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Project Omega Lowell Stevens Tribute to Pappy LaMar (Remembrance of Project Omega)

Project Omega Lowell Stevens Tribute to Pappy LaMar (Remembrance of Project Omega)

Project Omega Lowell Stevens Tribute to Pappy LaMar (Remembrance of Project Omega)

FATHER FIGURE: A tribute to Pappy LaMar

By: Lowell Stevens

Major soon promoted to Lieutenant Colonel Mearlen G. LaMar was CO; nevertheless I have wanted to do this for years and good or bad writing notwithstanding; here it is! Commander of Detachment B-50 Omega from 26 February 1967 to 10 December 1967. I served under him from April to December of that year, as a Recon Team Leader on B-50, and as a Recon Team Leader on the Daniel Boone Project at FOB-2 Kontum. Pappy LaMar as everyone who served under him referred to him as, was the epitome of what a Commander should be. His total support for us was demonstrated daily and we all came to love him and in my case to look up to him as a father figure. We were told that Pappy had been a 1st Sergeant during the Korean War and had been given a Direct Commission. He had 33 years in the Army and was 47 years old when he came to B-50 as our Commander and initially was a Major but was shortly promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. He was well known throughout the Special Forces where everyone called him “Pappy.” One time General Westmoreland visited our base camp near Dak To and after this 4-star General returned Pappy’s salute he said “How’s everything going, Pappy.” Such was the universal respect seemingly everyone in the army had for Lieutenant Colonel Lamar.

This little narrative contains some of the fond memories I still retain in 2008 of this extraordinary military leader: Lieutenant Colonel “Pappy” La Mar, and why he will always be a father figure to me. If you have read this far you already know that I’m not a gifted writer; nevertheless I have wanted to do this for years and good or bad writing notwithstanding; here it is.

OUR TRAINING

When we arrived at the FOB (Forward Operations Base) we initially help set up the camp. This consisted of erecting many GP Medium tents and the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) which was a hex tent and placing many layers of sand bags around all of them. The Mike Force element, led by Americans and Australians was responsible for our security and accordingly established a defensive perimeter around the base camp that consisted of the Montagnards encircling the camp with layers of tactical wire, digging individual firing positions and establishing machine gun bunkers that provided interlocking fire. This activity consisted of approximately two days of work for the entire organization.

We recon teams then began our mission prep training and working with the assets. When not working the assets we were primarily training on perfecting the Immediate Action Drill (IA Drill). We ran these drills until we could run them in our sleep. The NCOIC for the Recon Platoon was MSG Ray Percy a very serious man who stuttered badly until he became irritated and began to chew someone out, at which time he would not stutter even one time. Ray knew the importance of these drills and demanded that we practice them every day and demanded perfection. We were using Car-15s on Omega but when we started our missions at FOB-2 we were armed with the AK-47. Of course, the drill is the same regardless of the weapon one is armed with. Days of the week had no meaning to us since we trained seven days a week – good weather or not. Pappy LaMar was every place seemingly at the same time observing our training and complimenting us on how fast we could run an IA Drill and reminding us of the importance of the drill.

TRAINING THE ASSETS

Each time we deployed from our home base in Nha Trang we set up a Launch Site; primarily near Dak To, so we could run Recon Missions in the Plei Trap Valley. This valley was listed on our maps as “Base Area” and was a NVA/VC support base and went back to the Viet Minh when the French were trying to fight them. Each time we left Nha Trang for our mission cycle, we received helicopter support from units in Pleiku. These Huey crews had to be trained prior to us starting to run recon missions in the dreaded valley. In those days the Maguire Rig was our mainstay and saved many teams from being annihilated by the enemy. We had to install the elaborate Maguire Rig system which consisted of a 100′ nylon climbing/repelling rope woven through the D ring anchor points on the floor of the chopper creating a very strong loop on the floor of the aircraft. A 6X6 timber was secured in the center of this loop with ropes. It was secured to the aircraft with 12′ ropes tied in a clove hitch around the timber with both ends of each rope terminating at the points on the loop when secured with a bowline knot. The Maguire rigs themselves were anchored to the 6X6s using Clove Hitches then a Bowline Knot secured each rope to the loop on the other side of the chopper floor. Each rope was S folded inside its own M-1950 Individual Weapons Container (Griswold Container) with a partially filled sand bag secured to the loop end to pull the rope out of the container and speed up the drop rate of the rig. The Huey equipped with the Maguire rigs could extract 3 personnel from the jungle. When deployed the rig would feed out of the Weapons container which would extend past the floor and become a padding to minimize damage to the rope by the edge of the chopper’s floor.

We began training the crews on the correct way to employ the rig. This entailed long hours spent with choppers hovering at 100 or so feet and the rig being tossed from the helicopter. Then the team members would grasp the A7-A Nylon straps that created a loop and was attached to the end of the 110′ nylon ropes and position it under the buttocks preparatory to be lifted air. In effect one sat down in the loop created by the nylon strap and held on to the upper part of the strap. The helicopters would began to ascend vertically for at least 100 plus feet simulating that they were lifting the team members above the surrounding trees prior to beginning their lateral movement. This latter part was critical, since if a team was being extracted by Maguire Rig, chances are the team had been compromised and was on the run and could not make it to a Landing Zone (LZ). Lateral movement of the chopper prior to the team members clearing the height of surrounding trees would result in the team members being dragged through the trees which could result in the men falling from the rig from heights up to 100′ above the jungle floor.

