Commandos Honored With Presidential Unit Citation
By Henry Cuningham,
(Courtesy of Fayetteville (NC)
The Army acknowledged the
accomplishments of the most secret commando unit of the Vietnam War on
The Presidential Unit
Citation went to the group 29 years after it went out of business and
three years after CNN broadcast a bogus report saying it used nerve gas
on defectors. The network later retracted its story.
The unit was called the
Military Assistance Command-Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, or
After the ceremony, some of
the veterans sarcastically thanked CNN for broadcasting the nerve gas
report in 1998.
‘‘I think that (the award) is
long overdue, and I think that we have to give some thanks to CNN
because the fiasco that they produced caused an investigation by the
Department of Defense and others that found that we were not only not
war criminals but, in fact, we had a collection of heroes that was not
equaled,’’ John K. Singlaub said after the ceremony.
Singlaub, who is 79 years old
and a retired major general, lives in Arlington, Va. He was chief of SOG
from 1966 to 1968.
The Presidential Unit
Citation is given to units that display gallantry that set them apart
from other units. The unit award is equal to the individual award of the
Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. military’s second-highest award
Hundreds of people attended
the award ceremony in the plaza on Ardennes Street on Fort Bragg. A
statue of SOG veteran Col. Bull Simons stands in the plaza.
Retired Maj. John L. Plaster
was the first person to receive a special commemorative coin minted for
the occasion. He wrote a book about SOG and worked for recognition of
‘‘It’s a day that I think
most of us thought would never happen,’’ Plaster said after the
ceremony. ‘‘Everything we were doing in the old days was denied. We
accepted that. That’s part of the cost of doing classified, black
operations. Even our existence was denied. There were a great many young
men that came home that could never quite tell their families, their
friends what they did.’’
Plaster is from Iron River,
Wis. He is 52.
SOG members operated deep
behind enemy lines in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. They conducted
operations on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the North Vietnamese supply line
through the countries that border South Vietnam.
The host for the ceremony was
Lt. Gen. Doug Brown, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command
at Fort Bragg.
SOG members had ‘‘the guile
and the audacity to take the war where the enemy lives, to get at his
sanctuary, to make him react, to take away his safe and secure
environment, give him those chills as he is walking down that long
jungle trail at night, not knowing if around the corner members of SOG
are waiting,’’ Brown said. ‘‘It doesn’t take many. It doesn’t take
often, but it takes men of steel, willing to take risks, willing to make
The missions included
sabotage, calling in B-52 bomber strikes, search and rescue of downed
pilots in the jungle and destruction and recovery of sensitive
The operations tied down
thousands of members of the North Vietnamese Army searching for SOG,
At its peak, SOG had about
2,000 members. An estimated 7,800 men served in SOG over its eight-year
existence. Some SOG veterans, such as Dick Meadows, Eldon Bargewell and
Walt Shumate, became founders and leaders of Delta Force, the Army’s
counterterrorism and hostage- rescue unit founded in 1977.
SOG members received more
than 2,000 individual awards for heroism, including 10 Medals of Honor,
twice as many as the 82nd Airborne Division received in both world wars.
Medal of Honor recipients
were Robert L. Howard, James P. Fleming, Roy P. Benavidez, Jon R.
Cavaiani, Franklin Miller, Fred Zabitosky, Thomas R. Norris, Loren D.
Hagen, John J. Kedenburg and George K. Sisler.
The unit’s members also
received 23 Distinguished Service Crosses, the military’s second highest
award for valor.
SOG had high casualty rates.
In 1968, the unit had more people killed and injured than it had
Ten teams were lost. Fourteen
teams were overrun or destroyed. Fifty members of SOG are still
The highest-ranking SOG
veteran on active duty is Lt. Gen. William P. Tangney, deputy commander
in chief of U.S. Special Operations Command at Tampa, Fla.
Tangney hailed the members of
the Army, Navy and Marines who flew the airplanes and helicopters on the
infiltration missions and the fighter airplanes that helped rescue
Retired Maj. John W. Grove,
59, of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., represented Air Force participants.
‘‘Most of our missions were
classified for so long that nobody got much recognition,’’ Grove said.
Among veterans at the
ceremony were 10 South Vietnamese commandos who were sent on missions to
North Vietnam, where they spent 20 years in prison. The Vietnamese, who
wore green berets to the ceremony, live in Georgia.
‘‘We are the men who
fought the communists,’’ said Son Van Ha, 53.
Active-duty soldiers who
received awards during the ceremony were Tangney, Bargewell, Cols.
Thomas A. Deluca, Warner Farr, Fredrick D. Jones, Steven J. Yevich,
Richard O. Sutton and Dale Brown, Lt. Cols. David Bortnem and Jack L.
Kaplan Jr., Chief Warrant Officers 5 Edward G. Klein and Frank
Kormorowski and Sgt. John Bartlett.
Soldiers still on active duty
but unable to attend were Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Bowra, Air Force Col.
Alva Greenup, Cols. Richard M. Johnson and Doug McCready and Chief
Warrant Officers Bob Coder, Gary Ryan, James A. Bates and Hurley J.