As the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam steadily grew with more conventional troops, so did its secret war. To counter the Viet Cong’s guerrilla campaign, which was supported by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and was raging inside South Vietnam, the Pentagon established a highly secretive special operations organization in 1964.

The Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was tasked with taking the fight to the enemy regardless of where they were. Cross-border operations in Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam — where U.S. troops weren’t supposed to be — became SOG’s specialty.

Special Operations Pioneers

MACV-SOG special operations forces
SOG Recon Team getting ready to be inserted. (Courtesy photo)

Composed of Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, Air Commandos, and their indigenous allies, SOG primarily conducted reconnaissance and direct action operations, such as ambushes, in South Vietnam and across the border.

Cross-border recon missions often led to epic gunfights, as the small SOG teams would be compromised and hunted down by devastatingly superior enemy forces. It was more common than not for a recon team to be extracted under fire and with their perimeter minutes, if not seconds, away from being overrun.

“SOG operations hurt the NVA [and] impeded the shipment of supplies/soldiers south on the Ho Chi Minh Trail,” John Stryker Meyer, a legendary SOG operator, told Insider.

“There were also major intel coups. For example, Operation Tailwind, which saved the CIA in Thailand, produced troves of key NVA intel. There was also Bargewell, who found valuable intel on an NVA base camp despite having been shot in the chest,” Meyer added, referring to Eldon Bargewell, who went on to be a renowned general and commander in the Army’s Delta Force.

Just one day with SOG could produce a lifetime of stories. For Meyer, a veteran of two SOG deployments who has written about his hair-raising experiences, it was hard to pick the most notable moment. Despite a late-night and personal encounter with an NVA soldier in the field, Meyer’s most memorable operation was when his recon team went against three NVA divisions — 30,000 men — on Thanksgiving Day.

MACV-SOG patch
A MACV-SOG patch. (U.S. Army Special Operations Command)

In the end, the U.S. lost the war despite the herculean efforts of SOG and its contribution to the fight.