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Photo of the SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars book cover.
Author John L. Plaster’s SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars gives readers a fascinating look at men who served in this top-secret unit, recounting their heroism and courage as well as insights into covert operations.

Special operations missions are the stuff of legend. Shrouded in secrecy, these dangerous assignments are fit to be undertaken only by warriors who have proved they can excel at what others find impossible. Sometimes secrecy can give rise to myths. But there are no myths in John L. Plaster’s fine book, SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars—the incredible stories of heroism, sacrifice, and daring are all based firmly on fact and enriched with source materials provided by the men themselves.

Consisting of volunteers from elite special operations units across the spectrum of the U.S. military—such as the Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and Marine recon units—the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (known by its acronym SOG) was an ultra-secret force that was practically invisible to all.

Reporting directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and even at times the president, SOG left zero public footprint and performed clandestine missions that remain unknown to many today. Despite the challenges of chronicling the history of this unit, Plaster’s book provides a wealth of information about the SOG experience during the Vietnam War, using more than 700 photos snapped “in wartime by the very men who performed SOG’s amazing missions.” This portfolio contains a selection of those rare images, which Vietnam magazine is pleased to share with readers courtesy of Casemate Publishers.

The book features an array of remarkable and striking images. No less striking and remarkable are the stories of personal bravery that accompany them. “I’ve sought to humanize and make real these phenomenally courageous men, to help readers understand in our image-conscious era that it’s what’s inside such extraordinary warriors that makes them special,” writes Plaster in his introduction. It is a noble mission and one that the author has accomplished with excellence.

This story appeared in the 2023 Summer issue of Vietnam magazine.

Photo of Members of an SOG reconnaissance team from Command and Control Central (CCC) based in Kontum, South Vietnam, scale retractable ladders in midair during an emergency extraction from Laos. Rapid extractions saved many SOG men who were being threatened by enemy forces.
Members of an SOG reconnaissance team from Command and Control Central (CCC) based in Kontum, South Vietnam, scale retractable ladders in midair during an emergency extraction from Laos. Rapid extractions saved many SOG men who were being threatened by enemy forces. (Courtesy of Richard MadOre via Casemate Publishers)
Photo of SOG S. Sgt. Bill Deacy, demonstrating how his CAR-15 saved his life by shielding him from an enemy AK bullet aimed at his head. The bullet mark appears on the buttstock tube in the center of the image just below Deacy’s nose.
SOG S. Sgt. Bill Deacy, pictured here, demonstrates how his CAR-15 saved his life by shielding him from an enemy AK bullet aimed at his head. The bullet mark appears on the buttstock tube in the center of the image just below Deacy’s nose. (Courtesy of Bill Deacy via Casemate Publishers)
Photo of a model of an oil tank farm that was one of many that CIA agents at Camp Long Thanh used to study raid tactics; the camp later became an SOG base.
This model of an oil tank farm was one of many that CIA agents at Camp Long Thanh used to study raid tactics; the camp later became an SOG base. (Courtesy of Bill Kendall via Casemate Publishers)
Photo of Hueys of the 155th Assault Helicopter Company transport SOG reconnaissance troopers to an area near the Cambodian border.
Hueys of the 155th Assault Helicopter Company transport SOG reconnaissance troopers to an area near the Cambodian border. Due to official secrecy, SOG men were aware that their sacrifices and deaths in action would not be publicly acknowledged. Their valor was selfless. (Courtesy of Dale Boswell via Casemate Publishers)
Photo of HALO parachutists of SOG link up beneath a Huey helicopter above Camp Long Thanh.
HALO parachutists of SOG link up beneath a Huey helicopter above Camp Long Thanh. To perform HALO jumps, airborne troopers exit an aircraft at a high altitude and freefall before opening their parachutes close to the ground. The SOG used HALO jumps to infiltrate enemy territory during the Vietnam War. (Courtesy of Jim Storter via Casemate Publishers)
Photo of CIA spymaster and Saigon station chief William Colby wearing the “black pajamas” of the Viet Cong, often adopted also by covert operatives to deceive the enemy. Colby pioneered covert airdrops in Vietnam.
CIA spymaster and Saigon station chief William Colby wears the “black pajamas” of the Viet Cong, often adopted also by covert operatives to deceive the enemy. Colby pioneered covert airdrops in Vietnam. (Courtesy of the Colby Family via Casemate Publishers)
Photo of a reconnaissance team led by Sgt. Gerald Plank ascends to safety from a “hot area” in Laos. Retractable aluminum ladders were used both to insert and extract SOG units. Men extracted from enemy territory were often too tired to climb all the way up the ladders and hung from them across long distances while being flown to safety.
A reconnaissance team led by Sgt. Gerald Plank ascends to safety from a “hot area” in Laos. Retractable aluminum ladders were used both to insert and extract SOG units. Men extracted from enemy territory were often too tired to climb all the way up the ladders and hung from them across long distances while being flown to safety. (Courtesy of George Gaspard via Casemate Publishers)
A photo snapped from a SOG Cessna O-1 “Bird Dog” plane shows North Vietnamese Army units moving along a trail in Cambodia—capturing a rarely seen perspective of the enemy.
This photo snapped from a SOG Cessna O-1 “Bird Dog” plane shows North Vietnamese Army units moving along a trail in Cambodia—capturing a rarely seen perspective of the enemy. (Courtesy of Brendon Lyons via Casemate Publishers)

