8:13 | "This is all classified. I recommend it not be broadcast." That's what Mac McCahan had to say about a script for an upcoming CBS news program. Three weeks later, what did he see when he turned on the television?
Keywords : Mac McCahan Walter Cronkite CBS news The Twentieth Century TV Eye In The Sky Compass Link reconnaissance photo satellite microwave White House president classified American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Colorado Springs
When communications engineer Mac McCahan arrived in Vietnam, he had to straighten out an Air Force Colonel who was trying to send him to Thailand, where he wouldn't get credit for a combat tour. Then he settled down to improving voice communications and found out that it was so stressful on the switchboards, operators were committing suicide.
"We don't want your equipment!" Communications engineer Mac McCahan was trying to improve military telephone service in Vietnam and he had to repeatedly reassure units that he wasn't tying to take over, just trying to make the system work better.
They wouldn't tell Mac McCahan who the visitor was, but they told him how many voice circuits were required and that the restoration priority on those lines was "1b." That got his attention because that was the code for President of the United States.
Mac McCahan lost two cousins in Vietnam, Lee and Gene McCahan. If that wasn't bad enough, his brother George McCahan died from leukemia due to contact with Agent Orange. His own luck stayed with him, though, and he kept missing enemy ambushes by thirty minutes.
Mac McCahan never cared for the rule that he had to store his weapon in the safe in his office. When the Tet Offensive happened, he had to hunker down, unarmed, in his quarters. When he returned to the States, he was armed only with his dignity as he faced rabid protestors.
Mac McCahan felt like he was doing something great on his second tour in Vietnam. As he transferred control of facilities to the Vietnamese, each one meant that soldiers were going home. Then he stopped at the dispensary to find out why he was suddenly soaked in sweat. Part 1 of 3.
While the doctors tried to find out whether he'd had a heart attack or not, alarming telegrams began to go out to Mac McCahan's family, despite the fact that he'd signed a document directing the Army to send such messages only in the event of death. Part 2 of 3.
The doctors still didn't know if he'd had a heart attack or not, but they sent Mac McCahan home from Vietnam, regardless. Then they told him he was on his way out of the Army. "No. I'm not," came the reply. Part 3 of 3.
Mac McCahan knew he wanted a military career. He had a taste of military life as an Air Force dependent and he secured a congressional appointment to the Air Force Academy, but a run in with an eye chart derailed that. He settled in at Clemson with Army ROTC but a freak accident cost him a year.
Mac McCahan's first assignment in the Signal Corps was in Germany, which was just what he wanted. His wife could experience some of what he enjoyed as a military dependent stationed there. When the Berlin Wall crisis came up, it turns out he had the only American cable splicer in Europe.
In the post-Trujillo chaos of the Dominican Republic, Signal Corps officer Mac McCahan began a long run of finding solutions to communications problems. After restoring phone service by adapting old exchanges, he was able to communicate with Washington by whistling the appropriate tones to establish a connection.
As if restoring communications in the restive Dominican Republic wasn't enough to keep him busy, Mac McCahan had to deal with constantly shuttling back to Ft. Bragg for briefings and an acting Signal Officer who wrote him up for spite. Not to mention lacking the counter sign at a crucial time.
After his tour in the Dominican Republic Mac McCahan began the Training With Industry program. He worked with the New York phone company learning the network and installing phones in the field, then applied that knowledge to military telecommunications.
Communications engineer Mac McCahan caught the eye of the White House when he successfully managed two projects for the White House Communications Agency. The first was extending coverage of the first moon landing to Alaska and the second was managing the satellite link for a presidential trip to Asia.
The signal battalion was ecstatic when they got in any new gear following the Vietnam war, remembers Mac McCahan. Nearly everything had been left there. In order to jump with communications capability at hand, he crammed a Command Post's worth of radio gear onto an Army Mule cargo vehicle. And what do you call a Mule full of radios?
Assigned a command position that was usually occupied by a Lt. Colonel, Major Mac McCahan sought assurances that he would get no interference because of his rank. He got that assurance and soon, the promotion to Lt. Colonel as well. Then he wound up with a distinctive blue beret thanks to the new Air Assault movement.
Reorganization was swirling around Mac McCahan at the 101st Airborne and he was nearly made battalion commander. After a European exercise where he met two Medal of Honor recipients, he found out that a communications plan for a hospital he'd drawn up had achieved some distinction.
