John L. Plaster, Author Simon & Schuster $25 (368p) ISBN 978-0-684-81105-5
Plaster (The Ultimate Sniper), a retired Army major, served three tours with the secretive ""Studies and Observation Group,"" aka SOG, during the Vietnam War-a background he has put to good use in this authoritative and insightful look at the now defunct commando unit. Plaster does much to illuminate both this frequently misunderstood group and its extraordinary participants. Made up entirely of volunteers, SOG tackled a wide range of vital and dangerous duties, including missions deep into enemy territory and rescues of downed American pilots. Special Forces veterans in particular will delight in the descriptions of America's old tribal allies, the Montagnards of Vietnam. Specialists in poison-arrow warfare, the primitive ""'Yards,"" Plaster explains, were both fierce fighters and a constant source of wonderment to the Americans. Plaster reveals the core of the relationship between 'Yards and Yanks in a telling anecdote in which two Green Berets win over a village chieftain with the help of some pipes and two cans of Prince Albert tobacco. Elsewhere, on a more somber note, Plaster sheds light on part of the ongoing mystery of POWs and MIAs in Southeast Asia. The secretive nature of SOG, he writes, was such that its members were accounted for via a ""double bookkeeping"" system. The method ""proved so confounding that the Pentagon had understated casualties, a fact that became evident when families of MIAs demanded more information."" A true insider's account, this eye-opening report will leave readers feeling as if they've been given a hot scoop on a highly classified project. Photos not seen by PW. Military Book Club main selection. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Hardcover - 485 pages - 978-1-58160-058-2
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