Pappy demanded that the helicopter crews be trained to react in a moments notice when responding to a team in trouble. We were all under the impression that the men who flew the choppers initially hated Pappy LaMar because of the drills he ran them through and the demands he placed on their flying skills. The assets consisted of 6 Army UH1-D transport helicopters (Slicks) and 4 UH-1C helicopter Gunships (Charlie Model Gunships) and one Air Force FAC (Forward Air Controller) with an O-1E Bird-dog aircraft. He would brief them repeatedly on what their job was and what his standards for them were. He constantly reminded them that the very reason for their existence was we recon people. He insisted that he had better hear rotors turning within one minute of the siren sounding an alert. Since this was the standard for them in responding to a call for help from a recon team, the crew knew that they could not move from the tents and have rotors turning within one minute. So their solution to this problem dictated that one half of the crew, consisting of one pilot and either the crew chief or the door gunner remain near the choppers at all time during daylight hours and sleep in the chopper every night. Of course the crew would rotate this duty meaning that every other day they could sleep on their cots in a tent. Pappy pushed them to excel and no doubt they were at their most proficient when we started combat operations. They were, so to speak, “on the razor’s edge” when we started our recon missions.

BEER TENT

At our base camp one tent was designated as the beer tent and was normally sited next to the Mess Tent. In those days, “Fat Cat” King was our Mess Sergeant and Pappy LaMar gave him zero slack. Pappy had a rule that not one beer was to be consumed until 1630 hours (4:30 PM) but Fat Cat had better start icing down the beer no later than 1600 hours. Even though placing canned beer in a cooler and chipping ice from large chunks purchased in the village of Tan Canh, is not normally considered a task that requires a great deal of intelligence of skill; Fat Cat never accomplished this task with the complete approval of Pappy LaMar. Daily Pappy would admonish King for being a few minutes late or some other insignificant short-coming. Listening to Pappy dressing down Fat Cat one would think he despised him, but the truth was exactly the opposite; he actually loved Fat Cat because over beers he told us so, but ask us not to tell King. Icing down the beer like this would allow for enough time to properly cool it down but not enough time for the ice to completely melt. Perhaps no one on the face of the earth liked a cold beer any more than Pappy LaMar.

The S-4 Section had brought, commandeered, midnight requisitioned or otherwise came by some lawn chairs and these were situated inside and outside the beer tent. Of course one of these folding chairs was earmarked for Pappy, and out of respect for him he was the only one who could sit in this chair. I can still see in my mind’s eye Pappy pacing back and forth alongside the beer tent constantly glancing at his wrist- watch. He would start this activity daily at approximately 15 minutes after 1600hours. Now remember not one beer was to be consumed prior to 1630 hours hence his daily ritual. At exactly 1630 hours Pappy would move toward the beer cooler while saying in a voice that could be heard throughout the camp “Its loud mouth time!” Yep, Pappy’s term for beer was “loud mouth.” He would walk back to his chair and commence to drink the cold beer and socialize with us throughout the evening.

Located near the beer tent was a 4X4 post anchored in the ground and standing approximately 3 feet in height. On the top of this post was a hand-operated siren. More than once Pappy would direct me or someone else to “Fire up the siren so I can see if the helicopter crews are alert.” He would begin staring at his watch as we began turning the crank which activated the siren and you guessed it; he had better hear rotors begin to turn before one minute had elapsed. After being there for a week or more he would most certainly hear rotors turning. He would always get up from his chair and go and congratulate the crews, which invariable made them feel good. Pappy, like many of us, occasionally consumed many beers during the evening and early night and in fact became intoxicated; often times we would pick him and his chair up and carry him to his tent. I certainly hope that person reading this will not come to the conclusion that Lt. Colonel LaMar was a drunk. Nothing could be further from the truth, situations like this only occurred during our training phase but after we had teams on the ground, I never saw Pappy intoxicated; he was always a very serious man during those stress filled days.

BREAKFAST

Pappy had another rule that one was wise not to violate. He insisted that everyone walk past him into the mess tent each and every morning without fail. I can still see him standing along the route we had to use to enter the mess hall, with bowl of coffee on the ground at his feet. That’s right; he drank his coffee from a bowl instead of a cup. In addition to the smoke generated by the Pall Mall one could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears and other orifices of his body since he was hung-over to the max, but without fail when the sun came up Pappy was standing next to his coffee bowl returning our salutes and wishing us a good morning. And don’t think for a second that you could lie on your cot and get some additional sleep and not go to the mess hall. Pappy had a mind like a steel trap and took notice of every individual who failed to walk past him that morning and was certain to jump on you about your failure to do so later on that very day. Now I did not say you had to eat breakfast, I only said that you were required to walk past Pappy each morning. If you were not feeling well, read hung over, or simply did not like to eat breakfast than you could enter the front of the mess tent then exit out the rear of it and if you had the day or part of the day or go back to your cot and lie down; period.

PROMOTION TO SFC (SERGEANT FIRST CLASS E-7)

When pay-day rolled around in July of 1967, I happened to be visiting B-50 at their base camp. I like everyone else got in line and when my time came I saluted the Pay Officer and stated “Sir, Sergeant Stevens reports for Pay.” He returned my salute and counted out my pay with no bill larger than a twenty-dollar bill which was the Army way in those days. I informed him that he had paid me too much but he essentially ignored me. I looked at my LES (Leave and Earning Statement) and noted that I was listed as a SFC. Since there were more than one Stevens in the 5th Group I naturally thought the finance section had made a mistake; after all wouldn’t I have known if I was promoted? I left the pay line and walked over to the TOC and came upon Sergeant Major (SGM) Warren D. Calkin, B-50’s fine Sergeant Major conversing with Pappy LaMar. Now as fate would have it, SGM Calkin was also affectionately called “Pappy”. These two men were the finest Pappy I ever had the pleasure to serve with!

