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

John L. Plaster, Author
John L. Plaster, Author Simon & Schuster $26 (366p) ISBN 978-0-684-85673-5
Paperback - 366 pages - 978-0-451-21447-8
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Despite the many special-ops chronicles of recent""walk-overs"" in the Middle East, the Vietnam war is still the mythic heartland of great commando literature. A case in point is this gripping memoir of the Studies and Observations Group, a Green Beret unit specializing in secret reconnaissance forays into Laos and Cambodia. Plaster, author of SOG, recounts his own and his comrades' exploits leading eight-man teams of indigenous mercenaries behind North Vietnamese lines to scout targets, sabotage trucks, take prisoners and generally maraud those along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Lavish with the details of weaponry, training, commando procedures and sheer gore (""Belletire's fingers felt for the wound, touched his exposed brain and induced a convulsion""), he serves up countless nerve-wracking war-stories, as the SOG soldiers stalk and are stalked by their more numerous adversaries. Nor does he stint on the romance of warrior bonding, regaling readers with his buddies' hard-partying hijinks, their solidarity against stuffed-shirt officers, and their somber mourning rituals singing the memory of comrades fallen in wild fire-fights. Clearly enthralled with the commando war, Plaster inadvertently conveys its problems. In many cases, the SOG reconnaissance teams were quickly found and attacked by the North Vietnamese and had to be choppered out under massive air strikes, with few results to show for their efforts (and casualties). Even as it celebrates one of the more heroic sideshows in the American war in Vietnam, Plaster's vivid combat memoir is a microcosm of what can be its tragic futility.
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