3:55 | Delta Force and the Rangers had arrived at Desert One but the helicopters were delayed by a dust storm. Only five of them were deemed flyable when they got there and the mission requirements were for six. The mission was scrubbed until the next day and mission planner Keith Nightingale describes the tragic circumstances of the departure from the Iranian desert.
Keywords : Keith Nightingale Operation Eagle Claw Iran Hostage Crisis Desert One Iranian helicopter (chopper) Charles Beckwith James Kyle Jim Siefert James Vaught Delta Force Jim Schaefer
Every male in his family back through history served so it was preordained that Keith Nightingale would serve in the military. He got a commission out of ROTC and went through jump school and Ranger school. He headed to the 82nd Airborne but went on his first tour of Vietnam as an advisor to the South Vietnamese army.
It was a bad tent city at Xuan Loc. MACV advisor Keith Nightingale was assigned to an ARVN ranger battalion where the tents were leaky but the commander turned out to be a gem. Nguyen Hiep became a mentor and a friend. The Rangers were also the best troops the South had to offer, despite being composed of the outcasts of the country.
The Vietnamese Rangers had their families living with them at the camp. The conditions were squalid so MACV advisor Keith Nightingale decided to do something about it. He went scrounging at Long Binh.
On January 30, 1968, the Vietnamese Ranger battalion was alerted when a nearby provincial capital came under attack. Half the men were sent there right away and the other half prepared to follow. Then, another message came in. Stop, don't leave the camp. The VC are coming. It was the beginning of the Tet Offensive and American advisor Keith Nightingale dug in with the Rangers as the enemy nearly overwhelmed them. Part 1 of 3.
After nearly being overrun on the first night of the Tet Offensive, the Vietnamese Rangers, along with American advisor Keith Nightingale, rejoined the other half of their battalion which was battling the VC nearby. They were aided by some splendid Australians and some cocky VNAF pilots. Part 2 of 3.
American advisor Keith Nightingale got a lesson in urban warfare when the Viet Cong infiltrated into Saigon during the Tet Offensive. The fighting was brutal as he accompanied his attached unit, house by house, block by block. Part 3 of 3.
After his first tour of Vietnam, Keith Nightingale was assigned as an ROTC Instructor at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. The anti-war movement was heating up and he and the cadets had to endure the hateful taunts of protestors. As a result of the widespread protests, the Army as a whole became more insular and isolated from society.
They tried to assign him as a MACV advisor again for his 2nd tour of Vietnam but Keith Nightingale wasn't having it. He knocked on doors and networked until he got the job he wanted as commander of a rifle company. When he got back in country, he found a scene of utter devastation at his unit's base camp in the A Shau Valley. (Caution: strong language.)
A new company commander in combat has to prove himself to his men very quickly. Keith Nightingale faced this task when he arrived for his 2nd Vietnam tour. They got to know him and he was accepted. They may have been peaceniks and part time dopers but they turned out to be fine soldiers.
His NCO's were real good and had multiple tours. The officers in Keith Nightingale's company were another story. One lieutenant was fine but the other two were useless.
Lam Son 719 was a huge operation meant to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail by pushing into Laos. The ground forces were all Vietnamese with air support from the Americans. Keith Nightingale's company was responsible for security at the closest landing zone to the border and it became a scene of chaos as the operation turned into a rout.
Midway through his second tour, Keith Nightingale was moved from the field to division HQ where he became the G-2 operations officer. This meant that he was responsible for managing intelligence from the sensor program and developing targets for B-52 strikes. This was his first exposure to intelligence work and he liked it.
The rebuild of the 75th Ranger Regiment was underway at Fort Benning. Keith Nightingale was the headquarters company commander among other odd jobs. They were developing a new training regimen that was to be the finest anywhere. One important task was the creation of a Ranger Creed.
The decimation of the Army was complete. The leadership had punted in Vietnam and there was no support among most of the public. Army Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams decided to rebuild the Army around a reborn Ranger Battalion, which would be built from the ground up as the finest light infantry in the world. Keith Nightingale found out about this and made sure he was in on it.
