Charles A. Beckwith

Chargin’ Charlie

When it comes to notable military men, Charlie A. Beckwith (Charlie) is someone who fought with full pride and bravery in war. “Chargin’ Charlie” was born on January 22, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. Beckwith was an athlete in high school and college and had the opportunity to play for the Green Bay Packers pro-football team in 1952, but turned down the opportunity.

Beckwith was noted to have been an all-state player in football while in high school. After he graduated from high school, he was accepted into the University of Georgia (UGA). While attending college, he lettered in football and was also part of their ROTC program.

Beckwith was asked by the Green Bay Packers to sign with them during the 1950–51 NFL draft while at UGA. Instead, he decided to forego a career as a football star and join the U.S Army instead. He received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the ranks of the Army.

Beckwith’s Military Career

Charles Beckwith began his military career volunteering for the U.S. Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1952. After the Korean War, Beckwith was a Platoon Leader of Charlie Company, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division in South Korea. In1955, Beckwith was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. He was the commander of the combat support company that was part of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

During the early ’60s, he was sent as an exchange officer with the elite 22 Special Air Service (SAS). Where he commanded 3 Troop A Squadron. Where he fought communist forces as part of the Malayan Emergency. Beckwith learned guerilla-style operations and tactics that were used in the Malayan Emergency. During the time that he fought with the U.S. Army in Malaysia, Beckwith developed a case of leptospirosis. Doctors did not expected him to survive. However, Beckwith recovered from leptospirosis and went on to do more impressive things for the U.S. Army.

After his return from England, he presented a detailed report outlining how the U.S. Army had weaknesses without a SAS style unit. His reports and outline feel on deaf ears as Special Forces leadership brushed him aside.

Wanted: Volunteers for Project Delta

In 1958, Beckwith joined the Special Forces and by 1960, Captain Beckwith was deployed for Special Operations in the Kingdom of Laos. In 1965, Beckwith volunteered and returned to Vietnam where he commanded a Special Forces unit code named Project Delta (Operational Detachment B-52)  He used his SAS experiences to seek and selectmen for his long-range reconnaissance operations in South Vietnam.

“Wanted: Volunteers for Project Delta. Will guarantee you a medal. A body bag. Or both.”

With this call to arms, Charlie Beckwith revolutionized American armed combat.

Beckwith was critically wounded in 1966 with a shot to his abdomen from a .50-caliber round. He had been taped up after being hit and was left for dead. But, Beckwith had the strength and will to stay alive through the hell of war. Indeed, the fate of death never came to him in Vietnam or during any other military operation or military training or exercise during his legendary career. Beckwith fully recover from his wounds and went on to revamp the U.S. Army Ranger School.

Lt. Col. Beckwith also served as the commander of the Control Team “B” as part of a unique Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC). This place was situated in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. The Commander at the time was Robert C. Kingston.

JCRC’s mission involved the support of the Armed Services to clear up the situation of members of the U.S. armed forces who were MIA in French Indochina. The JCRC had a primary role that involved carrying out field searches, doing excavations, recoveries, and other activities concerning repatriation. Beckwith was promoted to the position of Colonel and was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1975 and held the role of Commandant of the Special Warfare School.

Establishment of The Unit

“The Unit,” or 1st SFOD-D (1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta) was a game plan Beckwith had penciled on paper and stuck to his mind ever since he was an exchange officer with the SAS. With the ever growing threats of international terrorism, Beckwith felt it was time to resubmit his ideas of a counter-terror unit to the Pentagon. After many years of back and forths with military brass and Pentagon officials, Beckwith was finally given the go-ahead to form his elite unit the 1st SFOD-D in 1977. This unit was hyper-focused on hostage recovery operations and anti-terror activities.

The Unit’s first mission was Operation Eagle Claw. The operation was ordered by President Jimmy Carter and involved assets from the Navy and Marine Corps. The mission entailed rescuing 53 Americans who had been held hostage in the American Embassy in Iran in 1980. The mission was aborted due to weather conditions. A sandstorm brewed and caused mechanical issues for some of the helicopters.