I saluted Colonel LaMar and waited until SGM Calkin acknowledged my presence. I then informed him of the problem I was having with my pay and looked at Pappy LaMar and said that I should go to Nha Trang to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) headquarter and look into the matter. Pappy LaMar also said it was best to jump right on a pay discrepancy immediately so as to get it straightened out as soon as possible. Pappy Calkin told me to hop a ride to Pleiku on one of our asset choppers where it would be easy to get a flight to Nha Trang

This is exactly what I did and by 1500 hours I was headed into the 5th SFG(A) S-1 office. Consistent with my personality, I was irritated over the pay issue. Like everyone else I insisted that my pay not be screwed with. I approached a Specialist Fourth Class (SP/4) and informed him in no uncertain terms that I did not appreciate them screwing with my pay. Now this young SP/4 had never laid eyes on me before and he became some what flustered and finally said; “What is the problem Sergeant give me your serial number and I’ll try to help you.” When I described my problem to him and rattled off my serial number he started rifling through some forms; stopped and looked at me in more of less a funny way, then said “Well, you know you made SFC and that explains why you had an increase in pay.” In an instant I could have walked out the door without opening it; simply by walking under it through the 1 inch crack. I could only imagine what this young soldier was thinking about the newly promoted SFC. Perhaps thoughts like; “Boy, did the Army screw up by promoting this loser: etc.” I thanked him and slunk out of the S-1 and went to the Playboy club to wet down my new stripes and to digest this turn of events.

Sitting in the club, I renewed my friendship with more than a few men in town from Detachments throughout the Four Corps’ of Viet Nam; and they and I got a laugh out of my reason for being there. We all agreed that Colonel LaMar and Sergeant Major Calkin were playing games with me and that perhaps they felt I needed a little break from B-50 and knew I would go to town and enjoy myself for a couple of days. This is exactly what I did and I did not return to our base camp until 3 days later, having spent my increase in pay plus a few dollars more! One important thing I did accomplish in Nha Trang was to get my new rank sewn on the collar of my “go to Nha Trang uniform.” In those days it was wise to maintain a set of Jungle Fatigues with all authorized patches on them and a serviceable Green Beret so that when one visited the 5th SFG(A) Headquarter he was not subjected to an ass chewing at the mercy of the Group Sergeant Major. When we weren’t visiting Nha Trang we wore jungle fatigues with nothing sewn on them and most of the times had a flop hat on our heads.

Arriving back at our base camp slightly under the weather, read; hung over, I went looking for the two gentlemen who were responsible for all of the heartburn I had suffered over my “pay problem”. As I approached both Pappy LaMar and Pappy Calkin they began laughing; and I feigned like I was hurt and after I saluted Colonel LaMar, I said “You two were behind this and caused me a lot of embarrassment in Nha Trang.” They continued to laugh and Pappy LaMar said “I want a detailed account of what happened when you went into the S-1 raising hell tonight when were putting down a few beers, but in the meantime you need to get over to the beer tent and pay your beer bill to Fat Cat.”

I immediately headed for the beer tent to settle up with Fat Cat. Now in those days a beer cost 20 cents and we maintained a running account throughout the month on how many beers we had drank. We did so by placing marks on the refrigerator in the following manner: Next to your name was the following: IIII while each vertical line equaled one beer this symbol indicates 4 beers; if a slash was added to these 4 lines it became 5 beers. An example II/II II meant that you owed for 7 beers of $1.40. When I approached my name I saw a row of 22 crudely made stars plus a couple of vertical lines. I went in the Mess Tent and asked Fat Cat what the hell was the meaning of all those stars next to my name. When he finally stopped chuckling he informed me that each star stood for a case of beer. It seems that not only was I the last person to learn of my promotion but the whole of B-50 had enjoyed drinking on me to celebrate the promotion. Oh well, my bill was only $106.20, so I only thought that I had spent my increase in pay while in Nha Trang. When I came out of the tent there stood both of my favorite Pappys, enjoying the hell out of the expression on my face. That night I had to go over in great detail the whole story to the group sitting and standing around Pappy LaMar, and needless to say, they found much humor in it.

INSERTIONS AND EXTRACTIONS

As each team moved toward the choppers that would insert them on the LZ Pappy always insisted that the song “Ballad of the Green Berets” be playing on the public address system around the base camp. I know that this may sound phone like to some people but even though most of us detested the song we always felt better of ourselves during these moments as the song wafted around the camp and we were getting on the choppers. I suppose you could say that the song pumped us up as it drew attention to the fact that a recon team was going to be inserted. When the choppers returned to camp with a recon team aboard that had just been extracted from it’s AO; this same song was playing.

Any time a team was compromised of had engaged in a fire fight with the NVA/VC and requested extraction from their AO, Pappy always rode on one of the extraction helicopters. In many ways I personally consider this act “above and beyond the call of duty”, because he certainly did not have to do this. Now remember, many of these extractions involved pulling the team from the jaws of the NVA, as intense ground fire was directed at and hitting the extracting helicopters. None of this phased Pappy; and the team members that looked up and saw Pappy in the door of the chopper, as the Maguire rigs were being lowered, had confidence that they were going to be successfully extracted.

