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Fort Bragg Veterans Break Their Silence About Secret Vietnam Missions

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FORT BRAGG — For almost 40 years, their story could not betold. Their Vietnam War missions were so secret that the U.S. top brass could not or would not talk about them -- until now.

Thousands of American soldiers fought in rice paddies and jungles inVietnam, but the men of theStudiesand Observation Group(SOG) foughta different war against the North Vietnamese Army.

SOG recon teams generally consisted of three American Special Forcessoldiers and six to 10 allied Montagnard, Chinese Nung, Cambodian orVietnamese soldiers. Recon teams struck 15 to 50 miles deep into Laos,Cambodia and North Vietnam.

Few of them were officers. Most were enlistedmen -- Green Beret volunteers. They attacked North Vietnamese bases inCambodia and Laos and disrupted traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

"They gave us a briefing, and said, 'Now, you're allvolunteers now,' and we were on a classified missioninto Laos," says former SOG soldier Maj. Frank Jaks.

About 2,000 Americans served in SOG between 1964 and 1972. More than 300 of them died.

"Whenever you got the Army Times there, you'd read the names in theobituary column, and you knew a lot of them in there," says retiredSOG soldier Robbie Robbins.

Rescuing Allied prisoners was difficult becausethe North Vietnamese moved them frequently.A major raid on the Son Tay prison to rescue American POWs wasunsuccessful.

"The real thing that goes through your mindwas the disappointment of not finding anybodythere," Robbins says.

Armed to the teeth, SOG teams moved quietlythrough fields and jungle, whispering and evading to discover what theenemy was doing. If discovered, there was usually a quick anddeadly firefight. If they were lucky, they could escape byhelicopters protected by American fighter planes.

Jaks led a team 50 miles into Laos toresuce a downed U.S. pilot.

"We got the guy and put him on the chopper. Hesays, 'I didn't realize that we had Americanaviation here.' I said, 'We don't and forget whatyou have seen here,'" he says.

Dick Norris led Recon Team Illinois "over the fence" into Laos.

"We went in by helicopter and came out by Vietnamese helicopter.We stayed in there five days. I was wounded alongwith one Montagnard," he says.

Fort Bragg has always been headquarters forspecial forces. The lessons and tacticslearned by the recon teams in Cambodia, Laosand Vietnam are now taught at the JohnF. Kennedy special warfare center andschool.

Names and statues of SOG heroes remind today's Special Forcessoldiers of their heritage.

"Everyone will eventually come back to Fort Bragg. I don't careif you were assigned to one of the groups, if youwent over to Vietnam, went to Thailand or went to Korea, you alwayscome back to Fort Bragg," says retired SOG soldier Earl Bleacher.

Twenty-nine years after SOG was disbanded, the units' stories are told byauthor John Plaster, who is also a former SOG member.

"I would say that this is probably the greatestgroup of unsung heroes of the Vietnam War," he says.

Last month, the men of SOG were honored for their gallantry with thePresidential Unit Citation. More than 2,000 were given medals for theirheroism.Eleven of them received the Medal of Honor.

 Credits

Tom Lawrence, Reporter
Edward Wilson, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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