Born Free (or The Great Chicken Chase!)

Larry Bradshaw

by Marty Twite Capt. USN (RET) C.O. 4/70-4/71

Operation "Born Free" started out with a bang, but ended in a whimper. Not everything worked successfully in Vietnam. The fiasco eventually became known as The Great Chicken Chase.

The Binh Thuy Wolves must have thought the skipper has visited Ben Xe Moi once too often when he directed the Dets to practice chasing birds. That's right, he directed that our guys practice chasing birds! Any birds! Anytime! Just get used to it. Why? No reason given at that time.

Meanwhile, there was a pigeon living the good life on the roof of the COMNAVFORV Headquarters in Saigon. A sailor with pigeon care experience had been ordered in for that purpose. A veterinarian was employed. The food was great! All in all, the pigeon must have thought it had died and woke up in pigeon heaven!

By now you're wondering what this is all about. So read on. It turns out that the North Vietnamese sea supply system supporting the Viet Cong used homing pigeons for communications. A ship off the coast with supplies would release the pigeon thereby alerting the VC ashore that they were ready to rendezvous. Our Market Time forces intercepted and sank one of these small ships in shallow water roughly off the mouth of the Mekong. Subsequent capture of survivors revealed the presence of a homing pigeon. Somebody decided it would be great if we could release the bird, follow it, and make a SEAL insert on the VC position.

The bird was somewhat the worse for it's recent experience. In addition, other preparations had to be made. This would take time. Thus it was that the pigeon got VIP treatment in Saigon while the Seawolves were terrorizing all the other birds in the Delta. The plan was to return the bird to the place where it was captured off the coast and release it. A double gunship fire team, two Sealords with SEALs aboard, and a Black Pony flight all under the command/control of an Air Force C-121 Constellation "Spy in the Sky", would then follow the pigeon to it's destination.

We learned that visually following a bird was somewhat chancy so the NARDUV command (super technical people) designed a tiny radio transmitter to be strapped to the bird with the antenna affixed to it's posterior (details unknown). The gunships had a rudimentary tracking capability using the ILS needle and would at least know when the transmitter was directly ahead.

The great day came and the forces assembled. The pigeon was taken to the half exposed sunken ship where it was originally captured. The Seawolf gunships, Sealords with SEALs, Black Ponies, and C-121 were in a holding pattern to seaward waiting for a signal. The agreed upon signal for start was the term "Born Free." The pigeon was released and the show was on.

The pigeon apparently took one look at the flock of iron birds heading his way and decided to abort the whole thing. It dropped the antenna and didi mau'ed out of there. As a result, the gunships lost both visual and radio contact with the bird leaving all concerned unemployed, and very frustrated. There was nothing left to do but to return to base.

That's the end of the story. A long shot that didn't pay off.

P.S. The pigeon showed up back at the COMNAVFORV HQ demanding chow!

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