On one occasion Pappy actually climbed down a ladder and grabbed a wounded Montagnard and secured him to the ladder then held on as the chopper ascended with a volume of enemy fire directed at them and the chopper. Keep in mind that Pappy was an “Old Man’ in those days, and if nothing else, this act is a testimony to his physical conditioning. When members of the team involved in this mission attempted to put Pappy in for a Valor Medal (Silver Star) he all but exploded and refused to allow them to do so. Such was the man we had as our Commander on B-50 Omega.

FOB-2 AND DANIEL BOONE PROJECT

Around the 1st of June 1967, we were alerted to the fact that we were being transferred to FOB-2 (Forward Operations Base- 2) at Kontum. Pappy LaMar briefed us on what little he knew about our new assignment. Pappy stated the he was directed to send 8 teams to Kontum for attached duty at that location. He said that he was old school about such matters and was sending his best teams on this assignment. He further stated that many Commanders would send the rift-raft or dregs of their unit if they were directed to send someone and in that manner get rid of some non productive personnel, but not him – he would send his best. Now while serving on B-50 Omega we were under the impression that we, along with B-56 Sigma, were formed as additional in-country recon units much like B-52 Delta. We did not know that our creation was geared towards another mission and what we had been doing in South Viet Nam was just “training-up” for this more important mission. One of our teams consisted of two Americans and six Montagnards (affectionately called “Yards” by us Americans) or Chinese Nungs; this gave us two extra indigenous soldiers to allow for illness or injury. So off we went to Kontum, all 16 Americans and 48 indigenous soldiers without a clue to exactly what we would be doing. When we arrived we received briefing from the S-3 personnel about out new mission. We were going to start running recon missions outside South Viet Nam and this involved many changes to our normal methods of operating.

The name of this new mission was Project Daniel Boone. This meant we were going to begin running recon mission in a Country in which the US had no diplomatic relations – Cambodia. We were informed that initially we would be inserted in the Tri-border area where South Viet Nam, Cambodia, and the Laotian frontiers met. We would be inserted in Laos and make our way across the panhandle of Cambodia and be extracted in Vietnam, or inserted in Viet Nam and be extracted in Laos. As we progressed down the Cambodian border we were to be inserted on the Viet Nam side of the border, conduct our mission in Cambodia then move back into Viet Nam to be extracted. We could not conduct these missions wearing American Clothes, carrying American rucksacks and other equipment, or weapons. Hence we were armed with Soviet AK-47 weapons, indigenous clothing to include BATA boots and wearing lop hats. We carried rucksacks and other equipment purchased in Taiwan. We carried PIR (Personal Indigenous Rations) that consisted primarily of freeze-dried rice. The only exception to this rule was that we would carry American radios on the missions but we had to eliminate the data plates from them and paint them black. Mostly of the teams dyed indigenous clothing and load bearing gear (BE) black to make us look more like the NVA. This tactic alone proved to be successful more than once and allowed us to break contact with the NVA and confuse them when they heard the AK-47s open up and they caught sight of us dressed like them. Of course in many instances there were no survivors that actually saw us, yet when they came to the location we had fired on them from, they only saw signs indicating we were armed like them.

As fate would have it, I was the Team Leader (later on referred to as the one zero) of the second team inserted on this new mission. We were required to dump the contents of our rucksacks out on the tarmac at Dak To airfield and empty out our pockets so the inspection Officer could ascertain that we were not going to infiltrate Cambodia with anything that would link us to an Operation unit, with the mission of infiltrating that country. We were admonished to no carry an ID card or any other identification like dog tags and that, if captured, the US Army would deny that we were on a mission and that we were in fact a rogue element that was AWOL (Absent Without Leave) from the Army. In other words, we would not be on an authorized mission. I never so much as heard a single discouraging word from any of my fellow recon men proclaiming their dislike or distaste about these missions. Again as fate would have it, my team was shot down on the LZ, which was located in Laos and SFC Ben Snowden was killed on this mission.

Even though we had essentially left Pappy LaMar’s unit, he never totally relinquished control of us to the ingrates that ran FOB-2 and I will prove this later on in this narrative. When we arrived at FOB-2 we were treated like red headed step-children by many of the personnel located at that compound. After all they were conducting recon missions into Laos on “Prairie Fire” and we were in-country recon pukes. In all fairness to these men, later on their attitude towards us changed dramatically and they considered us their peers. From the very start men like Joe Woods. Larry White, Squirrel Sprouse, and others treated us as their equals and chose to socialize with us during loud mouth times. Omega Personnel actually introduced the Maguire Rig to FOB-2 but to the best of my knowledge one of the rigs was never put on an H-34 Choctaw. The Choctaws were flown by Vietnamese Pilots and were the primary support helicopters used on Prairie Fire missions and used by us on Daniel Boone missions prior to our move to Ban Me Thuot and becoming CCS.

When we moved to Ban Me Thout the whole of Omega was once again back under the direct control of Pappy LaMar. In the fall of 1967 we had continued our movement down the Cambodia border with our missions. I had a One One (Assistant Team Leader) named SFC Kenneth J. Carpenter and a better man or friend I never had. He was intensively loyal to me and had on one occasion threatened to leave SOG because the Commander wanted to split us up and give Carpenter his own team. He and I both were SFCS and Carpenter told the Commander in my presence that he would leave SOG if he was pulled from my team. Of course the Commander mumbled something about “seeking responsibility and accepting responsibility for one’s actions blah…blah….blah.” Yep, directly from a Fort Benning Manual and this fell on Carpenter’s deaf ears! So we continued as a team much to the delight of both of us. Often times when a particular team was given a mission but one of the Americans was ill, or on R&S or leave to the States another American from another team would volunteer to go on that teams’ mission. Years later I explained what being a seven-time volunteer meant to a graduating class of ANOC (Advanced Non-Commissioned Officers Course) students on Fort Bragg. In my case I had volunteered for the Army, volunteered to be a Paratrooper, volunteered for Special Forces, Volunteered for Viet Nam, Volunteered for SOG, and volunteered for recon in SOG, and finally volunteered to go with my buddy when his team member was ill. All of this despite the warning I heard when I first went into the Army about “Never volunteer for anything in the Army!”

