Reunion, 2001, SOG receiving Presidential Unit Citation

After a long illness, John Patrick Martin passed away at home on April 6, 2007. He will be missed by many. Rest in Peace JP

This "empty chair" sits at the table which is the life of John Patrick Martin:


CWO Brian J. DeVaney

The 170th had been involved in the clandestine operations of MACV-SOG since itís arrival in Vietnam in one capacity or another. By late 1969, they had proven their worth in these dangerous and covert missions to a level which had earned them the privilege of becoming one of the Aviation units to fly full time on these assignments for CCC out of Kontum. The crews who flew these missions had an almost fanatical sense of duty and dedication to the SOG ground troops they transported. Few stories tell of this devotion, that the pilots and crew had for their SOG charges, better than the event that took place on May 30, 1970 involving CWO Brian J. DeVaney.

The 1969 battle at Dak To had been devastating on the 170th AHC in the way of manpower and equipment. Many were dead, more wounded, and a large amount of those surviving the carnage were rotating home. A feisty Warrant Officer, known for his courage and dedication to the mission of the Bikini Birds, extended for 6 months to assist in training new pilots to fly the unique missions with MACV-SOG into Laos and Cambodia. CWO Brian J. DeVaney, BJ as he was called, was an officer in the United States Army, but he was a Canadian by birth, and citizenship. The friendly, but reserved young Warrant Officer, was born in Toronto, Canada, and though he had moved to the United States at a young age, he had retained his Canadian citizenship. He volunteered for the Army, volunteered for Vietnam, volunteered to fly SOG, and volunteered to extend his tour of duty for six month to assure new pilots flying for the 170th were properly trained. BJ was about to volunteer for the last time in his life.

The new men found him demanding and exacting in his training of them, to the point they often wondered if anything they did was right. BJ pointed out every indiscretion and immediately told them what needed to be done and how to do it. BJ, was respected and loved, but often in his absence was called names he would never have cared to hear in person, by the pilots he trained, because of his demanding and exacting nature when it came to flying. Everyone of those same pilots later admitted how BJís demanding training, and exacting call for proficiency, allowed them to fly in ways they never thought themselves capable of. The same training they cursed him for, time and again, was to save their lives, the lives of their crew, and the lives of the men they carried.

The battles that took place at Dak Seang, in April of 1970, was a repeat of the Dak To battles of the year before. The 170th was once again cut to the bare bones in both aircraft and man power. Those available to fly were tired, and some were totally burned out and unable to handle hot missions. While new men began pouring in to replace the dead and wounded, Pilots from the 57th AHC filled in vacant slots, being the only available pilots familiar with the 170th mission demands. In many ways the 170th was a new unit again, with a handful of old timers to train the new guys, and fly SOG missions.

On April 29th, Brian DeVaney stopped by the Operations Room on his way to the "O" Club for his nightly drink with friends. He was a short timer, in fact, too short to fly. He had already been removed from the flight roster, pending shipment home to the states. For his last scheduled assignment, BJ had inserted a SOG team into the Bra area of southern Laos. During the insertion they had taken heavy fire, and BJ was concerned over the teams status. In the Ops Room, BJ discovered the team had been making regular contact with the NVA, and were set up along side of the hill for the night, and reporting movement around them. All the familiar signs were there for trouble. BJ entered his own name on the next days roster for the FOB group, as lead, and would be flying with CWO Mike Taylor. Having assured he would be there to extract the team, he felt responsible for, BJ went off to the club to enjoy his evening and talk about going back to the world.

The Bra, was beyond a doubt the hottest operational area of the southern Laos assignments with SOG, and had been since the SOG operations had commenced. The area was named "The Bra" for the distinctive shape of the river where Hwy 110 split to meet the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Hwy 96 which crossed The Bra was the main artery for supplies and troop movements for the NVA. The amount of activity in The Bra was so intensive, everyone (aviator and ground teams alike) gritted their teeth when they drew it as a mission. The NVAís Binh Tram 37 was there (a major NVA base camp) to stockpile and ship supplies, arms and ammunition to units in Vietnam via the trail. Stationed at the camp were security battalions, and the highly trained counter-recon hunter teams, whose sole mission was to hunt down and kill SOG reconnaissance teams. The entire Bra was saturated with fortified antiaircraft placements, and as early as 1968, Russian Mi-6 Helicopters had been seen in the area. Everyone went to The Bra when the mission dictated, but no one volunteered for The Bra. No one, that is, except BJ DeVaney.

The SOG Team that was in The Bra was a contingent of two indigenous commando squads, and a SF contingent consisting of CPT Smith, 1LT John Naurot, MSG Windel Glass, SFC Carnege, SSG Carpenter, SSG Richard Pinental, and SSG Bennett. After the 170th had inserted the teams into the area, the team had moved up the mountainside towards Hwy 96 with the intent of setting up an ambush. As they approached the road, they heard voices, and moved forward taking pictures of the NVA along the road. The team moved off from the road that night and set up along the side of the hill. All night long they heard noises and voices down in the valley, so they made plans to investigate the next morning.

