My military career started on February 10, 1966 at Fort Polk, Louisiana where I did my Basic Training and AIT. Volunteered for Special Forces. Upon graduation from Airborne School I reported to Fort Bragg. Trained as a radio operator and later assigned to Company C, 6th Special Forces Group (Abn). During this time I was lucky to be mentored by seasoned officers and NCO’s. Crossed trained in Intelligence and as an Assistant Medic. All of us were required to be proficient in light and heavy weapons, camp defense, and small unit tactics.
In Vietnam I was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group with further orders to SOA (Special Operations Augmentation) which meant that I was under MACVSOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group). The Studies and Observation Group designation was to draw attention away from the real purpose of the group, under OPS – 35 directive, small reconnaissance teams to infiltrated into denied areas for purpose of gathering information to be that would be later pieced into the mosaic of intelligence. The missions included troop movements, wire taps, location of road parks, fueling stations, command centers, capturing enemy POW’s, and anything else that Saigon wanted or needed. Was posted to C&C Detachment-FOB 4 (Later Command and Control North) in Da Nang. My first duty was in the message center and requested my NCOIC to be transferred to the Recon Teams.
I was assigned to Reconnaissance Team Asp that was comprised of three Americans and eight former NVA soldiers (The only such team in camp). As assistant team leader I was positioned to the rear of the unit to help sanitize the trail and deal with any enemy personnel tracking us. One of the duties of the team leader was to make sure that the assistant team leader was capable of leading the team should he become incapacitated. On my two such missions of leading the team we were compromised on the LZ and never completed the assigned mission. I was able to complete eight more missions as an assistant team leader.
During December ’68 through April ’69 the team had one in country mission near the DMZ. We were inserted as a stay behind when a Marine company was being air lifted out of the LZ. We were also in line of sight and under the guns of Marine post LZ Hickory which was positioned approximately four kilometers from the inserting LZ. Our mission was to capture an NVA prisoner. The next morning as we were positioning ourselves and unknown to us that we had been spotted by the Marine artillery observers an advance NVA patrol wandered into our position. Caught by surprise a close quarter firefight was started killing all of the NVA and before we could search the bodies for identifying information we could hear the main body of the enemy unit advancing on our position. We called for an immediate extraction. As luck would have it the Forward Air Controller was able to divert the air unit that was returning to base and was able to extract us in less than five minutes or so. We found out later, the Marines on the hilltop couldn’t make out who was who and delayed their fire order. That was lucky for us. From this incident, headquarters got a lessons learned memo, keep special operation missions away from conventional area of influence.
During this time period RT-Asp was one of the lucky teams. Most of the team members had only received minor shrapnel wounds and a few bump and scrapes during extraction as we were some times dragged through the treetops when coming out on strings.
The recon teams were a thorn in the side of the NVA operations along the Ho Chi Ming Trail. It would have been a feather in their cap to capture one of the teams. The mental make up of the team was crucial to the efficiency of the team. It was priority number one to get the information back to headquarters. Of course, it would be a perfect mission if one were able to be inserted, complete the mission, and not be compromised. However, that was the exception and not the rule, and when one had to fight it out with the enemy it was understood that you gave no quarter and received no quarter.
During my last three months in country Captain Richard ‘Dick’ Meadows was my Recon Company Commander. Even at that time Captain Meadows was a living legend in the Special Forces and Special Operations community. A very detail oriented officer leaving nothing to chance in case of an emergency was the trait he left with us to insure our chances of survival. In one of the first meeting with the recon teams, he shared his philosophy, “Rule number one: Survive; Rule number two: Win. Number three: Give no quarter; receive no quarter.” Any questions? There were none.
Highest distinction, steadfast loyalty, a dogged work ethic and unfathomable courage. As a Green Beret who fought an epic battle for which and his comrades earned the prestigious Silver Star, Sergeant First Class John Wayne Walding has distinguished himself beyond measure on the battlefield. But when Taliban gunfire took his leg in April 2008, the battle of his life was just beginning.
John is the founder and owner of 5 Toes Custom, a Dallas-based builder of handcrafted precision rifles. But it’s about so much more than the meticulously designed works of art that come out of John’s shop, one at a time. In the months that followed that six-hour battle in which John’s life would forever be changed, a new mission was born. 5 Toes Custom is also a place for transitioning and wounded vets to come learn a craft and regain their independence in the company of fellow vets who understand that the battle never ends.
John spent 12 years in the United States Army, including seven years in the Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and during his career at 3rd SFG, he served on ODA 396/3336 as a Special Forces Communications Sergeant and the Sniper Detachment as a Sniper Instructor. It was during the harrowing battle of Shok Valley on April 6, 2008, that John would lose his leg to a sniper, and yet returned fire for four more hours with his severed lower limb tied to his thigh. The incredible story of that six-hour fight is detailed in the book No Way Out: A Story of Valor in the Mountains of Afghanistan by Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer.
Post-injury, John attended Special Forces Sniper School and upon graduation became the first amputee ever to become a Green Beret Sniper. Using a hand crank, he went on to compete in the 2009 Boston Marathon, in which he finished 4th; finished in his top 10 in the New York Marathon; and ran the Army 10 Miler. It was during a fateful meeting with former pro golfer David Feherty that an unlikely friendship was born. David, an ardent supporter of vets and a gun enthusiast, introduced John to master gunsmith Dick Cook, from whom he would learn the art of handcrafting rifles.
5 Toes Custom donates a portion of all profits to charities who share its fundamental principles: to provide opportunities and support to deserving vets – these “quiet professionals” — who have sacrificed so much.
John holds the Silver Star as well as the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat infantry badge, Airborne air assault and special forces tab. In 2014, John was named the recipient of Crown Royal’s annual “Your Hero Name Here” program for the Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400, making the race’s official name the John Wayne Walding 400. He travels the country speaking to veterans’ organizations, corporations and the public about leadership and excellence, overcoming adversity and maintaining mission focus. John and his wife, Amy, reside in Frisco, Texas, with their four children: Emma, Sam, Andie and Hannah.
For more information about 5 Toes Custom, visit www.5toescustom.com