Book Review
By David Truby
Photos provided by Frank Greco

A Photo Journey with SOG Special Ops Along the Ho Chi Minh Trail
By Frank Greco
ISBN 1-58160-426-2
431 pages, 700+ photographs
Paladin Press
7077 Winchester Circle
Boulder, CO 80301
Price: $79.95

RUNNING RECON is a benchmark book in the studies of the Vietnam War. Its collective value, appeal and worth are way beyond component topics of weaponry, maps and strategies, human interest/personal stories, folly and humor. There is a huge amount of first-time public disclosure of Special Operations Group (SOG) missions in this impressive book.

SAR’s readers will note more stories and pictures of unusual, rare, and improvised small arms and ordnance in combat use than any such publication in my memory. These are real stories and real photos from real warriors with their weapons; and the ones they have taken from the enemy in the forbidden areas along the Ho Chi Minh Trail where the SOG guys did their dangerous poop ‘n snoop missions. Author Frank Greco was there with SOG recon team Colorado in 1969/70.

His text is compelling. Because there is an inordinate amount of good material to be read and seen, this oversized book demands full attention.

As any serious reader knows, a book like this requires hours of research, investigation and personal contact with old teammates over a long period time. In Greco’s case, RUNNING RECON took several years to gather all the material together just to begin writing. The writing and photo selection took even more of Frank Greco’s efforts. He is a retired federal agent and says his investigative experience in that job gave him experience to tackle this daunting job of researching and writing.

SOG was the American military’s only totally covert special operations warfare group during the Vietnam War. Composed entirely of selected volunteers from special operations units, aided by indigenous personnel, they took over covert CIA ops in 1964.

Missions included cross-border operations in North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, to rescue downed air crews, retrieve intelligence personnel, administer psychological operations, plus acquire and/or remove enemy intelligence assets for the next eight years. SOG’s operations were so secret that few other troops in Vietnam had any idea that it even existed.

The SOG teams accessorized themselves well with weaponry. The myriad of photos in the book show an international arsenal that would cause historians and collectors to take special note. To the SOG guys, though, it was all in a mission’s weapon.

For example, you will see M3 Greaseguns, British Stens and suppressor-equipped Stens. There is the ubiquitous spook’s gun, the M45 Swedish K, and that hoary WWII OSS veteran, the suppressor-equipped Hi Standard .22 pistol. There are photos of the rare British Welrod, a suppressed pistol from WWII, and another antique, the Thompson submachine gun. Another photo shows a severely modified M2 carbine; and the SOG guys used it. They also had a locally modified M1 suppressor-equipped carbine. And, for the first time in a civilian-available publication, you will see a SOG cut-down M79 modification, a field-expedient mini-Claymore, a similar mini-grenade, and the elusive, “was it really there?” Gyro-Jet pistol.

These talented soldiers used “their” weapons, as well. Photos show Americans with French knee mortars, patrolling with the ChiCom Type 50, and the gun it was copied from, a Soviet bloc PPSh-41, as well as the newer PPSh-43. There are photos of captured knock-off copies of Thompson submachine guns handmade in local shops and homemade and improvised munitions; including local copies of the ChiCom potato masher grenades.

Frank Greco notes that most soldiers did prefer the CAR 15 for regular patrol duty, while some carried the M16Al. There are stories and photos in here about the field trials, conducted in combat by SOG patrols, of the XM 148, which eventually was adapted as the M203, and is still in use.

This is a documented, factual accounting of the SOG operations, written as a truly great read. There are loads of names, lots of quotes, anecdotes and great stories; all with full documentation. The weapons stories and photos alone are a wish book for collectors.

The book’s forward is by SOG legend John Plaster, himself a famed author and consultant. John produced high praise as only one who has been there can, when he wrote, “Thanks to Frank Greco...the 21st century world at last can learn of these heroes and their great deeds, and wonder, as did novelist James Michener, “Where do we find such men?”

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N11 (August 2005)
and was posted online on May 3, 2013


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