Running Recon: A Photo Journey With SOG Special Ops Along the Ho Chi Minh Trail (Book Review)

6/12/2006 • Book Reviews, Lyndon B. Johnson

Reviewed by Carl O. Schuster
By Frank Greco
Paladin Press, Boulder, Colo., 2004

On April 30, 1972, America’s Studies and Observation Group (SOG) was ordered to disband. All the unit’s official records — after-action reports, photographs, negatives and intelligence reports and records — were to be burned. The innocuous title hid the group’s intensely sensitive and highly classified operations, and the destruction orders were intended to keep it that way. Officially, the unit never existed, except as a headquarters staff section, and its missions, some of the most classified clandestine operations of the war, never took place. Yet good people fought, suffered and died under its banner. Frank Greco tells the story of those who conducted SOG’s clandestine reconnaissance and special operations missions along the Ho Chi Minh Trail from 1967 to 1970. In piecing together the photographs, records and recollections of those involved, Greco has accomplished a valuable and difficult public service. Set against the background of the war and the situation at home, this book is both a history of that organization and a memorial to the remarkable people who served in it.

SOG began life as the Military Assistance Command Vietnam/Special Operations Group (MACV/SOG) on January 24, 1964. Envisioned by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, it was brought into existence by President Lyndon B. Johnson. SOG’s name was quickly changed to the more innocuous Studies and Observation Group to avoid drawing any unwanted attention.

Although Greco, who served in SOG, describes its general history and each of its missions in general terms, his book focuses on the cross-border reconnaissance operations carried out during 1967 and 1968. His clear and concise summary, well complemented by maps and photographs, is a very readable and informative history of the reconnaissance missions that constituted one of SOG’s most significant contributions to the American war effort. It is all here, from Recon Team Colorado through the real Operation Tailwind to the Presidential Citation. Although the book’s price might be daunting at $79.95, Running Recon is a must-have for anyone who seeks an understanding of SOG, its personnel and the dangers they faced in running recon against the Ho Chi Minh Trail.