The next day found BJ and three other ships at Dak To staging area ready for the emergency extraction of the team. As was the custom, four Bikiniís sat at the staging area waiting. BJís ship with Taylor as copilot, SP5 John Martin as Crew Chief, and a gunner (name not known) was to be the lead. Assigned as Chase for BJ, was CWO Rich Glover, a seasoned FOB Pilot, with Lt. Robert Talmadge. Third in the flight was Lt Greg Landers, with CPT Dave Gardner, and pulling stinger was WO Alan Hoffman with WO Kaseim in right seat. As the hot morning sun began to make its way above the Vietnamese Mountain tops, BJ and his crew sat and talked with the crews from the 361st, Pink Panther Cobra ships, and other Bikinis. All of them waiting for the call from Laos.

Meanwhile, the SOG team had moved down the mountain and across the clearing they had been inserted in. As they started up the other side, the lead component came face to face with a company size unit of NVA. The machine gunner for the SOG team opened up on the NVA, and a heavy fire fight ensued. After some time, the fire fight decreased in intensity, and the SF SOG men realized the NVA were working their way along their left flank. They were about to get themselves in a trap they could not get out of. Mustering their commandos, the American Team withdrew to the original LZ area, and set up a defensive positions in a series of bomb craters. CPT Smith called for an extraction from the area.

When the call came through to Dak To, it came through as an urgent but cold extraction. They had to be extracted right away, however, since Dak To had asked Smith if the team required a ground prep (Spads and guns) prior to extraction, he reported in the negative. Dak To interpreted that to mean it was a cold LZ. Within minutes of getting the extraction order, BJ and his crew were in the air, with the other Bikinis following suit. Believing they were going for a cold extraction, the four flew alone, without the customary Cobra escort. They arrived over the LZ, and went into a circular pattern, lining up for their approach. The LZ was covered with trees, stumps, and debris, so only one ship at a time would be able to enter, the next ship coming in when the first was clear. BJ spiraled in, leveled off, and then began his high speed, low level approach to the LZ.

His ship began taking fire as they approached on short final, some 50 feet in the air, and both the crew chief and the gunner opened up with M60s returning fire. RPD machinegun, and .51 caliber anti-aircraft fire walked down the tailboom towards the nose of the aircraft with uncanny precision. B-40 rockets exploded around the bird as it shook from the impact of the bullets as the bullets ripped through the aircraft. BJ managed to stabilize the bird in a hover, but for only a few seconds. SSG Bennet and his squad were to be to be extracted the first. As BJ had come to a hover, and was struck, Bennett and one commando were to be extracted first and were in the process of getting aboard.

Two rounds, one small arms and the other the heavier .51 caliber, struck John Martin, one in the left thigh, the second in the left tibia, continuing on an into to his right femur. Several rounds were coming up through the floor of the aircraft. A fragment of an anti-aircraft round, found itís way between the small crack separating the armor plating of the pilots seat, struck BJ in the side just behind his breast plate, and then bounced back off of the breast plate entering his heart.

SFC Carnege was on the opposite side of the aircraft from Bennett and his squad watching as anti-aircraft fire walked with precision accuracy down the tailboom to nose, the ship shook violently as it tried to hover for a moment. John Martin realizing the ship was going down had grabbed for his personal weapon, and risen, grabbing the stretcher rod against the bulkhead for support, at that moment, everything went black as he lost consciousness. BJ was in control of the aircraft, and as the bullet struck his heart. Suddenly there was a flash of an explosion at the top of the craft next to the exhaust, the aircraft waved from side to side for a moment, then plunged to the right and down to the ground. Bennett was thrown free, but the commando was shot repeatedly and died. The main rotor blades dug into the ground, spinning the aircraft on its side to the left forty-five degrees, and then snapping off of the mast head. Carnege dove out of the way as the main blade dug into the ground, spinning the aircraft towards him. The tail rotor nearly hitting SFC Carnege. The aircraft continued to roll over on its top, wavered a moment, then rolled back where it came to rest on itís side. In the process, Aviation fuel poured from a gapping hole in the fuel cell where bullets had ripped it opened. As the ship finally came to rest, Martin lay outside, unconscious, under the leaking fuel cell. A third bullet had struck him in the chest where the armored breast plate saved his life. By the grace of god, and reasons unknown to mortal man, John is with us today,.

