Six Silent Men, Book Two: 101st Lrp/Rangers, Book Two by Kenn MillerSix Silent Men, Book Two: 101st Lrp/Rangers, Book Two by Kenn Miller

Six Silent Men, Book Two: 101st Lrp/Rangers, Book Two

byKenn Miller

Mass Market Paperback | March 30, 1997

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In the summer of 1967, the good old days were ending for the hard-core 1st Brigade LRRPs of the 101st Airborne Division, perhaps the finest maneuver element of its size in the history of the United States Army. It was a bitter pill. After working on their own in Vietnam for more than two years, the Brigade LRRPs were ordered to join forces with the division once again.

But even as these formidable hunters and killers were themselves swallowed up by the Screaming Eagles' Division LRPs to eventually become F Co., 58th Infantry, they continued the deadly, daring LRRP tradition. From saturation patrols along the Laotian border to near-suicide missions and compromised positions in the always dangerous A Shau valley, the F/58th unflinchingly faced death every day and became one of the most highly decorated companies in the history of the 101st.
Kenn Miller is a former LRRP and 101st Ranger veteran. He is author of the successful and well-received novel Tiger: The LURP Dog. He lives in Southern California.
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Title:Six Silent Men, Book Two: 101st Lrp/Rangers, Book TwoFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 6.9 × 4.3 × 0.6 inPublished:March 30, 1997Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0804115648

