4:23 | He was the smallest guy in his Ranger class, so he got the heaviest loads. Owen Ditchfield found out how long he could go without sleep, food and water and still keep going. The testing was as much psychological as physical, as he found out when he was summoned to the front of the column in the middle of the night.
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Owen Ditchfield was sent to Vietnam by way of the Defense Information School in Indianapolis. He was preparing to be the public information officer for the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam. Once there, he nearly suffered an accidental death in the officers club, but he survived and went on to host reporters Charlie Black, Joe Galloway and Peter Arnett.
While he was chaperoning reporter Peter Arnett around Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield got to hear the exciting story of a soldier who lost his rifle during an ambush and had to rely on his knife. He was also there when Martha Raye invaded the colonel's trailer. The reporters he hosted ran the gamut from celebrated author Joe Galloway to guys who wouldn't leave the hotel in Saigon.
After his first Vietnam tour, Owen Ditchfield got command of a company at Fort Benning that played the aggressor in Ranger training exercises. His men were short timers, waiting for discharge, but he rallied them to do well by telling them why their job was so important. Then he was assigned a new executive officer, Buddy Allgood, who had a surprising physical characteristic.
For his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the 101st Airborne in the A Shau Valley. Arriving just after the battle at Hamburger Hill, he was leading a patrol in the same area when the unit was pinned down by multiple enemy gun emplacements. A relief platoon ran into the same fire from the bunkers, but then Gordon Roberts stood up and charged the first position. Before it was over, four enemy positions were taken out and Roberts would deserve the Medal Of Honor.
After nearly getting wiped out at Hill 996, Owen Ditchfield's company spent some time clearing hilltops for landing zones near the Laotian border, where high tech surveillance equipment could trigger remote ambushes on the enemy's supply trails. He relates how life back at the base camp was nearly as dangerous as being on patrol in the jungle.
Halfway through his second Vietnam tour, Owen Ditchfield was put in charge of the division's Kit Carson Scout program, which used Viet Cong who had turned to the South's side. These soldiers were so useful that American units competed to recruit them as they finished their indoctrination.
He was flying in a Chinook, in transit to pick up some Kit Carson Scouts, when an enemy on the ground sprayed the aircraft with automatic weapons fire. Owen Ditchfield was leaning over reading a book and that meant that the bullet that hit him in the head did not kill him on the spot.
The Kit Carson Scouts were Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers who had defected to the South. Many of them worked with American units to give insight to the tactics of the enemy and Owen Ditchfield was in charge of the program in his division. He would take them to fire bases where one of them would give a startling demonstration to the American soldiers.
After his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the personnel office at Fort Benning. One day, he received a letter from a Vietnamese interpreter who had been left behind and was trying desperately to get out. That started a process that would end happily for both of them. Another happy outcome awaited Ditchfield when he was pushed out by the drawdown.
Owen Ditchfield reflects on some of the strange things he encountered in Vietnam and has an answer for why he does not suffer from bad psychological effects due to his service there. Then he gives some solid advice to future generations of soldiers.
He entered the Army with an ROTC commission and a journalism degree. During college, he was in the Pershing Rifles, who enjoyed firing a blank round during their drill routine to get everyone's attention. At Fort Benning, he moved right through the basic course, jump school and Ranger school.
Owen Ditchfield was a brand new infantry officer when he was sent to an infantry battalion in the 1st Armored Division. He was immediately sent on maneuvers, which didn't go so well. His unit was activated during the Cuban missile crisis and sent to Fort Stewart in Georgia to prepare for action. What they really prepared for was a visit by the President.
In 1964, Owen Ditchfield was sent to Communications Zone Headquarters in France as a staff officer. The hours and tourism were great, but he knew he needed line company experience to advance so he transferred to a mechanized Airborne unit. Their vehicles were in disrepair but they had an ace in the hole.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.