PART EIGHT

In February, 1968, Templeton completed OCS, with honors, and was commissioned a second lieutenant. The following month he would begin Special Forces training at Fort Bragg. He had known, from the day he first stepped foot in Fort Bragg, that his looks would get him nowhere fast. To the contrary, he had to work harder and think faster than his classmates just to be tolerated. The turmoil growing within the military itself didn't help his situation. More and more soldiers - draftees, enlisted and officers alike - were openly expressing their opposition to the involvement in Vietnam. In July the "rebellion" reached Fort Bragg itself, when prisoners seized control of the stockade and held it for three days. Rumors of fragging filtered through to the trainees, and Templeton wondered if his military choices had really been in his best interest.

There were other things on the base that attracted Templeton's attention. The Fifth Special Forces Group. Whether it was the fact they were the ones in Vietnam, or the rumors of their covert operations in areas they weren't supposed to be, or just their overall demeanor, but no one who wasn't trying to get into the Fifth seemed to want anything to do with them. And God help anyone who started talking about their operations.

Despite the forbidding mystique, Templeton began to seek out members of the Fifth. He didn't try to scam these guys. For one thing, he knew they'd see right through him. For another, he knew what he wanted couldn't be scammed and be worth anything. He was smart, and smart meant learning how to stay alive in the new world he would be entering.

BA had just been promoted to Staff Sergeant. His only interest in that was the increase in pay, most of which was being sent home to his parents. Of greater importance was the interview he'd had with the commanding officer of Project Delta, Major Charles Allen. Allen was a big man, and no-nonsense when it came to his unit and its mission. But BA liked him, even if he was an officer. Allen apparently liked BA as well, and agreed to let him "try out" for recon. If he made through training, and the guys in the unit accepted him, he was in. BA thought it strange that it was up to the unit members to decide, rather than the CO - but he liked that idea. After all, they were the ones who, quite literally, had to live with the decision.

The training was something else. BA had heard of the Recondo School, but Delta members didn't attend that. They had their own training program, and it was totally unique to BA's experiences in the Army. Instead of the new man attending classes or exercises and then joining the unit, the entire team went through the training together, regardless of how many times the individuals had done it before. It didn't take long for BA to see the wisdom there. Once a "Delta" went out in the field, they were totally on their own. They were working in areas where the NVA and VC would literally be within slapping distance, communicating with each other through hand signals, if anything. Every scenario had a pre-arranged response. Everyone in the unit had to know who was going to do what and when, without waiting for instructions. Compared to this, the training at Fort Bragg had been a cakewalk.

After the third recon mission with the unit, no one had yet said if he was staying or going. He joined the rest of the men at the Delta Club in Nha Trang. He wasn't a party guy, but after these missions, he understood the need to let go. And these guys "let go" with the same dedication as they fought. It was that night he realized he'd been accepted. As BA told Amy later, it was another sergeant who made his appointment "official" - among other things. Unable to pronounce BA's last name coherently, the sergeant toasted the newest member of the team, giving him his new call sign - Bad Ass.

It wasn't quite the explanation he gave his parents...

Hannibal had been rotated stateside in late 1967, and finally his continuous requests to be transferred back to Vietnam had been granted. He wasn't totally happy being permanently assigned to MACV-SOG. He found himself spending more and more time sitting behind a desk, attending endless meetings, and generally being a "glorified gopher" (his words, not mine). "Strap-hangers" were not generally well received by the teams, but Hannibal's experience in both Korea and Vietnam, plus his willingness to be a true advisor rather than pulling rank, soon made him welcome in all but the tightest units. He started finding more and more excuses to go out on "fact-finding" missions, tagging along with any SF team going out in the boonies.

Other events made Hannibal even more anxious to be in the field. He was well aware of the increasing discontent with the war, both stateside and in-country. More and more, he was hearing of soldiers - and whole units - refusing to go into battle. Rumors and more were circulating about a village called My Lai, which in turn dragged up the old rumors about the 101st's Tiger Force. Hannibal knew "his" SF had so far stayed above the fray, but he was worried. He wanted to be out there, with the guys. Just to make sure.

In April, Hannibal heard, along with the rest of the world, of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King. Being a career military officer, and having seen the war firsthand, Hannibal could not agree with a lot of things the Reverend King had said concerning the war. But he had a great respect for the man's mission for civil rights, and was horrified and saddened by the murder.

He had to wait a few days before he was able to get to Nha Trang and the Delta headquarters. And then wait two more days before BA got back from the recon his group had been on. Why was it so important for Hannibal to be there, and why had he held an interest in BA after all that time? Hannibal just shook his head when I asked him, and answered with not a little irony.

"I knew BA well enough after that first meeting to know I wanted him to come out of that war alive. BA was on the edge back then. Honor and integrity fighting a constant battle with anger and frustration. I didn't want King's death to decide the outcome. If he wanted to belt someone in the chops, I wanted it to be someone who wouldn't ruin his career afterwards. Little did I know..."

In June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Murdock was returning to Udorn, Thailand, from yet another trip to Laos. In the back, he had three "technicians" - sheep-dipped Air Force personnel. They had barely landed when one of the maintenance crew ran up with the news. The three men, stunned, headed directly for the nearest bar. Murdock, like so many others, was conflicted by the news. On the one hand, to have someone of Robert Kennedy's stature murdered on American soil was horrific to contemplate. On the other, Kennedy's reversal on the Vietnam War had not set well with a lot of the men fighting. Like everything else connected with the war, the emotional conflicts were as heavy to bear as the actual fighting.

Murdock, himself, had been getting more and more restless working for Air America. The quality of maintenance had started spiraling downward, and more than one pilot had complained about repeated requests to have the same thing fixed, and never knowing what would be the next thing to go wrong with the aircraft. The debacle at LS85 in March still angered him. The additional knowledge that if he were ever captured carrying certain cargo, he would effectively cease to exist, preyed on his mind. He knew his grandparents would never survive that.

Finally, in July, Murdock decided it was time to get back to the "real" war. He put in a request for a transfer back to his old unit, the Thunderbirds. He received part of his request. He returned to the Army, but was assigned to the 281st AHC. He would be working exclusively in support of the Fifth Special Forces.