PART NINE

Murdock's return to the Army was conspicuously unnoticed. His new commanding officer looked over his file and determined Murdock was more than ready to assume the Aircraft Commander position. Someone must have put out the "word", because the other members of his new unit accepted the decision without question. No one really had time to question it, as the 281st was kept busy working with Delta and the MACV Recondo school, as well as an occasional mission for the infantry units. Murdock didn't mind the School, where the pilots worked with new trainees, literally teaching them the ropes of insertions and extractions. But his adrenalin roared when they worked with Delta. He wasn't the only one.

The pilots of the 281st had a job to do, and when it came to pulling "their guys" out of the enemy's clutches, they were fearless. Whereas the Marine pilots assigned to Delta were meticulous about weight restrictions, the 281st ignored them. The gunships carried as many rockets and munitions as they could hold. It was typical to see the choppers bounce a couple of times before they would get enough lift to carry them into the air, and they tended to brush a few treetops before they could really get going. Extraction was almost scientific in its precision - the pilots would move a foot one way, a few inches up or down - whatever it took to get the Maguire rig in the best position to retrieve the wounded. If they had time, all the guys would be pulled up on the rig, three at a time. However, they didn't have always have time. The Delta team would literally be picked up on the run, the enemy close enough to hitch a ride themselves. Those kinds of extractions worried Murdock more than anything. On more than one occasion, all they could do was drop the ladder and hope the guys could hang on until the pilot found a place to land and bring them on board. As much as that scared Murdock, he knew he had the easy part.

In early November, the 281st was supporting Operation Warbonnet in I Corps. There were two Deltas near the Laotian border who'd run into trouble, and were on the run, trying to find a place for an extraction. Not an easy thing to do on the steep mountain ridges, with the NVA "close enough to sneeze on". Murdock was in the air, working with C&C in an attempt to find the men.

On the ground, Ray Brenner had his hands full. He was now senior man, the bodies of the captain and first lieutenant back in the jungle. He had BA's arm draped over his shoulders, a hole the size of a fist in the man's leg. He should've been on a litter, but they didn't have time for that.

BA just gritted his teeth and tried not to slow everyone else down. Especially since he wasn't even supposed to be here. He was just a last minute, "gotta-have-a-guy-you're-it" replacement, someone who'd worked with this team before but never as part of it. They all knew the risks doing it that way, but sometimes the units they worked for didn't care.

They got to a small clearing on the top of a ridge and set up a perimeter. Not that it took long, Basically they stopped, dropped and fired into the trees surrounding them. Ray slid over to the radioman, who was getting more and more frustrated. It was one thing to give a set of coordinates, another for the pilots to see through the canopy and actually find them. Ray started looking at the topography of the map instead of the coordinates. A triangle of hills, a deep ravine, anything to give the pilots a visual.

Ray watched with guilty relief when the chopper appeared. Relief that their way out was so close, guilt because the NVA were now firing on it, instead of his men. Ray expected to see the McGuire rig come down but instead the chopper was coming down, and coming down fast. Trish, Ray's widow, remembered Ray's description:

"At first, he thought the helicopter had been hit, because there was just no room for it to land. Then he realized it was still controlled, that the pilot was deliberately coming down to them. He said his men kept firing into the jungle, and then the chopper was there, hovering, one wheel on the ground, the other off the edge of the ridge. They were loaded in just seconds and the next thing he knew, they were up in the air. He looked down and could see where the blades had cut off the branches of the trees."

After they landed, Ray made sure the wounded were taken care of, and then he and the rest of the team headed for the Delta Club. He made sure Murdock and the crew chief went right along with them.

BA didn't remember too much of that flight. He did clearly remember landing and trying to protect the wound from prying hands. He didn't know whose hands they were until he saw the name tag hovering over him, and smiling with embarrassment, recalled relaxing when he realized Fallone wasn't a Vietnamese name.

BA was out of the hospital in time to celebrate Murdock's promotion to captain in December. After that night (or nights, he wasn't sure) of mixing Deltas, pilots and alcohol, BA swore off the alcohol for life.