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Posted on Oct 21, 2005 in Books and Movies

Secret Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines with the Elite Warriors of SOG – Book Review

By Steven McWilliams

Secret Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines with the Elite Warriors of SOG
John L. Plaster
Simon & Schuster, 2004

Far behind enemy lines, armed only with light weapons, engaged in reconaissance, snatching POWs, marking targets for airstrikes and a host of other high-priority and very hazardous missions. For the men of the Studies and Observation Group (SOG), these tasks were all in a day’s work. So highly secretive that they were literally unknown outside their own ranks, SOG troopers endured very rigorous selection and training prior to their deployment to Vietnam. Once “in-country”, members of SOG were formed into reconaissance teams (RTs) and trained for missions inside Laos and Cambodia, raiding the Ho Chi Minh trail and other high-value targets throughout the theater. Also a part of the RTs were various indigenous peoples, including Montagnards (“Yards”), Nung (ethnic Chinese) and Vietnamese. Given their incursions into nominally neutral nations, SOG RTs were told that if they encountered heavy resistance, ranging from platoon strength (30-50 soldiers) up to regiment (1500-1800 soldiers), the only available support would be helicopters; no fixed-wing aircraft would enter Cambodian or Laotian airspace. Given the nature of their missions, attrition was high and on more than one occasion, entire teams were lost. On the somber occasions where SOG members were lost, all those at the home base would gather in the bar to sing “Old Blue”.


“I had a dog and his name was Blue, Bet you five dollars, he’s a good dog too. Hey, Blue – You’re a good dog, you. Old Blue died, and he died so hard, shook the ground in my backyard. Hey, Blue – You’re a good dog, you.”

At this point, the names of the latest casualties are sung, followed by one more refrain of “Hey, Blue, you’re a good dog you.” Normally stone-faced men, men who faced death with an impenetrable resolve and steely courage, would break down while singing this, the pain of losing yet another comrade too painful to bear.

Specialist, then Sergeant, and finally retiring as Major, John Plaster served three one-year tours with SOG, participating in many high-value, high-risk missions advancing from RT team member up to one-zero (team leader) and displaying leadership, ingenuity, determination and resolve. His valor and bravery were many times displayed as he often led his team from several tight situations, pursued by overwhelming enemy forces. His accounts are harrowing, inspiring, heroic – very much that which legends, larger-than-life men, are made of. Plaster’s writings put you in the middle of the combat zone, whether a narrow jungle trail, a bullet-swept LZ, among the ridges and valley of Cambodia and Laos, or any of a multitude of other behind-the-lines locations in which the SOG warriors fought. Secret Commandos is absolutely compelling, edge-of-your-seat reading; a “can’t put it down” book.