Mac McCahan relates the story of a Chinook that mistakenly strayed into the Korean DMZ and was shot down. Closer to home, as North Korean armor was massing across the border, he tells why his wife became suddenly upset and convinced that another war was imminent. It turned out to be a case of Loose Lips.
Leaving Korea with his family and adopted daughter was a struggle. Striking airlines and visas gave him fits but they made it home and he eventually became an advocate for Amerasian adoption, appearing before Congress to support the cause.
Back in the States and commanding a Signal Battalion, engineer Mac McCahan wrote an article on nodal communications systems that was groundbreaking. He used off the shelf gear and existing installations and improved service for all users.
His expertise in satellite communications landed Mac McCahan a position at the headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. That expertise was put to good use on an ill fated mission during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
There was no doubt Mac McCahan was a problem solver. He developed a scheme for bit stuffing that made incompatible gear work together. Should have been a patent right there. Then he encountered a problem that was projected to cost one million dollars and take a year to fix. Would he do it in half the time for half the money? Think again.
The Generals kept asking, why do we lose our satellite link during the heavy tropical rain in the Philippines? The answer, according to communications engineer Mac McCahan, is in the true shape of a raindrop, a shape which is not what you might think.
Mac McCahan has a message for all who served in a support role instead of a combat unit. First, consider yourself lucky, and second, your service was just as necessary and contributed just as much as anyone's.
The newly formed Joint Special Operations Command was beefing up the capabilities of all branches. One of the keys was the formation of SEAL Team 6. Over at the Air Force, Roland Guidry explains how they struggled to come up with the assets to succeed at their part of the plan. In the middle of all this, Grenada suddenly became a hot spot.
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.
After months of intense planning and training, Operation Eagle Claw commenced. Pilot Roland Guidry was on the first plane to arrive at Desert One, a remote rendezvous point in the Iranian desert. There, the mission would unravel, done in by mechanical malfunctions and worse.
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.
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.
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.
From the beginning, Tom Fleming wanted to be a fighter pilot. He settled for a tour as a forward air controller in Vietnam and, after that, his quest for fighters continued as he embarked on a lengthy Air Force career. That career took him to Turkey, Germany, many stateside bases and the Pentagon, but it was Hawaii that was most satisfactory.
As Operation Desert Shield gave way to Operation Desert Storm, the Pentagon needed someone like a fighter pilot to brief the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense on biological and chemical warfare in language they could understand. So, Tom Fleming became the "bugs and gas guy."
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.
On his first operation, Green Beret Changiz Lahidji went to Afghanistan to help the Mujahideen fight the Russian occupiers. The Iranian embassy takeover led to the second, a daring solo mission into Iran, where he surveilled the embassy. He had to make it out on his own after the aborted rescue attempt. (Caution: strong language.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Roland Guidry was given the command of the 8th Special Operations Squadron, he had to prove himself because he was not from a special ops background, per se. He did just fine. The missions he'd flown in Vietnam were perfect preparation. He says it takes a certain type of low key individual to excel at that type work.
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's tough to be a Green Beret. Changiz has broken both legs and dislocated his shoulder, among other injuries. Even the extreme training is dangerous, like the high altitude parachute jumps for which he set a record. He spent time in Haiti and Grenada and was in Somalia when the Blackhawk Down incident occurred.
The plan was complicated, with a lot of moving parts, but there was high confidence that the team would be able to rescue the hostages in Iran. Pilot Roland Guidry describes how a combination of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters would deliver the Delta Force and the Rangers and then extract them along with the hostages. Part 3 of 4.
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.
Early in the planning for the rescue attempt of the hostages in Iran, it was decided that carrier based helicopters would be the key aircraft. They would rendezvous with fixed wing aircraft carrying personnel and fuel in the remote Iranian desert. Pilot Roland Guidry explains why a preliminary clandestine mission was required before planning could continue. Part 2 of 4.
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.
The Pentagon set up a commission to investigate Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran. Roland Guidry was the first chief of air operations at the newly formed Joint Special Operations Command, the organization created to deal with unconventional warfare in the future.
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.
The seizure of the American embassy in Tehran caught the Pentagon flat footed with no existing special operations capability to do anything about it. An ad hoc task force was hastily assembled and Roland Guidry was part of that effort. He had just assumed command of an Air Force special ops squadron which immediately began training with the new Delta Force. Part 1 of 4.
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 rescue attempt failed but it was the genesis of an all out effort to reorganize and improve the special operations capability of the military. Roland Guidry helped manage the air operations as the team began Project Honey Badger, which aimed to mount a second try at freeing the hostages in Iran.
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.