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Photo of SOG men (Sgt. Maj. Billy Waugh, left, and Sfc. Melvin Hill) duck from incoming fire from NVA soldiers after getting off a helicopter about 22 kilometers north of Khe Sanh.
These SOG men (Sgt. Maj. Billy Waugh, left, and Sfc. Melvin Hill) duck from incoming fire from NVA soldiers after getting off a helicopter about 22 kilometers north of Khe Sanh. (Courtesy of Billy Waugh via Casemate Publishers)
Photo of SOG members often left behind “calling cards” to intimidate the enemy. Some cards were left on dead enemy bodies and others were designed to be left in areas behind enemy lines to spook opponents. This skull and crossbones card was an improvised design “published untraceably in Thailand,” according to Plaster.
SOG members often left behind “calling cards” to intimidate the enemy. Some cards were left on dead enemy bodies and others were designed to be left in areas behind enemy lines to spook opponents. This skull and crossbones card was an improvised design “published untraceably in Thailand,” according to Plaster. (Courtesy of John Plaster via Casemate Publishers)
Photo of SOG men smiling as they celebrate the success of a hazardous full-length mission involving a HALO jump; the troopers successfully landed together without sustaining any injuries and accomplished their objectives. They are, from left to right: Willard Moye, Capt. Jim Storter, Newman Ruff, and Michael Bentley.
SOG men smile as they celebrate the success of a hazardous full-length mission involving a HALO jump; the troopers successfully landed together without sustaining any injuries and accomplished their objectives. They are, from left to right: Willard Moye, Capt. Jim Storter, Newman Ruff, and Michael Bentley. (Courtesy of Jim STorter via Casemate Publishers)

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Zita Ballinger Fletcher (5/26/2024) Their Existence Was Denied by the US Government. Their Mission Photos Proved Otherwise. HistoryNet Retrieved from https://www.historynet.com/sog-photos-vietnam/.
"Their Existence Was Denied by the US Government. Their Mission Photos Proved Otherwise."Zita Ballinger Fletcher - 5/26/2024, https://www.historynet.com/sog-photos-vietnam/
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Zita Ballinger Fletcher. "Their Existence Was Denied by the US Government. Their Mission Photos Proved Otherwise." Zita Ballinger Fletcher - Accessed 5/26/2024. https://www.historynet.com/sog-photos-vietnam/
"Their Existence Was Denied by the US Government. Their Mission Photos Proved Otherwise." Zita Ballinger Fletcher [Online]. Available: https://www.historynet.com/sog-photos-vietnam/. [Accessed: 5/26/2024]