Keith Nightingale remembers that, during the buildup of the new Ranger Battalion, the team researched units from the past including British commandos and Vikings to extract any useful training techniques. Live fire exercises and road marches became very important. In December of 1974, the new Rangers were ready.
When the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized the American embassy, the joint chiefs began looking for the means to rescue the hostages. It was decided to build a team around Delta Force, the elite special ops unit led by Charles Beckwith. General James Vaught was selected as the overall commander of the operation and on his staff was Keith Nightingale, who was then immersed in the urgent planning process. Part 1 of 4.
Unfortunately, human intelligence had been allowed to wither in favor of satellite technology. This meant that the CIA was little help to the joint task force planning the rescue of the American hostages in Tehran. Every means to extract the hostages was examined and a combination of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters was chosen. Keith Nightingale describes the deliberations that went into this. Pt 2 of 4.
No one could get Charles Beckwith to admit that Delta Force didn't have enough personnel to secure all the locations that would be needed for the rescue of the hostages in Iran. Keith Nightingale had to present three times the briefing that proved this. Finally, the Rangers were brought in to enhance the operation and training began in earnest. Part 3 of 4.
It had been a long and tortuous process for Keith Nightingale and the rest of the joint task force but Operation Eagle Claw was ready. All the moving parts were primed and all that needed was for President Carter to give the word to go. Pt 4 of 4.
After the tragic events at Desert One, planning began for another rescue mission. Parallel with this was the decision to create a permanent and robust special operations structure. Keith Nightingale was right in the middle of this difficult effort which involved all the services.
Keith Nightingale recalls the sometimes uncomfortable fallout from the aborted Iran hostage rescue attempt. There were congressional briefings to give, an investigation to face and a special operations structure to build up. This wasn't made any more pleasant by the conflicting personalities involved.
After a long stint with Joint Task Force Eagle Claw, Keith Nightingale left to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne. This unit was called to be part of Operation Urgent Fury, the liberation of Grenada from a Communist takeover. Part 1 of 3.
Clowns in action. That's how Keith Nightingale describes the confusion and snafus during the initial Grenada operation. Most objectives were quickly achieved but there were some difficult battles, including one with a Cuban unit. When the Rangers got to the medical school where American students were waiting, they found out about a second campus with more students. Part 2 of 3.
In the aftermath of the Grenada invasion, peacekeeping forces from all around the Caribbean were assembled to help keep order. Keith Nightingale's battalion was spread all around the island involved in various missions and the locals in all these enclaves helped their liberators celebrate Thanksgiving. Part 3 of 4.
Keith Nightingale was heading up post-invasion operations in Grenada when he got a packet of good intelligence on the leaders of the coup there. This aided him in locating and capturing Hudson Austin, who had been behind the Communist takeover. Part 4 of 4.
With so many joint operations with other countries, Keith Nightingale believes it is more important than ever to be cognizant of their culture and mindset. This was not done in Vietnam and it contributed to the failure of that venture. As he looks back on his career, he salutes some of the leaders who helped him along the way.
Operation Eagle Claw was a pivotal moment in Special Operations history. Unconventional warfare had been ignored after the Vietnam War and three veterans of that conflict, who were also deeply involved with the attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran, reveal the inside story of the planning and tragic outcome. George Ferkes, Roland Guidry and Keith Nightingale each offer a unique perspective on the events.
Some of his pilot friends were recruited by the airlines but Bob Stewart had other ideas. He became a test pilot. They got the money but he had the fun. He was instrumental in bringing the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters into the Army's fleet of airships.
John Le Moyne had come in to Saudi Arabia leading an advance team. Starting from scratch in the desert, in the summer, huge operating bases were established. The locals were amazed at the way the Americans adapted to the environment. It was during this conflict that many innovations in troop care and comfort were devised.
Walt Richardson was in the last all black training flight in the Air Force. His aim was to serve his three year obligation and then return to college, but he saw a musical revue put on by members of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen. They were holding open auditions and he went to showcase his fine singing voice.