The operation called for eight helicopters but only five arrived at the operational area. During planning the mission would be aborted if less than six helicopters remained. To many military advisors or planners, only four were necessary but the abort was called and accepted by President Jimmy Carter. As the forces prepared to leave, one of the helicopters crashed into a transport plane and caught fire. Resulting in the death of eight service members.

After the events of Operation Eagle Claw, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation was established with a promise to care for the 17 children of those eight service members. Which has grown to help educate over 1,200 children.

In the aftermath of Operation Eagle Claw, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) was formed to provide transport to The Unit and other Tier one assets, as well as the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), was directly based on recommendations to strengthen the United States Special Operations capabilities from Beckwith during the investigations into Operation Eagle Claw.

The Legacy of Colonel Beckwith

US Army Col. Charles Beckwith, 1980 effort to liberate 53 American hostages held at US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, at home. (Photo by Will Mcintyre)

“Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith retired from a dedicated life as a Colonel in 1982. Indeed, the war zone was not a place that was responsible for taking his life, from a barrage of enemy fire or some other element of war. Colonel Beckwith passing away due to natural causes in Austin, Texas in 1994. A true innovator in the arena of Special Operations. Colonel Beckwith had lived a life that was admired by many soldiers, military historians and many others who had been an indirect or direct part of it. This much is certain: “Chargin’ Charlie” will forever be remembered in U.S. military history as a leader, thinker, and innovator concerning the area of special operation forces.

Charles A. Beckwith wrote a book about his premiere Unit titled Delta Force.

SOG team running

Studies and Observation Group

When discussing the Vietnam War or Second Indochina War, there are many elements of the conflict one could cover. From napalm, punji sticks, and landmines to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Tet Offensive and the Montagnards, the Vietnam War was a very long, and casualty-ridden war. While one side ultimately may have won, both the U.S. and Communist-backed North Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian peoples felt the brunt of this conflict.

And according to Historynet.com, the Vietnam War is the generally used moniker for the Second Indochina War. The Vietnam war was noted to have lasted from 1954 to 1975. And in 1975, Saigon did fall, which signaled the end of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and a win for the North Vietnamese.

However, there were many impressive campaigns and many unsung heroes that were part of MACVSOG or (Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group). This group name was later shortened to Studies and Observation Group. Jerry “MAD DOG” Shriver, Robert “Bob” Howard, Dick Meadows, Walter Shumate, Billy Waugh, Larry Thorne, Fred Zabitosky, Jon Cavaiani, Roy Benavidez, and Norm Doney are just some of the names of these brave men who served these highly classified groups and missions from 24 January 1964 – May 1972.

The downsides to these super-secret missions were that the casualties were noted to have surpassed 100 percent. According to HistoryNet.com, that is the “highest sustained American loss rate since the Civil War.” The most important statistic is that in 1968, every man that was part of those MACV-SOG missions was wounded — with half of those were killed. Even though this particular reconnaissance group took high losses, they were known for having the highest ratio of kills (158-to-1). This kill number is the most successful in U.S. military history.

HistoryNet.com noted that the Green Berets, which are U.S. Army Special Forces were responsible for carrying out a large number of the most harrowing and challenging special operations of the Vietnam War. And depending on the time that these SOG millions occurred, they would be given unique names like “Prairie Fire” or “Shining Brass.” The Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was part of Laos and the Sihanouk Trail (named for Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia) were places that the U.S. recon teams in these SOG teams would concentrate their gathering information, sabbatage missions and more. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Air Force Combat Controllers and the Navy SEALs would be vetted through the Special Operations Augmentation (SOA) as part of SOG — this included the Army Green Berets. These missions utilized all land and sea forces to get things done. The SOA gave special “cover” while these secret orders were taking place.

