On this day 57 years ago, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), activated the “Studies and Observation Group” which became known simply as SOG. 

MACV headquarters in Saigon issued General Order 6, which created a highly secret new organization, Joint Special Operations Task Force to execute clandestine operations. SOG, was approved by President Lyndon Johnson three years after President Kennedy had called for covert actions against North Vietnam. 

MACV-SOG was first activated on January 24, 1964. It was commanded by an Army Special Forces colonel but would be comprised of troops from all the services: Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Air Force, Marine Corps Force Recon, as well as CIA personnel — as SOG would soon be conducting most of the Agency’s covert operations in North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia — were all part of the organization. 

SOG was controlled by the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) and the staff at the Pentagon because MACV Commander General William Westmoreland was not authorized to conduct operations or activities outside of South Vietnam. 

SOG missions included strategic reconnaissance, direct action, sabotage, personnel recovery, psychological operations (PSYOP), counter-intelligence, bomb damage assessments, and maritime operations that covered the coastal areas of North Vietnam. 

After trying to stand up Vietnamese-only operations across borders (“Leaping Lena”) proved disastrous, American SOG operators were given the green light to conduct cross-border operations.

The first such operation took place in October 1965. Its target was a truck terminus inside Laos that was a hub for the so-called “Ho Chi Minh Trail.” 

The mission was undertaken by two Americans and four Vietnamese and was highly successful. A total of 88 bombing sorties were conducted as part of the mission, with numerous secondary explosions reported. However, it resulted in SOG’s first death, Captain Larry Thorne, who died in a helicopter crash. Thorne had fought communists under three different flags.