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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 16 July 2003
Studies & Observations Group. Seldom has a military unit's title so inadequately described what they actually did. Which was, of course, the point.
I have read many books on the subject of Special Forces & covert ops in Vietnam. This is, without doubt, the best. Still utterly compelling and inspiring, even now on the third read.
What you have to keep reminding yourself, when reading this book, is that it is a true account of a secret war. So brave, heroic, selfless & daring were the deeds carried out by the men of SOG, it is easy to forget that they were real events that happened to real people in real danger.
It's a gripping account of the activities of men, who's job it was to play the most dangerous game of `cat & mouse' imaginable. SOG men volunteered to go into hostile territory in small teams (typically 6 to 8 men), surrounded by thousands of enemy soldiers and bring back vital intelligence which was almost certainly responsible for saving many thousands of American lives. Sometime they did this completely undetected, all too often they had to run and fight for their lives to escape a vastly numerically superior foe intent on their destruction.
John Plaster recounts many recon missions and the battle for survival SOG men faced each time they waged their silent war against the VC and NVA. You can almost feel the fear and adrenaline generated from such dangerous work. Almost. No book could ever truly give you a full understanding of how it felt to do what SOG did, but this book gets closer than any other I've read.
At times this book also made me angry. All too often, deeds of heroism and bravery went unrecognized, due partly to the secret nature of what SOG did but sometimes due to the incompetence of the military. Although several SOG men received The Congressional Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War, it is clear many more should have. That said, the men of SOG didn't fight for medals or for some ideological hatred of communism. They fought and died for each other, their fellow soldiers, their "brothers". The greatest accolade for a SOG man wasn't a medal, (Purple Hearts were often not even requested) it was to be considered to be "good in the woods" by their peers.
During The Vietnam War, SOG suffered a casualty rate of over 100% (every man wounded at least once). The unit had a kill ratio of 150:1 (150 enemy dead for each SOG operator killed). After reading this book you'll understand why they were so effective and you'll be amazed that their casualty rate wasn't higher.
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on 11 July 2012
I bought this book to read as I have taken an interest in other 20th century conflicts in addition to the two world wars.

Well what an eye opener. Major(Ret) Plaster is an incredible man who documents the experiences of daring special operations within vietnam in a way that only a veteran could.

He takes you through the entire involvement in the war, from prior to major US involvement, throughout the main years of the US led war effort and in the aftermath and the wind down, in which SOG were still very active throughout.

He documents how this extraordinary band of men were the true meaning of "economy of force" by punching well above their weight and providing a return of losses in the region of NVA 250:1 SOG Trooper. He documents their incredible missions with tremendous detail to keep the reader interested and accounts how SOG pioneered many innovative and now regular special forces techniques such as HALO jumping insertion, Bright Light patrols and certain psychological warfare deception techniques etc.

He also portrayed to me the fickle nature of the politicians, regularly downgrading or even failing to recognise the tremendous contribution of the average SOG soldier in this bitter campaign they waged simply because the missions were secret, not 100% by the book or similar poor excuses. It is similar to the constant failure of recognition of British troops in small cold war conflicts such as Oman in the 70's.

This book gives a good insight into special forces operations and the dark arts of cold war operations and how truly path-forging these operatives were with their unique ability to push boundaries and pioneer new techniques. It is noteworthy that some of the missions in this book were used as the basis for the Vietnam missions in the Call of Duty Black Ops game, a true testament to their daring nature!!

I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a casual interest in the Vietnam War, special forces development or just military history - it has earned a rightful place on my shelf!!!
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on 10 July 2008
firstly, just buy this book and read it you will not be dissapointed.
this book details many missions that the sog went on during the vietnam war, and one thing that gets you almost immediately was the sheer loss of life that these units experienced. the missions they went on were virtual suicide missions. they knew they would have contact with the enemy as soon as they had been inserted,they knew there was a mole in saigon relaying their mission details to hanoi, and they knew they would be persued constantly while they were in cambodia and laos, yet they still went on the missions. this book is gripping, if you can cope with the many deaths described in the book.
excellent read, not glorified or gung ho at all.
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on 20 October 1998
As a former SOG helicoper gunner (20th SOS Green Hornets) it is truely amazing that the story can finally be told on what went on so long ago in the skies and ground areas of Cambodia and Laos. To us who served, it is a tribute to an operation that to most in the military at that time did not exist. To those of us who were there, and saw the bodies returned, this was a war that will forever be in the forefront of our memories. After 28 years of putting the war behind me, this book (the first I have read on Vietnam) has helped me come to terms with my Vietnam service. I would recommend the reading to anyone unfamiliar with SOG operations. The book truly is the stuff movies are made of!
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on 26 April 2011
Wonderful book detailing some of the little known operations in Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam conflict.

Although the author was there and saw action, he writes it in a factual style which adds weight to the first hand accounts given.

He doesn't keep on about how brave the people were, he leaves you to make your own minds up and assumes a certain level of intelligence in the reader.

Can't recommend highly enough.
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on 23 July 2016
If you're interested in the Vietnam war as I am this is pretty good reading. A fascinating view of special ops (in the first person singular) of the war. No punches pulled, friends and comrades die and there is no glossing over. Amongst all of it there are, believe it or not, some hilarious bits so look out for the mix up between a bicycle and a Vietnamese General. It's a very interesting read and well worth buying.
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on 5 June 2011
This book gives an amazing insight to clandestine warefare. The warriors spirit is present in abundance. Technical information is better than simliar books for those readers who crave more detailed knowledge than normally available. All too familiar in these books is the unsung proffesionals who acheived very impressive results from little resources and usually with political restraints from "armchair controllers". SOG operatives were some of the finest fighters in the war. Most of their exploits were unseen and were never fully recognised. I loved the "dirty tricks" used to fool and undermine the enemy, most of them were pure genius. This book cannot be praised enough, I am full of admiration for these soldiers. My only regret was getting to the end of the book.

I would also recommend "The Ravens: Pilots of the Secret War in Laos" by Christopher Robbins, a similiar style book but from the pilots war.
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on 17 December 2015
I really enjoyed this, thoroughly entertaining. The writing style is very matter of fact and unemotional which I find makes it all the more fascinating. Although the number of deaths is sad to read about what is really chilling is the MIA's, guys fighting and running through the jungle, some shot and others captured, never to be see or heard from again.
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on 7 January 2013
5 Stars without question, i knew a little of sog before reading this and it filled in the gaps. Sog were put into laos and cambodia to obtain intel on nva forces there, they knew they would face impossible odds on every mission but still went anyway. At most 8 men dropped in the midst of the enemy, and only able to extract by helicopter if they managed to fight of the nva.
Some of the missions mentioned make you stop and think about how selfless people can be. SOG is the forerunner of delta force and these awe inspiring tales make it easy to see why.
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on 30 January 1999
I waited almost 30 years for this story to be told. It's about what is best about the United States Military. There is more heroism and adventure than all of Tom Clancy's books combined. If you served in Vietnam, knew someone who did, or even if you protested the war, read this book. It's 6-stars. Don Gordon, formerly Captain, 403rd Special Operations Detachment, 5th SFG, Vietnam
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