RUNNING RECON DURING THE MONSOON

In September of that year, SFC David Strange’s team was given a mission but his number two man was down with malaria. When I learned of this I volunteered to accompany him on the mission because my team was not scheduled to conduct a mission until some three weeks later. When Carpenter heard about this he insisted on going on the mission as well. Strange readily agreed to go with three Americans rather than the normal two because he liked and trusted both Carpenter and myself. Now Strange was certainly strange in one area; his response to contact with the enemy. He preferred hand-grenades over his shoulder weapon – be it a Car-15 or an AK-47. He carried two Canteen covers loaded with M-26 or M-67 Fragmentation Hand Grenades, some 8 – 10 grenades. In addition he carried two of these grenades on the loops of his web gear. As if that wasn’t enough, he carried an unknown number of V-40 Mini-Frag Grenades in his pockets. When we practiced our IA Drills Strange would crouch with a grenade with the pins pulled in each hand and when it was his time to pick up the fire, he did so by throwing the grenades at the enemy. He had practiced so much that I personally believe he was capable of hitting a man center mass some 50 meters from his location, when the Army Standard for throwing grenades was 30 meters.

I recall that the weather was closing in and collectively Strange, Carpenter and I felt that the mission should be scrubbed, but this was not the case. We were being inserted along the Cambodia border just south of the Ia Drang river and our mission required us to move into Cambodia and ascertain whether or not an NVA Regiment was located at a given coordinate. So off we went aboard H-34’s towards our LZ. We were inserted without any problems shortly after noon and began moving into Cambodia shortly thereafter since the LZ was existentially on the border itself. We established our RON (Remain Over Night) position while a light rain was falling. The next morning we began our movement as a steady Monsoonal type rain fell through the jungle canopy. The bottom of the clouds appeared to be touching the tops of the trees as we moved out from the RON position. We had not had radio contact with a FAC or Covey since shortly after our insertion the previous day and little did we know that we would not have any for the next 5 days. That afternoon we came upon an NVA way station that comprised two small buildings and was maintained by two enemy personnel, at least that is all we observed. We had held up as soon as the way station came into view and the three Montagnards had collected together as all of us observed the two NVA soldiers going about their business – not having a clue that they were being observed. And even more important, the two enemy soldiers were unaware of the fact that they were experiencing the last few seconds of their lives. Before Strange, the team leader could say or do anything; two of the Montagnards opened fire and assaulted the surprised NVA. Their assault resulted in the instant death of the two NVA soldiers, which normally is a good thing; but remember we had no radio contact and this fact would not bode well for us during the coming days. A week or so later on, SFC Strange informed me that the VC had killed all the members of his point man’s family and that is why he led the assault against the way station.

As soon as the Montagnards stopped firing we heard signal shots and men hollering indicating the the two soldiers were not the only ones in the area. We began a hasty departure from the area that would continue for the next four days. As we ran I constantly attempted to contact a Covey since I was carrying the radio, but this would prove to be fruitless in the succeeding days. Throughout the day we would run for a while, maybe 100 meters or so, then hold up and listen then continue on at a fast walk alternating between running, stopping and listening, and moving on at a very fast walk. The NVA attempted to herd us in a particular direction primarily deeper into Cambodia but we resisted their efforts. That first day the activity behind us and adjacent to our team never lessened. The NVA was pushing us in a westerly direction deeper and deeper into Cambodia. We moved an hour or so after darkness arrived but we finally crawled into a Bamboo thicket and while sitting in a circle created by all 6 of us with our backs against each other, we spent a sleepless night with NVA soldiers moving about the thicket talking to each other. We had the Montagnard team leader interpret what was being said so we could be advised of their plans. The NVA soldiers moved out of our immediate area some time around midnight.

Without telling a war story and boring the reader I will dispense with any additional details about our dilemma but after that night we changed our direction of movement and initially swung around to a southerly direction then began moving in an easterly direction towards South Viet Nam. The next four days was a repeat of the first full day but on two occasions the number of NVA and their close proximity to our team resulted in us employing our IA drill that I am sure resulted in some NVA deaths. One thing remained constant; at no time during these 5 days did we have radio contact with a FAC/Covey, employed by FOB-2 or with anyone else; as a matter of fact we never heard the sound of an aircraft’s engine. Needless to say we remained extremely fatigued during these days and got very little sleep.

PAPPY LAMAR COMES TO THE RESCUE

The morning of the sixth day began like the others with the weather closed in on us with clouds hanging low in the sky and foggy conditions on the ground. Once again a gently rain was falling as we took stock of our situation and prepared to move out. We had essentially run out of food in our rucksacks since we were infiltrated with only five days of food on our backs. Some time around 1000 hours we distinctly heard a helicopter off in the distance. I immediately grabbed the handset on the radio and attempted to establish contact. We had our own ground to air frequency assigned to our team prior to be inserted. I began calling for Covey and ended all attempts by saying our two letter call sign for that day. I made repeated calls, sometimes switching to just “Helicopter” as the call sign. As long as I live and maintain some control over my memory I will never ever forget what finally happened. A voice on the radio which I immediately recognized as Pappy’s answered my call. Initially I just froze but recovered and I’ll never know. I responded by pushing the push-to-talk switch and stating our call sign again. Pappy’s voice came in a little clearer and then he stated that I was to hold down the push to talk switch for 5 seconds release it for 5 seconds then continue to repeat these actions while the pilot was zeroing in on our location.

