I grew up reading Soldier of Fortune magazine, which probably doesn’t surprise anyone who knows me. The stories about Special Forces soldiers in Vietnam and mercs rolling around El Salvador made an impression on me, along with all the books I read about LRRP/Rangers, SEALs, MACV-SOG, and other American men who fought and died in the Vietnam War. When I graduated High School I knew I had to join the military and try to get into one of these units. I at least partially blame Bob Brown for this.
Brown has always been one of the more controversial figures in the Special Operations community. As the publisher of Soldier of Fortune magazine, he has been something of a lighting rod for both the left and right wing of the political spectrum. The magazine, which has always been unapologetically pro-military and anti-communist, tells the stories of military veterans and mercenaries in combat. Sometimes SOF magazine gets labeled as war porn. Others have derided it as “Soldier of Fiction”.
However, I ask people to remember one simple fact. Bob Brown was out there talking about our brave soldiers who served in Vietnam way, way before anyone else was. Back when he first started the magazine, NO ONE wanted to talk about Vietnam. Bob gave veterans a place to tell their stories and give them the credit that they rightly deserved for beating back the communist menace in South East Asia.
I must say that as I got older I also drifted away from Soldier of Fortune magazine, probably because I was serving in Special Operations myself at the time. Although I did pick up issues now and then, especially when Bob published stuff about Rhodesia and South Africa, which remain somewhat obscure conflicts in the canon of Special Operations history.
But what about Bob Brown himself? He has been just as controversial as his magazine of course, and even openly claims to be the only guy who got kicked out of Special Forces not once, but twice! He cuts a larger than life image as a hard-nosed, right-wing Vietnam veteran, NRA director, and anti-communist crusader. When I had the chance to meet Bob in person, I must say that there was a part of me that thought he would be this sort of stereotypical figure, or a blow-hard, as many over the years have described him.
I’ll tell you now that this was far from the case. Bob is larger than life, but what I found was that he was not at all interested in tooting his own horn. Politically, he comes off as a moderate, as many men of his generation do, prior to the current polarization we see in American politics, back when people put America first. He was articulate, sharp, and even self-deprecating.
If it sounds like I’m fawning over Bob a little, perhaps I am. He’s been everywhere, from pre-Castro Cuba, to Vietnam, to Laos, to Afghanistan, to El Salvador, to Peru, Iraq, Rhodesia, and Croatia. With Soldier of Fortune magazine, Bob and his group of renegade journalists and Vietnam veterans covered war zones all over the world. Bob has also spent his life supporting the vets, the 2nd Amendment, and speaking out against communism.
One friend of mine, who is not a big fan of Bob, had to admit to me that Bob’s recent memoir is actually too humble. Specifically, when it comes to the amount of time, effort, and money that Bob put into trying to repatriate Vietnam vets that Bob believed were left behind in Laos. Bob dropped a lot of his own money trying to get our boys back, an effort that continues to this day as MIAs are able to be recovered and their remains brought back to the United States.
“Love him or like him Bob Brown has earned his place as a SOF icon. His memoir is a great read.”-Brandon Webb, Former Navy SEAL
Bob tells these stories and many others in his memoir, “I am Soldier of Fortune: Dancing with Devils.” There are a lot of things that people don’t know about the publisher of SOF magazine. For instance, Bob was actually a Castro supporter as a young man. Like many others in the late 1950’s, he thought Castro was simply a social democrat who would bring freedom to the Cuban people. Later, he realized that Castro had bamboozled them all and he joined up with anti-Castro groups around Miami. These extracurricular activities actually prevented him from getting a security clearance (go figure!) and it was only by doing some bamboozling of his own that Bob was able to get himself to Vietnam and then into Special Forces.
Over the years, Bob has pissed off both the CIA and the KGB. He took it to the communists in Afghanistan, Vietnam, and El Salvador, often participating in the fighting in what he calls “participatory journalism.”
The wars he gets caught up in, the personalities involved and the debacles that happen make for some great reading, to say the least. Beyond my interest in SOF magazine, and the wars that it has covered, Bob’s memoir holds another fascination for me personally. Not only did Soldier of Fortune help inspire me to join the military, but I see SOFREP as a descendent of Bob’s work. Bob Brown led the way and showed us how a group of veterans can come together to tell their story. This is what SOFREP is trying to do for the War on Terror generation the way Bob did for the Vietnam vets. I hope that while we tell that story, we can also pay homage to the Vietnam vets who came before us as well.
And like Soldier of Fortune, I hope that SOFREP also takes a strong stand against the enemies of freedom.
You know why?
Because fuck communism, that’s why.
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