The term, “over the fence,” was used for those Special Operations Groups and other military forces entering Laos and Cambodia, when the U.S. was not supposed to “officially” be doing recon and other operations in those areas. It was a slang term, which was used predominantly during the Vietnam War.

The small teams that were part of these Spec Ops Groups had a lot of time “over the fence.” SOGs are a legendary group for tales of bravery, patriotism and the hells of being in Nam. SOG was hatched on January 16, 1964, as noted on the website, Macvsog.cc.

This Special Operations Group was active for eight years with their over the fence operations in areas of southern Laos, Cambodia and especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. These Spec Operations groups included a 12-man SPIKE Reconnaissance Teams as well as HATCHET Forces to assist as backups. These Special Forces HATCHET platoons were a crucial part of engaging North Vietnamese Communist Forces on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

U.S. forces used many B-52s to bomb critical areas of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. These trails had been assigned to Spec Operations units in March of 1965, under the direction of COMUSMACV. These special recon missions included precise drops by U.S. helicopters (in and out) of designated zones as well as B-52 bombings. These B-52s were brought in to help stifle any activities of the North Vietnamese, Viet Cong, Pathet Lao, and the Khmer Rouge along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

There was also the Psychological Operations Group, which was mainly focused on the North Vietnamese war efforts against U.S. and allied forces during Nam. There has been (PSYOPS) during many American wars, especially in modern times, but the U.S. used special tactics and techniques to try and get the edge in the Vietnam War. Even as these Spec operations were all top-secret at the time, the U.S. was also involved in areas of South Vietnam that were being dominated by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). While their method was one of the unconventional warfare operations, these Spec Operations numbered in the 600s or more over a short period.

And as noted on the website, Psywarrior.com, the “Psychological Studies Branch” were directly responsible for creating “black propaganda” or OP-33.

Psywarrior.com stated that the OP-33, which was “patterned after the old OSS Morale Operations Division, OP-33 operated behind such heavy security that few Americans in Asia knew of its existence, which was essential as any trace of SOG’s involvement would destroy a deception’s effectiveness.”

Psywarrior.com also noted about the OP-33 that it was not a small operation. This black operation had a budget of 3.7 million dollars in 1967 and approximately 150 staff members. Half of the staff were known to be civilian Vietnamese. The other half of this group were U.S. military. There was also at least a dozen CIA officers supporting the OP-33.

Some of these messages the U.S. propagated included the idea that the NVA hated and feared the Chinese, which was trying to aggravate tensions among these two groups.

Some of the other propaganda efforts by the U.S. including sending false messages about many Chinese troops, which were located in North Vietnam romancing the women of NVA soldiers who were stationed far away as well as reports that the Communist Chinese were providing the NVA with poor ammunition. The U.S. was able to use some of these kernels of truth to boost the credibility of the stories and propaganda being fed to the NVA.

Lieutenant Thomas Norris

In the spring of 1972, an American electronic surveillance plane was shot down over North Vietnam. One crewman survived the crash and narrowly escaped capture. The Air Force launched an unprecedented rescue effort. In five days, 14 people were killed, eight aircraft were lost, two rescuers were captured and two more were stranded behind enemy lines.

On April 10, 1972, Lieutenant Thomas Norris led a five-man patrol deep into enemy territory. Separating temporarily from his patrol, he traveled alone through the jungle and located one of the downed pilots just before dawn. He led his crew safely back to their forward operating base. Later that day, a North Vietnamese rocket attack on the small base inflicted devastating casualties and compelled the medical evacuation of the one other American officer, the remaining Vietnamese officers and all but a remnant of the Vietnamese supporting force. After an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the first missing flier, two of Norris’s three remaining Vietnamese commandos proved unwilling to accompany Norris on further missions.