We could hear the helicopter getting closer and closer to us as I followed Pappy’s instructions. To say that we had difficulty controlling our emotions would be an understatement. Finally the chopper flew directly over our location and I stated this fact to Pappy and directed him to turn around and come back to us. As the chopper neared our location I remember saying on the radio “start flaring out, you are almost directly over us.” Finally the chopper was directly over our team and starting to descend so the Maguire rigs could be deployed. When the chopper descended to a point just above the tops of the trees we could barely see it through the clouds and fog; that’s how socked in the weather was. Consistent with all recon team’s unwritten policy, we put the three Yards on the rigs and while Strange and Carpenter were waving to Pappy, I gave instructions to the pilot to climb but remember the height of the trees. The three Yards slowly ascended and disappeared into the haze and the chopper moved away from us and it got quiet again. Pappy said he would be back for the rest of us in a few minutes.

Needless to say the sound of the helicopter hovering for some time was not lost on the NVA and we realized this fact and began running once again. Signal shots and loud voices shouting commands or predictions relating to our health that had essentially accompanied us for all of those days resumed once again. We ran some 200 meters or so then held up and listened. All of us were in an ecstatic frame of mind because we knew we were finally going to get out of our nightmare. And perhaps more importantly it was our favorite Commander who was coming to our rescue. We had after the third day quit looking very closely at the map so we really did not know exactly where we were. After some 30 minutes or so we once again could hear the whop-whop sound of the chopper again and I began the ritual of depressing and releasing the push to talk switch as I had done earlier. Even though we had moved some from where the Yards had been picked up, the chopper pilot came directly over our location. Again I turned him around and directed him to a position directly over us. Once again I remember just how socked in the weather was and that we could barely make out the chopper through the mist. Without any additional to-do we sat down on the thin straps of the Maguire Rigs and the chopper climbed until we were clear of the clouds and began its lateral movement as we looked up in a euphoric state of mind and waved to Pappy LaMar.

We were put down on a Fire Base near Plei Jerang and the helicopter slid sideways then descended and also came to rest on the ground. Divesting ourselves of the ropes we ran to Pappy LaMar and almost killed the old man with our hugs and words of thanks which he, consistent with his personality, dismissed immediately but in an affectionately manner patted us on our wet backs. After S-folding the ropes and placing them back into the Griswold containers, all of us got back on the chopper then Pappy himself boarded it. We were asking Pappy a million questions as we flew back to his base camp, but he said wait until we get home and we will talk.

LOUD MOUTH TIME

Wouldn’t you know it; when we sat down on the chopper pad at Omega’s base camp the Ballad of the Green Berets was playing and essentially everyone from B-50 was there cheering for us and we had difficulty moving past these wonderful men because each and every one of them wanted to shake our hands and pat us on the back. In those moments, as we six worn-out men walked towards the TOC wearing soaking wet uniforms; as wet from stress-generated sweat as from the never ending rain, and with mud to our knees; we experienced a manifestation of the true meaning of camaraderie. They in effect treated us as if we were heroes; I suppose because we were on the Daniel Boone Project and they were aware of what we had gone through the past few days. We made an effort to dispel the bullshit about being heroes and kept saying that we had been running from the NVA and that is not the definition of a hero! After this mission, I had better understanding why men from SOG, B-52, B-50 and B-56 referred to what they were doing as “Running Recon!”

Unknown to us Pappy had radioed back to his camp and directed that Fat Cat have steaks with all the trimmings waiting on us when we arrived there. So, first thing being first we ate a large meal washing it down with beer. Pappy insisted that our Yards also eat this meal, and perhaps this was the first time in history that a Montagnard ate a piece of American beef covered with A-1 sauce. After the meal Pappy informed us that FOB-2 “Had pulled the pin” on us thereby writing us off as an entire team lost to the NVA. I can’t describe the anger I felt when the people who were supposed to support us had given up on us so easily. Looking back I realize that the FACs were using O1-E Bird dogs, not the more advanced and better equipped planes we used later on when I flew Covey such as the OV-10 and the 0-2. But to this day I don’t understand why they did not fly above the clouds around our AO and if nothing else talk to us on the radio. There is absolutely no excuse for their actions; period! Strange and Carpenter were obviously just as pissed-off as I was. The more beers we all consumed, the more we vented our spleens about the way we Daniel Boone, read B-50, personnel were treated at the hands of FOB-2. Pappy LaMar drank beer for beer with us and said very little just listened to the litany of wrong doings we were suffering at the hands of the Command at Kontum.

It is important to know why Pappy was sitting with us and drinking beer. The reason was very simple; the weather had his operational area socked in as well as ours. Pappy, being the Commander he was, would not even attempt to put a team on the ground if he felt he could not support it. He had shut down his operations and was weathering out the storm, so to speak, until the weather broke and he could properly support his people. After all, this was when we were still conducting recon missions – not launching out with 10 or more men armed to the teeth on combat missions. The latter was expected to stand, at least temporarily and engage in a fire-fight with the NVA, and only get extracted after they had suffered casualties. His teams automatically went into the training mode when the weather became a major obstacle. One should remember that the type of missions both B-50 and FOB-2 were running was outside the umbrella of friendly artillery support, our only fire support came in the form of helicopter guy ships and TAC air (Tactical Air Command) fast movers.

