This Navy SEAL unit was 'the most hard luck platoon' to fight in Vietnam

The last time a Navy SEAL team used x-ray as an identifier was when the unit deployed to the Mekong Delta area in late 1970. Lt. Cmdr. Mike Walsh was a SEAL in Vietnam during the war. He was wounded at Ben Tre while serving with SEAL Platoon X-Ray in February 1971. In an interview with Vietnam Magazine, Walsh called X-Ray “the most hard-luck SEAL platoon to serve in Vietnam.”

 X-Ray Platoon (Gordon said this was called the bad luck platoon because there were so many losses. Jim Ritter (KIA) took the picture. From left to right top row - Rick Hetzell, Irving Brown, Harold Birkey (KIA), Doc Caplenor, Frank Bowmar (KIA), Clint Majors, Mike Collins (KIA), Lou Decrose. Middle - Alan Vader. Bottom Row left to right - Mike Trigg, Dave Shadnaw, Gordon Clisham, Awe(the scout).

X-Ray Platoon: Jim Ritter (KIA) took the picture. From left to right top row – Rick Hetzell, Irving Brown, Harold Birkey (KIA), Doc Caplenor, Frank Bowmar (KIA), Clint Majors, Mike Collins (KIA), Lou Decrose. Middle – Alan Vader. Bottom Row left to right – Mike Trigg, Dave Shadnaw, Gordon Clisham, Awe (the scout).

Immediately after their arrival, things started to go awry. A SEAL team inserted near Truc Giap was ambushed that same month, December 1970. The squad leader and another SEAL were killed while the radioman and Kit Carson scout (former VC who turned on the Communists and act as scouts for U.S. infantry units) were hit. If it weren’t for the rear security man, the unit would have been wiped out entirely.

Radioman 2nd Class Harold Baker ran into a river to get out of the kill zone. He fished out the body of a fellow SEAL as well as an M-60, and then fought his way through the ambush until backup from X-Ray could arrive.

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An operation in Ben Tre, the one where Walsh was injured, saw the unit lose a couple of SEALs and a number of limbs. It was during a patrol led by a “Hoi Chanh” or a defector from the Viet Cong (VC), similar to the Kit Carson scouts who was leading the way. He led the SEALs on a sweep and destroy mission, and then into a trap.

“I did not trust him at all. He was there to get us killed,” Welsh said. “And he almost did it. I didn’t like it; I had a bad feeling about it. But we went on patrol with this guy leading the way.”

The defector had come to the SEALs by way of the Chieu Hoi amnesty program. Chieu hoi, which loosely translates into “open arms,” was an effort by the South Vietnamese government to get VC members to defect to the South and offer information against the Viet Cong. It was essentially an amnesty program. An estimated 75,000 defection occurred by 1967,  but less than a quarter of those were deemed genuine. Some did genuinely contribute to the war effort with some earning medals as high as a Silver Star, but the defector with X-Ray was not one of those achievers.

The SEALs on the patrol at Ben Tre found and destroyed some bunkers before being extracted by a light SEAL support craft (LSSC). As the boat was leaving, the VC attacked the SEALs, hitting the LSSC with a B-40 rocket. One of the boatmen lost a leg, and a South Vietnamese interpreter lost both. Lt. Cmdr. Walsh was lifted off the boat and stuck with shrapnel. Another SEAL’s grenades went off while strapped to his body, taking the man’s right glute. One SEAL, Ed Jones, fired a .50 cal into the VC position and they took off. Walsh found the defector injured by shrapnel.

“He looked at me and smiled,” Walsh remembered. “He knew he had led us into an ambush and he had succeeded. I finished him off with my Gerber knife.”

The team had to be extracted by helicopter, where one of the SEALs died from his wounds.

Finally, on March 4th, 1971, the unit commander, Lieutenant Michael Collins, an Annapolis graduate who had never taken SEAL cadre training, was killed in Kien Hoa province. The unit was deactivated after that, with all of its members either killed or wounded.

The reason for the high cost of X-Ray is considered to be operational security. Experts believe the unit’s tactical operations center was compromised by one of its South Vietnamese commandos who had been giving information to the Communists. The enemy knew of all of X-Ray’s movements well in advance.

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