In May of 1969 Recon Team Illinois was infiltrated into Cambodia to conduct a Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) on the latest airstrike as a part of Henry Kissinger’s so-called “secret” bombing campaign. This was the third bombing of Operation Menu, this time targeting the North Vietnamese Army’s 27th Infantry Regiment’s base camp.
On the ground that day as RT Illinois One-Zero (Team Leader) was Staff Sergeant Ben Thompson, One-One John Plaster, and One-Two, George Bacon.
George Washington Bacon: MACV-SOG Operator, CIA Para-Military Officer, Mercenary, and Genius
George had to fight just to get to the fight. Trained as a Special Forces medic, the brass at Command and Control North (CCN) in Da Nang outright refused to allow him to participate in combat operations. CCN, CCC, and CCS were the three major commands within MACV-SOG, Military Assistance Command-Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group.
SOG was officially denied, and their mission top-secret. Known as the hairiest assignment in Vietnam, SOG recruited heavily from Army Special Forces but also from the other services, assembling a crack unit that conducted classified cross-border operations into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam.
In a unit that had over a 100% casualty rate, the decision was made that Special Forces had invested too much time and money to lose a medic like George on one of SOG’s extremely dangerous reconnaissance patrols, so he was kept on the base.
A committed anti-communist, George found this situation unacceptable and went AWOL. Making his way south, he linked up with Command and Control Central (CCC) in Komtum and got himself put on some some patrols.
RT Illinois hit the ground just twenty minutes after the B-52 airstrike and was soon in contact with the enemy. The Recon Team had hoped to find some NVA who were still shell shocked, kill them with suppressed weapons and leave one alive to take as a prisoner. Instead, they made contact with an NVA unit and got into a running firefight, enemy gunfire ripping through the jungle around them.
Two of the indigenous soldiers, “little people” as they were affectionately known to the SOG members, were seriously injured in short order. Sergeant Thompson began dragging them to the LZ while calling for an extraction. John Plaster and George Bacon stayed behind to effect a delaying action, slowing the enemy down to give Thompson time to save their team mates.
“George, get out of here! I’m the One-One, this is my job!” Plaster ordered.
George fired another burst at the enemy in response.
“Who do you think you are, John Wayne?” Plaster yelled at him.
“Nope, just George Bacon. Now let’s shoot some of these guys.”
George hosed the enemy down with his CAR-15 carbine while John fired his suppressed Swedish K submachine gun. John found the Swedish-K disturbingly ineffective in the firefight. While suppressed weapons are great for covert work, they leave much to be desired in direct combat with the enemy.
With the suppressor in place, the enemy didn’t even know they were receiving fire and continued to advance. Furthermore, the sub-gun’s 9mm rounds didn’t have the knock down power he would have liked. Meanwhile, George’s CAR-15 fire kept the enemy’s heads down.
Finally, George and John raced back to rejoin the rest of their Recon Team, boarded a Huey helicopter and exfiled off of the target.
No doubt Plaster was glad to have had George’s help during pre-mission rehearsals when he stopped him to critique how his gear was set up.
“A student of scientific method, George had developed a doctrine that can best be called, ‘function dictates location’,” writes Plaster.
In today’s Special Forces, we call this economy of motion, that is, setting up your gear so that you can use it with the least amount of movement as possible. George had it figured out decades prior, showing Plaster how to layer his gear on his body and situate it so that the most critical items like spare magazines and fragmentation grenades were at hand when needed at a moments notice.
George along with RT Illinois also took part in a hunt for a D-48 85mm artillery piece during another mission into Cambodia. The Recon Team had NVA hunting them their first night in country. Getting online, the enemy swept downhill towards RT Illinois’ patrol base. Plaster held tight to two hand grenades, George with a hand around a Claymore clacker. The enemy passed over their position, literally in spitting distance without noticing them.
When George was good and ready, he decided to come back to CCN.
John Meyer, RT Idaho One-Zero, remembers playing poker with George in Da Nang.
“George Bacon epitomized the young, brilliant eccentric American who, bored with college and academia, became a Green Beret medic to serve his country and the indigenous people of foreign lands who fought oppression and human subjugation. His compassion for them was genuine, heartwarming and never ending.”
George’s eccentric genius was something that helped make him a talented Special Forces soldier, uniquely suited for the unconventional aspect of the job. The Massachusetts native was especially close to his little people, Montagnard fighters who hated the Vietnamese as much as they hated communism.
He picked up Bru, the language of the Montagnard tribesmen he worked with in about a month. Quickly learning the language, he began the task of writing a dictionary for the language. It was a tedious and difficult task since there was no written form of Bru, he had to sound it out phonetically and write it in Vietnamese.