It is important to stand outside this picture and observe a team launched by FOB-2 under questionable weather conditions that spent over 5 days without radio contact staying only one step in front of an unknown number of NVA soldiers hell bent to kill every team member. And this recon team was ultimately rescued by their Commander, who was not even involved with what they were doing. Rescued in fact by a helicopter crew that was not even authorized to fly into the Country of Cambodia where the team was located. The fact that Pappy was not supposed to do this makes his actions more commendable. Here we have a Lieutenant Colonel upon learning that one of the teams he had sent to Kontum had disappeared, boarding a helicopter and beginning a systematic search of the part of Cambodia they were inserted in. In spite of the horrible conditions, he flew on – looking down on what looked like a huge pile of white puffy cotton looking clouds while listening on the radio for indications of any survivors so he could possible affect a rescue. Reflecting back on this situation from the comfort of my home in 2008, I’m sure that Pappy was just as elated as I was when he heard my voice answer him on the radio. Such was the man we called Pappy.

“LEG”

During our conversations that evening Pappy asked us many questions about our treatment at Kontum and the three of us filled him and everyone within the sound of our voices in on what we considered an unprofessional attitude displayed towards Omega. Pappy sat listening and only occasionally prompted us for more information about something. I really don’t know which one of us three happened to mention the fact that Major Long, the Commander of FOB-2 was a leg. Now for those who don’t know what a leg means, I will fill you in: it is a non-Airborne qualified man or simply stated, a puke that does not jump out of an aircraft with a parachute on his back. A Leg is one of the most loathsome of persons who walks around stealing good air from better men who wear the silver wings of a parachutist on their chest. As soon as the word was uttered, Pappy jumped up and said, “You mean to tell me that the Commander of FOB-2 is a fuckin’ Leg!” When we confirmed this, he then launched into a tirade sprinkled with curse words and vulgarity that lasted some minutes. He kept saying “How could a Leg be in charge of Special Forces Combat men, he doesn’t deserve being in charge of such men, no wonder they pulled the pin on you guys” etc.

As we continued to drink beer into the night Pappy every now and then would say “A damn leg in charge of FOB-2; who would have figured that?” He informed us that he was not going to report that he had us for a few days so we could unwind and rest. Screw them, those ingrates, was the way he put it to us. So we took showers the following morning and were given new jungle fatigues and boots by B-50’s S-4 and after we dried our black uniforms we put them and the Bata Boots in our rucksacks for future use and in general just sat around taking it easy; not to mention drinking a few beers. On the third day at this camp we were informed that FOB-2 knew we were there and insisted that B-50 return us to Kontum so we could be de-briefed. We did not receive any indication that FOB-2 was happy that we were still alive, and had been successfully extracted from Cambodia; only that we needed to be debriefed.

THE AIRBORNE COMBAT LEADER MEETS THE LEG

On the third day of our sabbatical after the noon meal Pappy instructed us to round up our equipment because he was taking us to Kontum. The weather was still atrocious and was once again characterized by rain, low hanging clouds, and ground fog. All of us; our team and Pappy LaMar, boarded the UH1-D helicopter and the crew indicated that they planned to fly just above the ground easterly until they came to QL-14 Highway then follow the road in a northerly direction to Pleiku then Kontum. I remember sitting in the right side door with my legs hanging out of the chopper and watching as the chopper flew very low to the ground at a slower than normal speed. When we made the left hand turn onto QL-14, we went past what we at Plei Do Lim had called “Titty Mountain” but the 4th Infantry Division had subsequently renamed “Dragon Mountain.” Shortly after we passed this prominent terrain feature, the pilot indicated that he was going to climb up and get above the clouds because the truck traffic on QL-14 made it unsafe to continue the way we were going. Instantly after he said this, we were enveloped by thick wet clouds as the chopper began climbing.

We had to climb to over 4,000 feet to clear the tops of the storm clouds and from that point on all we saw was clouds until we were some 150 feet above the FOB-2 chopper pad. All of us were cognizant of the fact that Kontum was essentially surrounded by mountains but with the clouds reaching the heights they did on that day we also knew that all of them would not be visible to us. When we finally began to descend once again we were completely inside of the cloud cover and my legs became damp from the moisture in the clouds. All of us just smoked a cigarette and looked at each other during the stress filled moments as we descended through the clouds. After what seemed like an eternity the chopper’s nose abruptly rose and our descent was slowed even more than all of a sudden I could see through the mist that we were just above the FOB-2 chopper pad. Only a great pilot could have executed this mission the fact that B-50 had such a pilot did not surprise me at all. I remember beginning to breathe again as the chopper sat down on the ground. I think our entire team followed me out of the right hand door except Pappy who exited from the other door.

