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Paratrooper of Fortune: The Story of Ted B. Braden – Vietnam Commando, CIA Operative, Congo Mercenary, and just maybe D.B. Cooper

Ted B. Braden was “the perfect combination of high intelligence and criminality.” Jo Ann, Ted Braden’s sister-in-law

November 24th, 2021 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the only unsolved skyjacking case in American history. The case, nicknamed “Norjack” by the FBI as it involved the hijacking of a Northwest Orient 727 Airliner, would create a folk hero, if not a legend, of a mysterious man who would be immortalized by the name D.B. Cooper.

This fascinating case has garnered a myriad of colorful and interesting suspects. One of the “dark horse” suspects who emerged over the years was a member of the most elite Special Forces unit created by the United States Government to serve during the war in Vietnam: a secret and covert unit called the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG). This rather benign-sounding name served as a thin veil, masking what was known to a few as the “black ops” unit in Vietnam.

Many of the soldiers who served in this elite unit consider one of their own to be the infamous D.B. Cooper who hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305; demanded a ransom of $200,000 in cash; and jumped out of the lowered aft staircase of the plane into the stormy night, never to be seen again. It was even stated by some of the most highly-decorated members of MACV-SOG, legends such as Major John Plaster and Sergeant Billy Waugh, that one man in SOG had the parachuting expertise, the know-how, and, most of all, the “balls of steel” to pull off the D.B. Cooper skyjacking.

This man was Ted B. Braden. 

Raised in the Mid-West during the Great Depression, young Ted could not have foreseen that the trajectory of his life would be set by events happening thousands of miles from his boyhood home. At age 16, Braden joined the army to fight in World War II, a decision that led to a twenty-year on-again/off-again military career marked by dangerous covert operations; C.I.A. intrigue; desertion, arrest, and incarceration (only for him to be freed without trial under mysterious circumstances); Cold War mercenarism; and ultimately, distrust in a government for whom he could have surrendered his life.

The story of Ted B. Braden, master parachutist and soldier of fortune, trained by Uncle Sam in the art of war but not in the art of peace, is the quintessential American story, the story of the men of his generation and of a war that defined that generation.

Ted Braden was an enigma as a person, driven by a brilliant, unorthodox mind that struggled to adapt to a society based on law and order and routine. He was a true super soldier who was suspected of having mental illness, most likely from post-traumatic stress disorder. He was a tortured soul with the burning frustration that he could never parlay his soldiering skills into big financial gains. He was fearless in his military endeavors to the point of risking lives but was endowed with natural instincts of survival that kept him and the men under his command alive.

It is tragic that a man like this is no longer alive to share his story.  It is tragic that a man like this never will be fully understood. He had an ability to be very kind and very cruel, an ability to be very forthright and very cunning, an ability to be very committed as a soldier and very adrift as a civilian.

Was he the man who fearlessly leapt out of a Boeing 727 with $200,000 strapped around his body on a rainy Thanksgiving Eve in 1971?  We may never know, but even if Ted Braden is not D.B. Cooper, he is one of the most fascinating people whose story you never knew – until now.

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