On the afternoon of the 12th, a forward air controller located the first pilot and notified Lt. Norris. Dressed as fishermen, Lt. Norris and a Vietnamese comrade, Nguyen Van Kiet, paddled a sampan up the river and found the injured pilot at dawn. Concealing him in the bottom of their vessel, Norris and Kiet headed down river to their base, dodging one North Vietnamese patrol and surviving heavy machine gun fire from a bunker along the river. This extraordinary rescue has been recounted in numerous books and a feature film, BAT-21, the Air Force code name for the original reconnaissance mission.

The following October he received a near-fatal head wound in action and was rescued by his fellow Navy SEAL, Michael Thornton. At first, Norris’s doctors gave him little chance of recovery, but with constant encouragement from his family and from Michael Thornton, Norris fought on. In time, Norris and Thornton enjoyed the unique satisfaction of witnessing each other’s Medal of Honor ceremonies at the White House. Thomas Norris ultimately realized his youthful ambition of joining the FBI. After many years of distinguished service in FBI hostage rescue operations, he now enjoys a well-earned retirement in Idaho.

William Hart Pitsenbarger

William Hart Pitsenbarger

USAF Pararescue

Flying on almost 300 rescue missions in Vietnam, Bill Pitsenbarger risked his life almost daily during the war rescuing downed soldiers and fliers. On April 11, 1966, the 21-year-old, known as “Pits” to his friends, was killed while defending some of his wounded comrades. For his bravery and sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest military decorations, the Medal of Honor and the Air Force Cross, becoming the first enlisted airman to receive the medals posthumously.

Pitsenbarger was born in 1944 and grew up in Piqua, Ohio, a small town near Dayton. When Bill was a junior in high school, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army as a Green Beret, but his parents refused to give their permission. After he graduated from high school, he decided to join the Air Force, and on New Year’s Eve 1962, he was on a train bound for basic training in San Antonio.

During his basic training in early 1963, Bill volunteered for Pararescue. He completed the very difficult qualifying requirements and was one of the first group of airmen to qualify for Pararescue right out of basic training. After completing the very trying and difficult pararescue training, Bill was assigned to the Rescue Squadron assigned to Hamilton AFBCalifornia. He was later sent on TDY (Temporary Duty) to Vietnam. Upon completing his first TDY assignment, he volunteered to return and received orders in 1965 to report to Detachment 6, 38th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon. His unit was composed of five aircrews that flew three Kaman HH-43F Huskie helicopters. His commander, Maj. Maurice Kessler called him “One of a special breed. Alert and always ready to go on any mission.”

On April 11, 1966, the Joint Rescue Center dispatched two Huskies from Detachment 6 to extract a half-dozen or more Army casualties pinned down in a battle near Cam My, a few miles east of Saigon. Upon reaching the site of the ambush, he was lowered through the trees to the ground where he attended to the wounded before having them lifted to the helicopter by a cable. After six wounded men had been flown to an aid station, the two Air Force helicopters returned for their second load.

As one of the helicopters lowered its litter basket to Pitsenbarger, who had remained on the ground with the 20 infantrymen still alive, it was hit by a burst of enemy small-arms fire. When its engine began to lose power, the pilot realized he had to get the helicopter away from the area as soon as possible. Instead of climbing into the litter basket so he could leave with the helicopter, Pitsenbarger elected to remain with the Army troops under enemy attack and he gave a “wave-off” to the helicopter which flew away to safety. With heavy mortar and small-arms fire, the helicopters couldn’t return to rescue the rescuer.

For the next hour and a half, Pitsenbarger attended to wounded soldiers, hacking splints out of snarled vines and building improvised stretchers out of saplings. When the others began running low on ammunition, he gathered ammunition from the dead and distributed them to those still alive. Then, he joined the others with a rifle to hold off the Viet Cong. Pitsenbarger was killed by Viet Cong snipers later that night. When his body was recovered the next day, one hand still held a rifle and the other clutched a medical kit.

Although Pitsenbarger did not escape alive, nine other men did, partially thanks to his courage and their devotion to duty. He is buried in Miami Memorial Park Cemetery Covington, Ohio. His grave can be found in plot 43-D, grave #2.