Wade Ishimoto was born in Hawaii on September 7, 1941. His father was a Boy Scout executive and served as an Air Raid Warden, and his mother worked a variety of jobs, including etching glass. Wade recalls being raised partly by neighbors during World War II because his parents were always working. As a boy, he was interested in sports and in the military. High school was problematic, but he attended both Lewis and Clarke College and Cal State LA before deciding to join the Army in the fall of 1961. His basic training was at Ft. Ord, California, and he volunteered for Airborne School. He began his career in the Military Police, becoming “MP of the Quarter” in his unit. He attended the Military Intelligence school at Ft. Holabird, Maryland, before being assigned to Korea in February 1964, where he was assigned to the 191st Military Intelligence Detachment and the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion. After serving in Korea, he wanted to be assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, but instead was sent to the 116th Intelligence Group. In 1966, he attended the University of Hawaii under the Enlisted College Training Program. In February 1968, he deployed to Vietnam and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the 525th Military Intelligence Group, a Counter-Intelligence Battalion stationed in Nha Trang. In August 1968, he began working for B-57 (Project Gamma) doing Humint (Human Intelligence) along the Cambodian border. After spending several years in Vietnam, he was assigned to the 441st Military Intelligence Detachment in the 1st Special Forces Group in Okinawa. He returned to Korea on a Bold Eagle training exercise and broke his leg on a jump. In 1973, he returned to the JFK Special Warfare Center, where he received the Instructor of the Year award in 1974. He eventually received a reserve commission through the University of Santa Clara ROTC Detachment, but in 1977 he attended the Sergeant Majors Academy. At this point in his career, he was told to contact Charlie Beckwith, and was invited to join Delta Force as that organization was being founded (“Wherever Charlie Beckwith is, you know there’ll be action”). On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants seized the US Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. Delta Force began planning a rescue attempt (Operation Eagle Claw), which was executed on April 24-25, 1980, resulting in the tragedy at the Desert One refueling site. Wade was part of that mission, and isolation for the operation began in the November / December 1979 time frame. In March 1980, tensions came to a head and there was concern that the prisoners were about to be executed. President Carter gave the approval to launch the rescue attempt. Unfortunately, the rescue failed; the helicopters were a point of critical failure. He remained in Delta Force until his retirement in November 1981, spending time working in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his service in the Army, and the birth of Delta Force. He highlights his experiences in Vietnam, and reflects on several life-changing events, including the deaths of several close friends. He describes the genesis of Delta Force, focusing on Operation Eagle Claw, and discusses his actions on the ground in Iran in great detail. Throughout the interview, he recounts various mentors, noting that it is important to “help others do better than you.” In 2017, he was inducted into the Special Operations Hall of Honor.