With the aircraft down, MSG. Glass sprung from the crater and ran to the side of the downed aircraft, Martin had been thrown out and under the leaking fuel cell. Having regained consciousness, he was attempting to crawl towards the woodline. Enemy fire was still kicking up the dirt around the LZ, and tearing chunks from trees and stumps. Heavy .51 caliber rounds could be heard ripping sheet metal away from the downed aircraft beside him. Glass picked Martin up, carrying him to the crater under a hail the enemy fire. Glass returned to the aircraft where Mike Taylor was struggling with BJs body. Taylorís leg was ripped open and damaged from the crash. Glass grabbed BJ and once again ran for the crater as bullets followed his path with Mike Taylor struggling to run directly behind him. After delivering BJs body, Glass made one more trip to the bird, this time retrieving the body of the dead commando who was shot while trying to board with Bennett. The door gunner had jumped from the aircraft when it had started to shutter from the heavy fire, and had already ran to the bomb crater for cover.

The SOG Team came over the radio advising the remaining Bikinis to stay clear of the LZ, explaining the enemy had heavy anti-aircraft guns covering the approach and LZ, along with massive small arms, and B-40 rocket, fire. The team now requested air support prep the area. Within minutes, four A1E Skyraiders were flanking the LZ, laying a massive wall of lead from their guns on enemy positions, several passes of minigun fire and then several more passes with napalm.

The minute the LZ cleared, and the Spads were out of the way, Glover nosed over in a steep dive, spiraling into the valley floor, and then low leveling at high speed to the bomb crater where the aircraft crew, and SOG Team had been pinned down. Landers in another aircraft, called position and distance to Glover during his approach, from above.

Glover began taking fire immediately after leveling off from his approach. He flared, and unable to land in the rough terrain held the helicopter at a low hover as the Special Forces Team and the members of BJís crew ran for his aircraft amongst a hail of small arms fire.

Glover fought to hold the bird steady as bodies were thrown aboard, and members the team and BJís crew climbed aboard. Mike Taylor struggled to lift BJís body up to the aircraft floor, which was hovering above, while Lt. Naurot carried Martin to the craft and assisted him aboard. Glover fought to hold the bird as steady as possible in the hail of bullets. As the last man boarded, he backed away from the crater so he could reposition for take off. His tailrotor struck a tree stump, chewing over three inches off of it. The bird began to vibrate tremendously from the damage inflicting damage to the controls, which stiffened causing Glover to fight every movement of the aircraft.

Glover pulled collective and nosed the bird over, speeding down The Bra, and banking away from the massive barrage of enemy fire. Behind Glover, the remaining Bikinis flew into the barrage of enemy fire to retrieve the rest of the Team. As Glover leveled off, Talmadge turned and looked at Mike Taylor who was holding BJís head in his lap. Taylor looked up at him, slowly shaking his head. Talmadge unstrapped from his seat and moved back to the cargo compartment and checking BJ, he had no pulse. Talmadge began clearing the air passage and delivering CPR. At one point he believed he had a pulse. He yelled to Glover that BJ was dying and he needed to flown directly to the 71st Evac in Pleiku. Glover, fighting the intense vibrations of the helicopter with every ounce of his being, responded, that it may not be possible for the bird to hold together long enough to make the trip, but he veered his flight from Ben Het Medical Aid Station to Pleiku anyway.

WO Alan Hoffman flew next to Glover, on his right side to Pleiku. As they crossed over the fence into South Vietnam, Hoffman could see inside the aircraft to his left clearly. He reported seeing what appeared to be BJ raising his head, removing his flight glasses, then falling back to the floor. He continued to watch as Talmadge moved from the right seat of the helicopter to the back and performed CPR in his attempts to keep their friend alive.

Glover made it all the way back to the 71st, despite the fact the chopper was falling apart, and as soon as they landed, BJ was rushed inside to the emergency surgery room. A few moments later, a nurse came outside to where Glover and Talmadge stood waiting, with tear filled eyes, announced CWO Brian DeVaney was dead! The Doctor at the 71st Evac Hospital, explained to the crew that a remnant of a large caliber round had come through the side of BJís Chicken Plate, and bounced back into his body, striking his heart. The Doctor told them that BJ had died nearly instantly. Talmadge argued that the later was not true, he sworn he had felt a pulse while he was giving BJ CPR in the helicopter on the way to the 71st. Hoffman argued that he had seen BJ remove his flight glasses shortly after lifting off from the LZ. Regardless, BJ was dead.

The death of Brian DeVaney hit the unit hard, and many of us still have tremendous problems over his death. Not only was the brave pilot of the 170th well loved and respected, his flying the mission on the 30th, and therefore his death, was not supposed to have happened. When BJ was entering the LZ at The Bra, to retrieve the SF Team, he was supposed to be processing out of the 170th to return to the United States after 18 months of harrowing and courageous flying. His death was a direct result of practicing what he preached to all those pilots he had trained for the special 170th missions - "if you take them in, you bring them out. They are our responsibility, and thatís what we are all about!"


THE BRA,  30 May 1970
By Col. Don Summers, edited by Robert L. Noe
Reproduced with permission from

R. Noe,  Special Operations.Com: Tales from SOG

'Empty Chairs' Homepage