PART TEN

Many people have speculated over the years as to when and what started Murdock's slow descent into mental illness. While I can no more "prove" my theory than anyone else can prove theirs, my belief is that it began in January, 1969, when he was chosen to fly a sudden and possibly ill-planned flight to an area west of Hanoi. Murdock was actually quite open about the mission in general.

"The brass had gotten confirmation that this group of POWs were being moved from just south of the DMZ to the north. Well, by the time they found out, of course, these guys were getting pretty damn close to Hanoi, and they had to move fast or it would've been a total no-go. So it wasn't planned as well as it could've been, I guess. Anyway, because I'd been with AA and was more familiar with the terrain in that area, I was asked to fly the Bright Light team in. And we got there, and...it didn't work out. That's all."

Bright Light was the code name for the very secret operations to attempt rescue of POWs. Even today, much information about the program is considered sensitive. However, I was able to locate two former members who recalled the incident, although only one remembered Murdock. Although equally reluctant to discuss details, he confirmed what Murdock had told me. He also told me that by the time Murdock was able to find a drop area for the team, it was too late. Not only were they unable to rescue the POWs, they were unable to retrieve the bodies. My contact was emphatic that if it had not been for "the pilot's crazy flying", the NVA would have had the rescue team to replace the murdered prisoners.

Whether Murdock blamed himself for the sudden killing, or this was only another straw toward breaking the camel's back, it was shortly after this mission that comments about his sometimes "erratic" behavior began appearing in his commander's private notes.

By February, 1969, Templeton had completed his training at Fort Bragg and spent a week traveling across country before shipping out for Vietnam. He'd accomplished his goal, to his way of thinking. Although he was looked at strangely by some, he had indeed developed a friendship of sorts with members of the 5th Group, particularly after they noticed his talent for "procurement". They had been more than willing to teach their new protégé the "tricks of the trade", as well as letting him know his 'talents' would be well used in-country.

Templeton arrived at Ton Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon, and after a week of orientation, was given orders to report to headquarters at Nha Trang. He'd been told that Nha Trang was considered one of the safest places to be - a major military base that stretched almost down to Cam Ranh Bay, it was home for not only the Fifth and MACV, but also a naval base, airfield, fuel depot, massive ordinance storage facility, a major VC and NVA prisoner compound, signal compound, and the 8th Army Field Hospital. Of course, it was also surrounded on three sides by Viet Cong and NVA. Only a few months ago an entire NVA regiment had been ensconced on a mountain less than three miles from the city called the Grand Summit.

Templeton had barely stepped away from the plane at Cam Ranh Bay, ready to get on the camouflaged bus headed for Nha Trang, when Ray Brenner, now a captain, came racing up in a jeep. He explained he had been "scrounging around" for some things his team needed, heard there was a new SF officer there and offered a somewhat more comfortable ride with him. Templeton readily agreed, and the jeep took the lead up the road.

The war was typically a nocturnal one, the enemy attacking at night, melting away into the jungle just before dawn. Apparently this particular day the VC couldn't resist when they spotted the tiny convoy moving through that isolated stretch of road. There were a couple small explosions, followed by a barrage of bullets. Templeton and Ray both leaped from the jeep, and ran for the jungle, followed closely by the men from the bus. Ray had thought to bring the radio, and was talking rapidly. A moment later he looked at Templeton's bare head and slapped his own helmet on him.

Everyone was firing into the trees across the road, but the incoming lemon grenades kept them from doing much damage. After what seemed like hours, the men heard a "whup-whup" coming from the north. Almost immediately, activity from the other side of the road stopped, and the only noise was that of the gunships hovering above. Under their protection, Ray and the bus driver checked the vehicles for terminal damage, while two of the men were rushed aboard one of the choppers for quick transport to the hospital at Nha Trang. Moments later, the vehicles were again on the move, the gunships hovering overhead until they were within safety's reach of the base.

Templeton remembered Ray dropping him off at the headquarters hut, grinning and shouting "Welcome to Vietnam!" as he drove away.