ISBN - 13:9780804115643

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Chapter One   In the early summer of 1967, shortly after the cadre of the 101st Airborne Division’s famed Recondo School returned to Fort Campbell from training cadets at West Point, Brigadier General Frank B. Clay, the assistant division commander, and Lieutenant Colonel Charles Beckwith, the division G-2, paid an unexpected visit to the school, bearing the news that General Westmoreland had ordered all the divisions and separate brigade-size maneuver units then conducting operations in Vietnam to organize long-range patrol (LRP, pronounced “Lurp”) companies. Since the 101st Airborne Division was scheduled to join its 1st Brigade in Vietnam at the end of the year, it was to organize such a company within the division. And though there was no shortage of talent in the division, it seemed only natural that the Recondo School cadre become the nucleus of this new company.   General Clay’s visit was brief, but after his departure, Lieutenant Colonel Beckwith remained behind to go over some of the details. Having previously commanded the 5th Special Forces Group’s Project Delta, Colonel Beckwith was more than familiar with the organization and duties of a long-range patrol company. And as he was the G-2, such a company, at least in theory, would be working for him. Wasting little time, Beckwith had already made up his mind to put the new company under the command of Captain Peter Fitts. Fitts, a mustang officer with plenty of enlisted time (and an array of tattoos to prove that most of his service had been as an enlisted man), had a prior tour in Vietnam establishing and running long-range recon teams for Special Forces.   Colonel Beckwith knew what he wanted. The Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE) called for a three-platoon company. Two of the platoons would be patrol platoons, each running four to five six-man reconnaissance teams. The third platoon would be a headquarters platoon with a strong communications section. Beckwith made it very clear to the gathered Recondo School cadre that the company was to be a volunteer unit with standards that would exclude all but the most qualified. There was no disagreement.   When Beckwith had taken over Project Delta, it had been with the understanding that he would be given free rein to hire and fire anyone he wanted and that 5th Special Forces Group’s entire roster would be open for recruiting his people. In taking over Project Delta, Beckwith had made a lot of enemies, stepped on a lot of toes, and maybe wronged a few good men. But then, Charlie Beckwith had never been the kind of man who worried about stepping on toes.   He couldn’t promise the Recondo cadre they’d have carte blanche in putting together the new long-range patrol company, but he did assure them that they’d have the right to reject any volunteer who didn’t meet their standards.   When Beckwith had taken over Project Delta, he’d sent notices out to every detachment in the 5th Special Forces Group advertising for volunteers and, as an inducement, promising a medal or a body bag—or both. He didn’t expect such an appeal would be allowed in the 101st Airborne Division—at least not at Fort Campbell. Still, a message of that sort would almost certainly get out to the troops.   The new company was going to need mature, experienced, well-trained team leaders and cadre, and Beckwith was quick to suggest that every officer and NCO of the Recondo School staff should volunteer to go back to Vietnam with the new Lurp company. As Sergeant First Class Harold Beck noted afterward, when “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith made a suggestion, it usually carried the weight of an order. But this was one time Charlie Beckwith could have saved his breath. Every man listening to him had already made up his mind to do just that. To build up a Screaming Eagle Recondo Lurp company and take it to war? Hell, those men were professional Airborne soldiers—Rangers, paratroopers, Recondo instructors—and this was the opportunity of a lifetime, the sort of prospect that made all the routine, mundane frustration of a military career, and all the sweat, suffering, and apprehension of a paratrooper’s life, worthwhile.   At that first meeting, it was assumed that the team leaders in the new company would come from the ranks of the Recondo School cadre, all experienced NCOs with the training and experience required of Lurp team leaders. All but one of them was a graduate of the Fort Benning Ranger School—and the one who wasn’t a Ranger School graduate was Tony Bliss, a genuine hero on his first tour in the 101st’s 1st Brigade, Division Soldier of the Year at Fort Campbell, and an honor graduate of the Recondo School. Some of the cadre had served as Ranger instructors, and most of them had previous Vietnam tours in Special Forces or as advisers to Vietnamese units. The TOE of a divisional Lurp company was still a tentative text, but the consensus at the time was that the TOE could probably be stretched to allow E-6 staff sergeant and E-7 sergeant first class team leaders.   But as soon as that first meeting with Lieutenant Colonel Beckwith ended, it became clear that the problem wasn’t going to be finding men to lead the teams. It was going to be finding men to fill the teams.   Recruiting proved to be a formidable task. As the call was passed around to the various units at Fort Campbell, word also reached Fort Bragg, and soon a number of 82nd Airborne paratroopers, and a few idle Green Berets, began to give serious consideration to trying to get over to the 101st to join the new long-range patrol company. But since there wasn’t much guarantee that they wouldn’t be sent to a line infantry company instead—or even worse, get stuck in some damn support or headquarters unit—most of them decided at the last minute to stay where they were.   One man from Fort Bragg who decided to take the chance was Sp4 Jim Venable. He had been stuck driving a truck for the 82nd’s support command, and he hadn’t gone Airborne to drive a deuce and a half. Venable was on his way up to Brigade Headquarters as a candidate for Brigade Soldier of the Month when he was waylaid by a couple of Special Forces NCOs, who told him about a “special” company some friends of theirs were putting together up at Fort Campbell. Venable immediately recognized this as an escape and evasion opportunity. He and a dozen or so other selected 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers, a Special Forces Training Group student medic who’d shown great promise until his dog died in the final, “dog lab,” phase of the medical qualification course, and a very small number of other personnel from Fort Bragg were recruited for the company by friends of the Recondo School cadre.   Word also went out to promising privates at the Fort Benning Jump School, though orders couldn’t be cut for them to the company, only to the division. Recent graduates of the Fort Benning Ranger School were already spoken for, but somehow Staff Sergeant Richard Burnell, who was already well on his way to becoming a legendary Ranger instructor, was lured away to the 101st and managed to pull strings to secure a slot in the new Lurp company.   But the main recruiting effort had to go forward within the 101st, and it was not an easy—or an altogether successful—effort. The 101st Airborne Division had no shortage of paratroopers who wanted to be Lurps, but despite Colonel Beckwith’s best efforts, the long-range patrol company itself had no special priority in recruiting. The entire 101st Airborne Division was gearing up to join the 1st Brigade in Vietnam. Unit commanders and senior NCOs were not about to let the Lurps stage raids on their best people. In turn, the Lurps weren’t about to let anyone dump a bunch of malcontents, misfits, and duds on them. Sergeant First Class Harold Beck, Staff Sergeant Tony Bliss, and Staff Sergeant Donald Randolph made many forays to the division’s replacement companies, getting the word out that the division was looking for Lurp volunteers. Despite their best efforts to recruit new arrivals “before” they were assigned to other units, they did not have the power to expedite getting orders cut. If a man was already pending orders assigning him to another unit within the division, there wasn’t much an E-7 and two E-6s could do to get those orders changed. And even though the company had two captains—Captain Fitts, the commander, and Captain Nation, the executive officer—there wasn’t much they could do about it either, because they were going against the staffs of majors, colonels both light and bird, and in some cases even generals, one star or two. Even Lieutenant Colonel Beckwith was in no position to compel compliance on the part of officers who didn’t want to lose their best men on the eve of departure for a combat zone.   One by one, volunteers did drift in. It was a slow and grueling process, and the long-range patrol company remained severely understrength. With the entire division making final preparations for war, the Lurp company found that its low-priority status for training was no better than its low-priority status for recruiting. Fortunately, the new company did have the Recondo School, and it retained the same access to training sites as any other infantry company, albeit without the support resources the other companies enjoyed. But the Recondo School and the normal training sites on post were not enough to train Lurps, and as summer turned to fall, Colonel Beckwith called in some markers and arranged for the new company to move down to the Florida Ranger camp for a little specialized training.   Charlie Beckwith had commanded the Florida Ranger camp before coming to the 101st, and he had some real power there. He laid on some good training—and some very nasty weather. Rain was constant, and though the patrolling was usually slow and careful, the pace of training was relentless. It was soon obvious to everyone that not all the Recondo School cadre were going to be team leaders. A couple of them weren’t really cutting it in the field, while a couple of the new recruits had both the rank and the talent to qualify for the job.   It was a sadly understrength company that made the trip down to Florida, just a cadre, and enough new sergeants and Sp4s and PFCs to fill out three or four full six-man teams. There was some talk about reducing team size to four men, but no one wanted to scrap the TOE of a divisional long-range patrol company before it was even completed. Besides, there were still not enough experienced men to go around on the teams, no matter how you split them up and shuffled them around—not if the intention was to field as many teams as a division as large and aggressive as the 101st Airborne was going to need.  

From Our Editors

In the summer of 1967, the good old days were ending for the hardcore 1st Brigade LRRPs of the 101st Airborne Division. After working on their own in Vietnam for more than two years, they were ordered to join forces with the division once again. Still, they continued the deadly, daring LRRP tradition--unflinchingly facing death every day. Each book in this trilogy features a different author who served in the unit. Kenn Miller served in Vietnam from 1967-1969. Original