During Operation Just Cause, John Le Moyne was assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) as a liaison officer to other agencies. In this capacity, he was able to observe some high level command operations that were very impressive. It was only a short while after this brief conflict that Saddam Hussein began to make noise in the Middle East.
For Geoff Farrell, who fought in Desert Storm with the armored cavalry, it was obvious. It was technology and training that ensured victory. We had a lot of it and the Iraqis had very little. Our weapons had a longer range and, when a sandstorm came up in the middle of a battle, we had GPS and thermal imaging.
When the cease fire was declared, American units had not yet reached Baghdad. In his command track, Geoff Farrell had the graphics on his screen to guide him right in, but it was decided we would not go. Looking back to that critical moment, he reflects on the decision.
His aim was to help put his sister through college. Walt Richardson scored so well on the tests that he was inducted into the Air Force. Perhaps it was the schooling he received at the school run by the mother of Chappie James, who became the first black Air Force 4-star General.
He had been a glider pilot in the war and he was a bona fide power pilot who could fly many smaller planes. George Theis then became a flight engineer in a B-52 unit. He was in the cockpit readying for a flight when the pilot asked if he'd like to try a take-off.
Bob Stewart was walking on air. He just got a call from NASA that he was accepted as a mission specialist on the space shuttle program. He was going to be an astronaut, but first he had one more flight in his capacity as an Army test pilot.
For Walt Richardson, it was all about the core values of America. As one of the first black airmen to integrate the Air Force, he calls on his unique perspective to explain why America is so much greater than other nations that are so much older.
When George Theis returned from occupation duty, he got married and began seeking a career in civilian aviation. The tough job market drove him back into the newly renamed Air Force. He had a good run as a flight engineer and worked on the conversion to computerized controls.
After successfully completing aircraft mechanic school, Walt Richardson joined the crew on a commanding general's B-17 in Okinawa. As the only black crew member, he had to earn respect and he did. He was also part of the honor guard when the first freely elected leaders in Japan were inaugurated.
Jake Jacobson had been to Korea three times and then spent a year in Japan with his airborne Pathfinder unit. After that tour and a short stint at the 82nd Airborne, he transferred to Special Forces. He was made a communications chief and assigned to Okinawa.
He repaired radios in the Marines, but Norman Kling was now an electrical engineer working at McDonnell Douglas. When he tried to get his Marine Reserve commander to recommend him for a commission, the answer caused him to leave the Reserve.
When an alert was sounded, the procedure for fighter pilot Rick Hilton was to get his aircraft fueled and wait at the end of the runway with a live nuclear weapon on board. Someone thought this was a little too much power for a fighter jock so the procedure was changed to include blocking the taxiway with a fuel truck. Then a real alert came in.
When Bob Clark arrived to assume command of the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, Saddam Hussein had just moved into Kuwait and the unit was preparing to deploy. Soon, he was staring across the Saudi desert into Iraq.
As he progressed in the Air Force at a number of bases, logistics expert LC Johnson enjoyed the environs of places like Los Angeles and England. When he got to Korea, he had a role to play in the Pueblo incident as the man who knew the nuts and bolts of that area of operation.
The 18th Field Artillery Brigade supported a lot of units during Operation Desert Storm, including the French Foreign Legion. Should the war have continued on into Baghdad? Going home was OK with Freddy McFarren. He had already been in the desert for eight months.
Army surgeon Quinn Becker almost retired but he was selected to attend the War College. That usually meant they were grooming you for higher up. As he moved up to higher commands, he set out to modernize antiquated field medical equipment, a need he had first noticed years before.
After receiving his commission, Brooks Tucker started his Marine officer training in earnest. The Basic Officer Course was followed by the Infantry Officer Course and these were used to mold young college graduates into platoon leaders.
After his last tour in Korea, Jim Bolan was assigned to Special Forces. No volunteering needed. Everything was highly classified and they began training with no real system in place. Different units were then combined to form the 1st Special Forces Group, based on Okinawa.