In the Fall of 1964 Master Sergeant Joseph Hill and I were selected by General Yarborough’s Special Warfare Center headquarters to complete the testing of some new tubular-frame rucksack and armor insole jungle boots. Actual laboratory work would be accomplished by engineers at Natick Laboratories, just west of Boston not too distant from Fort Devens, Massachusetts. Joe (the Master Sergeant) and I would secure the rucksacks, filled with 55-70 lbs of rations, supplies and clothing, to our parachute harness, board an Army single-engine Otter aircraft and jump out at 1200 feet above a drop zone located at nearby Fort Devens, Massachusetts. The parachute operations were essential as tests for strength and resistance to impact when hitting the ground dangling from a 20 -25 foot bungi cord attached to our parachute harnesses at a speed of 20 to 25 feet per second under various wind conditions. Once the laboratory and parachute testing was completed we would take the equipment back to Fort Bragg, for a forced-march test to determine the affect a heavy-laden rucksack would have on the unconventional warriors while wearing the new jungle boots. To assure that it would be a valid test, each rucksack was loaded with equipment, supplies and field rations weighing a minimum of 75 pounds. We each, regardless of rank , began the 42 mile march with a full canteen, M-16 rifle, two bandoleers of ammunition, bayonet, and first aid kit in addition to the heavy rucksacks. At the end of the march, boots and rucksacks were inspected by Natick lab personnel and all of our feet and backs were examined by the Special Warfare Center surgeon’s staff. On the first evening there at Natick labs in late November, 1964 we ate dinner in uniform at a large and fancy motel close by the laboratory, our observations generating suspicion that it was a hang-out for the local Mafia. In fact there we met the son of a Boston “family” Don. As Frank Sinatra crooned on stage near our table, a man who had been secretly furnishing drinks to our table, once confronted by me as to why he was doing that, introduced himself, saying that he simply observed our comaraderie. This man had never before seen an officer and a sergeant treat each other as equals. He then accepted the fact that we were a different breed of soldiers and invited us to join him. One thing led to another, and believing it was common knowledge in Mafia CIA circles that Green Berets were tapped by the “company” to terminate selected “targets” in foreign countries and that Mafia resources were used to take care of the same needs inside the US, he invited us to his home.
We presumably passed muster on the third successive visit to the son’s home on 6 January 1965 and were invited to meet his father the Don at his home the next evening.
After a generous steak with all the trimmings, the Don passed cigars all around and told us of their need for a good hit team to eliminate competition. He clarified that this meant we’d be dealing with people trying to “invade” his territory, that we would not be asked to snuff out cops or so-called “innocent” civilians. Would we be interested? Shown a matched pair of silenced pistols, I know I fantasized for a moment or two what that kind of life might be, but thought better when the reality of my wife and three daughters came back into focus. I thought I best move quickly to decline his offer on the spot rather than push our luck in this dangerous ruse of our own making. But first, I used the opportunity to pose a question that had been in my mind for some months: had the Don been approached by the CIA prior to the Kennedy killing? Pausing to weigh his answer, he said that somebody in the company had asked if he wanted a part in the hit. He said he’d refused to participate, telling us he’d told the caller that he “had no problems with the Kennedys in Massachusetts.” I told him we’d have to pass on the offer and the realization came to each of us sitting there, the Don, his son, Joe and me, that we had learned a lot about each other’s “way of life.” Fortunately for Joe and me it appeared that the Don and his son respected us or perhaps feared what we could do to them as much as we feared the possible consequences of their expected anger. The “reach” of the family was not to be underestimated here in the United States. With the Don’s forthright manner and attitude toward we whom he thought to be much like him, only in uniform, recognizing the need for silence in these matters, allowed that we all four swear by a blood-drawn oath never to disclose each others identities. We had a somber ride back to the motel that night. You could have cut the silence with a knife and we were, at that moment, glad it was behind us and that we were yet breathing.
Part Eight: First to Take The War into Cambodia