I received some odd assignments as assistant adjutant of the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) in the fall of 1962. I supervised the carving of a large pair of parachute wings out of ice for a formal ball. I
ordered the names of officers departing from the Group headquarters engraved on boxes of dessert bronzeware purchased cheaply in Thailand (field grade) and on sterling silver silent butlers purchased
even more cheaply on Okinawa (company grade). I had my ass chewed into slivers of bloody fat for misspelling Lt. Col Matola’s name on his farewell gift, a brass usabata. I do not to this day know what a usabata is or what purpose it may serve, other than as a platform for engraving. I found all this deeply humiliating.
My selection as assistant adjutant had nothing to do with any administrative skills I might have, which were nil. I had become the assistant adjutant so that I might perform the additional duty of Public Information Officer. There was no slot for a PIO in the Table of Organization and Equipment of a Special Forces Group. But the Group Commander, Col. Robert W. “Woody” Garrett had determined that his best shot at even one star was good publicity for the Group. This was so because the general who commanded the U.S. Army, Ryukyu Islands (USARYIS) Lt. Gen. Paul W. “Small Paul” Carraway hated, or was rumored to hate, combat troops. In 33 years of military service he had never, as Colonel Garrett put it “smelled smoke in combat.”
Col. Garrett, however, had smelled a lot of it. In World War II he had at first commanded a company in the 6th Ranger Battalion, as did Bull Simons. Then, at age 27 Col. Garrett had been promoted to major and taken command of the battalion. This guy had been Bull Simons commanding officer. To me he was a god. But a strange and whimsical god. Hence my being hijacked to Group Headquarters. While I was cranking out press releases my buddies, my classmates from SFOC were going to Vietnam, on six-month temporary duty tours and returning covered with glory. Me, I was covered with a pair of novice parachutist wings and shame.
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” Col. Garrett challenged me on one of those occasions on which I groveled and begged to be put on a team and sent in harm’s way. “You get more training than anybody.” This was true in a way. I got to do all the flashy stuff, so I could write it up for the 1st Group magazine, The Liberator, or for Pacific Stars and Stripes. I made night drops in Korea (frozen DZ, fractured coccyx) and water jumps into the East China Sea. For the water jumps we were barefoot and bareheaded. We wore shorts and t-shirts and hitting the water was like sinking into a warm
bath. I sat in a rubber boat, with a full A team, on the deck of the USS Perch, the Navy’s troop carrier sub for the Pacific, at night under a quarter moon and heard the horn blow and the command, “Dive! Dive! Dive! Dive! Dive!”, followed by a frightful FRA-A- A-CK!!!” as the gills or whatever the hell they’re called opened and the water gurgled and the sub sank out from under us and the froth rose around us and we paddled hard so the giant gloop of the sub going down wouldn’t take us down with it. Then we rowed to Northern Okinawa for a simulated snatch of a nuclear scientist or some such. Phosphorescent plankton that I took for St. Elmo’s fire dripped off the paddles as we rowed for shore.
The angriest I ever was in SF was when the operations officer failed to notify me that the SCUBA committee was called out for a salvage job when the Midori Maru went down with 140 passengers and
crew on board. The Midori Maru was an inter-island ferry. The SCUBA committee brought all the bodies and much of the salvageable stuff up. Col. Garrett had been a swimmer at West Point and somebody got
his picture, in full SCUBA gear, sitting on a Kawasaki 650 on the deck, 135 feet below, a stream of bubbles going from his regulator to the surface. When I jumped the operations officer about it later he said he didn’t think I’d be interested. A lieutenant may not strangle a major and this one would have been hard to strangle. But I wanted to. So, great, I was learning all the Sneaky Pete ways to infiltrate
but I was losing basic skills. My code speed was about eight words a minute and dropping fast. I hadn’t fired a weapon of any sort since Bragg, much less learned how to repair foreign weapons. It would have been some consolation if I believed that publicity would get Col. Garrett promoted but I believed it would have the opposite effect. Alas, Gen. Carraway, our rose-growing, administration-loving five-foot five and one-half foot general was never going to promote Col. Garrett or anyone like him to flag rank.
Colonel Garrett’s best shot would have been to keep a low profile and make sure his paperwork
was perfect. This, as you know, is not the Special Forces way. Consider, if you will, the event for which I had had the jump wings carved from ice, our formal ball. This event, so far as I could determine, had no function other than to convince Gen. Carraway that the officers of Special Forces were not thugs and snake-eaters but were in fact good little gentlemen, patiently serving their time, dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s. We had the ice-wings and the cake. The officers wore mess whites and the ladies wore long gowns. We raised our glasses in formal toasts. We put on innocuous skits. We danced the night away. Indeed, it all went perfectly until the general, well pleased so far, left at ten-thirty, to be up early the next morning to cultivate his roses. He was most displeased, however, to discover an SF captain and an SF major, both drunk as lords, in their beautiful mess whites, duking it out in the parking lot. Both were transferred to the 503d the next day but the damage had been done. Parenthetically, the 503d had not yet been redesignated the 173d Airborne Brigade. It was formally known by the cumbersome title The First Airborne Battle Group, 503d Infantry Combat Team, Reinforced (Separate).