I’ve received many inquiries about the equipment that I and fellow Special Forces soldiers carried when we ran top-secret reconnaissance missions into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam during the eight-year secret war under the aegis of Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), or simply SOG. Most are curious about the state-of-the-art weaponry, communications, and surveillance equipment that we tested at the time—some of which we used in the field.

First, I turned to Lynne M. “Blackjack” Black Jr., to see what he carried as a conventional infantryman in South Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade during 1965 and 1966. After his tour of duty with “The Herd,” Black returned to Vietnam and served on various recon teams from 1968-1970 at FOB 1 and later, CCN.

Referring to his time in the 173rd, Black said, “When we went out on patrol, the enemy could hear us coming a mile away. The canteens were metal, with a metal chain that attached the black plastic cap to the body of the canteen. The metal canteen sat inside of a metal cup. As we walked, that chain would bang on the canteen, and the canteen sometimes rattled inside the metal cup. A squad of guys sounded like a Chinese drum line. Our weapon sling swivels would bang on the weapons, providing even more noise. Dog tags would rattle as we walked.”

The paratroopers also wore metal helmets with the paratrooper chinstrap and plastic helmet liners. Many paratroopers smoked and used Zippo lighters, which had a distinct, metallic clicking sound when opened and closed. They also wore jewelry, such as silver- or gold-colored watches and rings, and carried entrenching tools and L-shaped flashlights that attached to the upper web gear and often got caught in the brush. At night, if available, they would drink beer or soda from tin cans that had to be opened with a can opener, as there were no pull tabs on drinks at that time.

The infantrymen also carried sleeping bags, gas masks, bayonets, personal knives, and rubber ponchos that were rolled and folded onto the back of the pistol belt. It provided a cushioned seat for sitting, but also a hiding place for small snakes, leeches, spiders, and other jungle insects and creatures. Some paratroopers carried the Claymore mine, a hand generator, a PRC-25 radio, compass, maps, and a protractor. The basic ammo load for the M-16 or M-14 was 200 rounds plus hand grenades. Some wore heavy armored vests that absorbed water and were hot as hell, often quickly dehydrating the young soldiers.

The early paratroopers also wore their jump boots that Black called “fungus factories.” Jungle boots, with canvas sides and a metal plate in the sole, were standard issue when I arrived in South Vietnam in April 1968. The early paratroopers also wore military-issued underwear that caused rashes and infections, and socks that caused a foot fungus that some are still fighting today. It wasn’t until a visit from the secretary of state, who developed the fungus, that a cream was developed to fight it.

Nearly everyone smoked in those days. Five cigarettes were packed in neat little packs with each C-Ration meal. The smell of American cigarettes in Southeast Asia was unmistakable.

Louis J. DeSeta also served with the 173rd in 1967 before he volunteered for SOG duty.