and proceeded to do the same thing.
“If you want to rub my nose in this, come on over,” he challenged.
No one dared take him up on it.
As more missions came and went. Shriver entered his third tour appearing confident as ever, but privately his soul strained to keep up. He confided in friends a foreboding fear of death, and that he was pushing his luck. He wanted out of recon, but couldn’t bring himself to ask for a transfer. The closest he got found him assigned to the Hatchet Force, a quick reaction unit designed for search and destroy or recovery of dead personnel.
And with this force, Shriver found himself heading toward COSVN on April 24th…
B-52’s rained bombs into the insertion area, blasting huge brown geysers of earth skyward, walking them away from the approaching Hueys. Sound shook the choppers like massive aftershocks as they flared above the fresh craters. The Hatchet force jumped into the safety of the artificial moonscape, realizing the trouble over the swish of the rotors.
Once away, that familiar rhythm and pop of automatic weapons fire sang into the dirt and over their heads, RPG’s whooshed in exploding near the edge of the craters.
Men jerked back or bowled over when hit, tumbling down to the bottom. Blood darkened the earth around those wounded but still trying to bring weapons to bear.
Mad Dog returned fire at the tiny wisps of smoke and muzzle flashes probing from every direction in the shattered jungle, ticking off short bursts, ducking in anticipation of the AK rounds. Noticing a machine gun bunker behind the wood line to his left, he radioed it had his men pinned down.
Knowing he must act, and fast, he glanced over at his ‘Yards. A sly grin formed on his lips. He laid down the receiver and leaped from the crater with the ‘Yards following on either side. Their voices roared at the bunker as Mad Dog and his men raced for it, their weapons pumping fire into its tiny aperture. They slammed through the wood line, their battle cry fading as the jungle closed back over them.
Mad Dog disappeared into eternity.
Fighting in the LZ continued for some time until the Hatchet Force managed to get its people extracted. They never did get a chance to find COSVN in that little sliver of Hell that claimed so many that day. Nor did they ever find a sign of Mad Dog. Accounts ranged from seeing him fall, to a declassified POW/MIA report in 1993, which spoke about an American in the process of being captured in the area.
We may never know.
O’Rourke believes Mad Dog perished on the 24th. “I felt very privileged to have been his friend, he said in an interview in the 1990s. “And when he died, I grieved as much as for my younger brother when he was killed. Twenty some odd years later, it still sticks in my craw that I wasn’t there. I wish I had been there.”
Sergeant First Class Shriver’s decorations are as follows:
- 2 Silver Stars
- 7 Bronze Stars for Valor
- 3 Army Commendation Medals for Valor
- 1 Soldier’s Medal
- 1 Air Medal
- 1 Purple Heart
- Several Vietnamese Awards
Sergeant First Class Jerry Shriver body has never been recovered. He was 28 years old.
(Featured Image Credit: VVA1028MO.com)