PART ELEVEN

It was the end of March, and Templeton (now known as "Face", much to his chagrin) was flying over an area of the Ni Thiu Linh mountains with the FAC. Somewhere down below was a Viet Cong regional force, approximately 120 men. Included in that company was a Russian advisor (who "officially" didn't exist) known as Ivan Padavich. MACV wanted the man, badly, but it had to be handled carefully. The last thing Washington wanted was an open confrontation with the Russians.

What Face was doing leading this mission was beyond his comprehension. He was just barely done with the in-house training, and had only been on two recons, short ones at that. And his sergeant, Baracus, had really been the team leader on both. But this was what he'd trained for, prepared for, and for some reason, Colonel Smith thought he could handle it. But he still couldn't understand why.

BA, on the ground at the FOB, knew. The new lieutenant had become Hannibal Smith's latest "project". Others may have shaken their heads over it, but if Hannibal thought this kid was worth looking out for, that was all that mattered. Even BA had been impressed with his performance during training. Dead serious, knew when to talk, when to listen, and it was clear he'd paid attention to what the "old-timers" at Bragg had told him. In fact, BA had been surprised that Hannibal had wanted him teamed with the kid. Another few weeks, some experience to go with the knowledge, and BA knew he would've been fine.

Hannibal hadn't been as sure. Notes from his personal journal show that he was concerned that Face was "too serious", too focused on the mission side of operations, and not as "involved" with the rest of the men as he should have been. Another BA. Different demeanor, same purpose. Under those circumstances, it would seem odd to put the two of them together, but when asked about it later, Hannibal would just grin, and say he'd "had a plan".

That evening, just as the sun was disappearing over the mountains, Face, BA and the four indigenous members of the team were flown to their LZ. As the two gunships kept watch, and the other two slicks hovered above with the command helicopter, the Huey dropped down to the treetops, and the team rappelled down to the ground. Immediately they broke from the LZ and headed into the jungle, making as little noise as possible. They could hear their slick moving off to perform another false insertion maneuver, hopefully drawing any attention away from the guys on the ground. From then on, the team would be on its own.

They selected a spot to spend the night, and over the next four days moved slowly and silently through the thick vegetation and ankle-breaking rocks. They almost immediately located the VC company, and it wasn't hard to pick out the blond Russian. After that it was a matter of watching for an opening, and not being spotted in the meantime.

It was obvious the VC were unconcerned with any possible visitors from the earlier helicopters, and Padavich even less so. The team had noted he liked to sit with the VC captain after the evening meal, apart from the main group. When the two men sat like that for the third day in a row, Face and BA grinned at each other.

The team was lucky in that their captives were both arrogant, overconfident, and yet smart. The VC captain knew he was merely icing on the cake; if he caused any trouble, the knife against his throat would slit it. Padavich knew he stood as much chance of being shot in a firefight as the Americans, and was possibly even a bigger target.

They had a good start up the mountain before the alarm was given. Face had their radioman call in their coordinates and that of the camp, and then they continued on their way to the extraction point. The VC, of course, were not happy to find their captain and advisor missing. And they were much more familiar with the terrain than the team. By the time the choppers could be heard approaching, the sound was almost drowned out by gunfire. The radio operator was quickly but calmly letting the rescuers know the team was under heavy fire, and all pretense of a surreptitious extraction was abandoned.

The gunships moved in with searchlights glaring down. The VC, trained to freeze when helicopters arrived, did exactly that. It was the last thing most of them did. A few, however, were too close to the team. The gunships didn't dare try for them without hitting their own men.

Murdock, in the slick, swung in low and fast, his gunner firing into the jungle just behind the team. Practically standing the Huey on its nose, he turned back and made another low sweep. Yet another hairpin turn and the ladders were down, the team and prisoners scrambling aboard. Leaving the gunships to finish off the remaining VC, Murdock headed back to the FOB.

The next morning the team and its prisoners were flown back to Nha Trang. Hannibal, with a grin that could be seen for miles, personally took charge of Padavich. BA looked over at Face, who, he said, was just staring into space, but with a gleam in his eyes. Shaking his head, BA grabbed his arm and headed for the Delta Club.

tbc...