From there it was easy for him to learn one of the Laotian languages. Later, he also came to be fluent in Mandarin.
In and out of uniform, George preferred an austere lifestyle, a trait that would serve him well in Vietnam, and later as a CIA Para-Military Officer in Laos.
George had difficulty finding his niche in civilian life. One gets the impression that this hardship did not arise from a difficultly reintegrating with society in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, but rather from the fact that George wasn’t a man suited for the day-to-day boredom, bureaucracy, and bullshit that he encountered in the civilian world.
He continued to work with the CIA stateside but would get frustrated with the Harvard-Princeton-Yale crowd and their ineptitude when it came to running operations, something George had a great deal of experience with at this point. Fed up with the bureaucracy, George would tender his resignation and go to work at UMass doing administrative duties. Before long, George would get irritated with the Pinko-Commie-Liberals at the university. He hated the leftists and remained a staunch anti-communist. He would then quit and go back to the CIA. It seemed that he alternated between the two jobs every six months or so. He bounced between the CIA and UMass for years and was so good at what he did that the Agency put up with his antics.
Thankfully, he also had some hobbies.
While undergoing training with the CIA and living in Georgetown, he pursued his long time ambition of owning a Harley-Davidson motorcycle so he began going to mid-night auctions and bidding on the parts he would need to build one. Bit by bit he purchased the components he needed to build a Harley and began assembling it in his basement. Finally, when he had built a working motorcycle he had to ask a friend for help. As it turned out, George had always dreamed of having a Harley despite having no idea how to ride a motorcycle!
He asked his friend how he could possibly get it out of his basement (another oversight that he had failed to consider) and his buddy suggested riding the motorcycle right up the steps. With some hesitation, George’s friend agreed to do it himself since George didn’t know how to ride, much less ride one up some stairs. Accelerating up the steps, George’s friend flew through the house, blasted through the screen door, and barely stopped himself from flying right off the front porch.
Excited by the spectacle George asked if his friend could do it again!
Amazed that he survived doing it once, let alone making a second attempt just for fun, the rider had to decline.
George did learn how to ride his motorcycle but decided to get rid of it and stick with his jalopy of a car after a bee got up under his helmet while he was riding the Harley across Chain Bridge near CIA headquarters. Getting stung by the bee, George panicked and grabbed the front brake, causing him to flip over the handlebars.
Continuing to live the spartan lifestyle that he had enjoyed in Vietnam and Laos, George owned a home in a black neighborhood in Washington DC. He was known to go out drinking with friends such as Jim Lewis.
Fluent in multiple languages, it was natural for Lewis to be friends with someone like George, both were Special Forces vets and both had gone on to become para-military operatives. Lewis was a hard but quiet man who led Mike Force patrols in Vietnam before working all over South East Asia for the CIA. In 1975, as Laos was falling to the communists, Lewis was captured and held in the infamous Son Tay prison after all the other American POW’s had been released.
At the time he met with George, Lewis was attending George Washington University on the Agency’s dime and undergoing a rehab program to help him reintegrate after the ordeal he suffered at the hands of Vietnamese interrogators. It was no wonder that these two men enjoyed a few drinks together, George no doubt wearing his Rolex watch at the bar, the metal strap replaced with a ratty length of rope in his case.
Years later, Lewis was killed along with his Vietnamese wife when the American embassy was bombed in Beirut on April 17th 1983.
Driving in George’s Morris Minor around the Washington, DC area was…interesting. Another of George’s idiosyncrasies was that he didn’t believe in or regard the lawful nature of traffic lights. “I’m a human being, I can see if cars are coming or not so why do I need some god damn machine to tell me what to do?” he would scoff at his passengers as they looked on in horror while he blew through one red light after another.
It is hard to say if anyone truly understood George. Friends describe him as a complicated person, a kind of eccentric genius who defied categorization. He had friends, girlfriends, he liked to drink, but there was a part of him that he kept to himself. One co-worker suspects that George actually gave most of his money away to others as he had little use for it.
One day George and a fellow Agency employee (the basement motorcycle rider) were traveling when they parked their car outside a liquor store in Washington DC to take a break. Both of them carried concealed .45’s and they had two Uzis in the trunk just in case. George went into the liquor store with their money and came out several minutes later to report that he had been robbed by some thug. His friend asked him what the hell was wrong with him, he was carrying a gun, why didn’t he clean the bastard out?
“Can you imagine the paperwork?” George asked absently.
Apparently the Harvard-Princeton-Yale crew was getting to him again.