WORLD CLASS ASS CHEWING

As we walked away from the chopper ducking our heads and holding on to our flop hats as we walked clear of the rotor, we could see that Major Long was standing near the pad. When we approached him we saluted him and after he returned the salute he said “They are waiting to debrief you in the TOC.” No, no, no; he did not say one word about him being pleased that we were rescued, or congratulating us on our survival; the bastard was only concerned about us getting debriefed. Such was the callous disregard for our lives as was indicated when the SOB pulled the pin on us. Now I want to make sure that the reader understands what the phrase “Pull the pin” means. When a team was inserted in Laos or Cambodia, a colored map pin was placed on the map at the coordinates of the insertion landing zone (LZ). If the team remained on the ground and either reported their new location to the Covey or he gave them a “Fix” the map pin would be removed and put into another set of coordinates to keep up with the team’s movement. If the team was extracted from its AO then the pin was removed. The only reason other than an extraction that the pin was removed was when the Command knew for a fact or had reason to believe that the team was destroyed by the NVA. Loss of communications could be an indicator that the latter had taken place. This system was all well and good provided that an aircraft was above the team’s AO for days without making radio contact or observing signals from the team. These signals could be one or more of the following: displayed panel(s), smoke grenade(s), Mirror flashes, jungle penetrating flares, or an American man waving at the aircraft. Of course thanks to this sorry SOB, none of the above applied to our team.

Major Long did not know that Lieutenant Colonel LaMar was also on board the chopper and this was not going to be one of his better days. Pappy LaMar had exited the chopper from the opposite door from us and had to walk around the tail rotor to come to our location. As long as I live I will remember, with great pleasure, what happened when the two met. After Major Long recovered from seeing Pappy who had fire coming out of his eyes and delivered a hand salute, all of us heard above the sound of the chopper’s rotor Pappy say “Stand at attention you leg son-of-a-bitch!” Pappy immediately launched into a world-class ass-chewing that lasted some minutes and I recall such statements like “you don’t deserve to be in charge of Special Forces soldiers”, “You don’t know how to handle combat soldiers,” etc. I remember we three; Strange, Carpenter, and me, trying to get away from the two Commanders because we knew we weren’t supposed to be hearing the one side confrontation but when we tried to walk away Pappy said “Get back here, I want you to hear this!” One thing I remember quite well about this situation; in my life I never heard an ass-chewing as belittling and appropriate as the one I heard that day.

When we finally came out of the TOC after our debriefing Lt. Colonel LaMar was in our quarters and the rest of the B-50 men were filling him in on what we were going through at FOB-2. When Pappy learned that we were being charged $49.00 per month to eat in their mess hall and the Prairie Fire personnel were only paying $19.00 per month, once again he exploded. He said screw the bastard, we will take care of you, and then asked what we needed. We told him we needed at least one refrigerator, a stove and of course food items we could cook. We would also need a 10-KW generator for our power requirements. He made a note of what we said and off he went back to his base camp but only after telling us to watch for any sign that Major Long was punishing us for hearing his ass chewing. In the following days in which incidentally we saw an improvement in the weather; choppers from B-50 delivered to us everything on the list. From that day until all of B-5- consolidated at Ban Me Thuot and became CCS, we had an abundance of meat (110 Rib Eye steaks in a case), eggs (30 dozen per case) potatoes, butter, milk, etc. at our building and we kept $49.00 in our pockets. Just another manifestation of the love Pappy LaMar had for his men.

Most people know that respect must be earned, it cannot be issued to a person to his rank or position of authority. I say most people, because my tour with the US Army indicated to me that there were many who felt otherwise. Lt. Col. LaMar earned our respect. And all though the Army says that one is saluting the uniform a person is wearing; I always saluted Pappy. To this very day Pappy is at the very top of my list of great leaders. We did not just respect pappy, we actually loved him, and he more than returned the love. It cannot possibly get any better than that!

HERO

Pity today’s generation that considers the winner of “American Idol”, the winner of “Dancing with stars”, a Baseball or Football player, a move actor, or a NASCAR driver their hero. They don’t have a clue about what a real hero is. But I do, and one of them was named Pappy LaMar. He was a great motivator who could extract the very best from the men in his Command whom he all but considered his children. Pappy took the time to know each one of us so we were not just a person, individual, soldier, statistic or member of his Command; no by God, we had a name and he knew us by our first and last name. I never met a man I respected more than I did Pappy, and I’m certainly not alone with this assessment. I feel blessed that I had the pleasure to soldier for Pappy and by association with him enriched my life beyond what I am really capable of comprehending.

PAPPY’S OBITUARY: (Fayetteville Observer Sunday 03 October 2004)

Mearlen G. LaMar

SOUTHERN PINES–Retired Army LT Col. Mearlen Guy “Pappy” LaMar, 84, of Southern Pines, died Monday, Sept. 27,2004 in Pinelake Health & Rehabilitation Center in Carthage. Mr LaMar was born on Sept. 4, 1920 and enlisted in the Army at the age of 14 and served from 1935 to 1970. He was a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, where he served for three tours. He was awarded the Silver Star for service in Korea in 1952, the Bronze Star in 1964, the Air Medal with “V” device in 1967, the Legion of Merit for service in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, three Purple Hearts, one for World War II and two for Vietnam, and the Army Commendation Medal in 1968 for his service in Vietnam. He retired from the Army after 32 years of service. He was a member of the Hay Street United Methodist Church and the Southern Pines Masonic Lodge. He worked for the city of Fayetteville in the building inspections department before retiring after 17 years of service.

A graveside service with military honors will be conducted at 2 p.m. Thursday in Lafayette Memorial Park in Fayetteville.

Mr. LaMar is survived by a daughter, Donna L. Simmons of Southern Pines; two grandchildren, Marret Poston of Southern Pines and Guy Quedens of Bedford, Texas; and three great-grandchildren.

Rest in Peace Pappy: Lowell Stevens

{Editor Note: This is a long tribute to LTC Pappy LaMar, an early CO of Project Omega B50, written by one of our outstanding heroes of CCS, Lowell W Stevens who died January 26, 2011, that was originally published on the SOA message board January 4, 2013.}

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