2:48 | It was a lousy assignment. Jim Bolan was one of the first Special Forces officers and, after Vietnam, he wound up in a training unit with no jump slot. Prodded by his wife, he went to Washington to dust off his most valuable inside contact, who was now the Army's Chief of Staff.
Keywords : James R Jim Bolan Special Forces (SF) Hawaii 18th Airborne Corps jump pay Washington DC William Westmoreland Chief of Staff George Dunaway Career Management Skip Sadler
Jim Bolan's father was a tool and die man who was so good, he quit several jobs during the Depression. The younger Bolan was allowed a great deal of independence and enjoyed a summer job on a farm and living with a rich aunt on the Jersey shore.
He was a good football player, having played semi-pro while still in high school. JIm Bolan didn't stop there, he played once he was in the Army and went to the 82nd Airborne to do just that. Someone else got that slot, though, so he went to Korea, where it was bunker battles on static lines.
Two interesting things happened to Jim Bolan in Korea. One night, after his shift in the command post ended, he was walking on a slippery steep hill when he lost his footing and down he went. What happened then was memorable. The other thing involved the failure to capture a Chinese soldier after two weeks of trying. He and his buddy decided to give it a try on their own. (Caution: rough language.)
Jim Bolan was attached to the Marines for a while as a sniper. He used an M-1 for the closer stuff but for anything really distant, he used his own rifle that his father had sent to him. Then a general got a look at it. Son, that's an illegal weapon.
Chesty Puller was already a legend when Jim Bolan met him in Korea. It wasn't long after that that he stood on the bank of the Yalu River and it wasn't long after that there was a long retreat back down the peninsula. He had some good friends there, including one who earned the Medal of Honor and one who maybe should have.
Jim Bolan returned to Korea as an officer where he witnessed a huge display of celebratory firepower on the last day of the war. While there, a reporter for a Dallas newspaper interviewed a home town boy and wound up causing a scandal.
At the beginning, there were less than 100 members of the 1st Special Forces Group, which was being assembled on Okinawa. The CIA was already in Vietnam, organizing civilian defense groups. Jim Bolan was one of the early officers but he had a couple of detours, including coaching a football team and creating a new department at the Special Warfare School.
The Special Forces were getting involved in Vietnam but early member Jim Bolan was assigned to Pakistan as an advisor for a year. Americans were still welcomed then and his wife could drive around the countryside to go to the commissary. They lived in a large house with servants led by a butler who was up to no good.
When Special Forces officer Jim Bolan got to Vietnam, he was waiting for a slot so he went to the field to help out there for a couple of days. He stayed for 2 months. When the higher ups found out there was a major out there, they pulled him out and put him in charge of a B-team at Xuan Loc. His Vietnamese counterpart was not helpful.
Why were the Montagnard units getting no contact? It was determined that they weren't going out far enough and on the second patrol that ventured further, Jim Bolan and the combined unit ran into the back of a VC ambush. A furious firefight followed, and he summoned his ace in the hole, the Air Force.
Special Forces officer Jim Bolan was in command of a B-Team but he was also the senior MACV advisor in his area. That meant he had monthly meetings in Saigon and at one of these, he met Gen. William Westmoreland, who became a very valuable contact when he had a problem.
Looking back over a long career with Special Forces, Jim Bolan remembers how little they started with, both personnel and equipment. They were under supplied and overused. He spent almost seven years in Vietnam with the first SF units which were comprised of soldiers who would never win Soldier of the Year.
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.
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.
In the aftermath of the debacle at Desert One, an effort to plan and execute another mission to rescue the hostages in Iran got under way. Air Force special ops pilot George Ferkes recalls that new tactics and equipment were developed that served as the blueprint for the revitalization of special operations units throughout the military.
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.
Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
Operation Eagle Claw was the name of the attempt by US Special Forces to rescue the hostages from the embassy in Iran. The mission was aborted because of mechanical failures in helicopters and then turned tragic when eight men died in a fiery crash. Pilot George Ferkes was part of that team and he describes the events from his perspective.
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.
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.
When the Iran hostage crisis happened, President Carter asked the joint chiefs if there was any way they could be rescued. This set off a mad scramble to put together a multi-branch operation and Air Force special ops pilot George Ferkes was right in the middle of it.
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.
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.
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.
Special forces went through a bit of a renaissance after the failed rescue of the hostages in Iran. Never again would US special operations be caught flat footed and unprepared. Pilot George Ferkes was a part of that mission and it provided him with a purpose that guided him through the rest of his career.
It was a lousy assignment. Jim Bolan was one of the first Special Forces officers and, after Vietnam, he wound up in a training unit with no jump slot. Prodded by his wife, he went to Washington to dust off his most valuable inside contact, who was now the Army's Chief of Staff.
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.
There was some good intelligence available during the planning of the Iran hostage rescue attempt. For instance, pilot George Ferkes knew that an aircraft could easily avoid the radar at the border. That was not the problem, though, once the effort got underway.
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.
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.
When he returned from Vietnam, George Ferkes is fairly sure he saw his old hooch burning on the television when Quang Tri fell. After a couple of years he leapt at the chance to join a special ops outfit, even though, at the time, there was little interest in those units.
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.
Lt. Geoff Farrell was sleeping in the command track when he heard it on the radio. We were at war with Iraq. His armored cavalry unit crossed from Saudi Arabia into Iraq where they were greeted by friendly children in the middle of nowhere.
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.
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.
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.
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.