Thursday, May 9, 2019

NonFic War Book: "We Few: U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam" by Nick Brokhausen

NonFic War Book: We Few: U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam by Nick Brokhausen, 2018, 9781612005805.

The Studies and Observation Group (SOG) was a super-duper secret commando unit in Vietnam. The unit was given an innocuous name and classified secret until 1996 or so. In 1997 I bought a copy of John L. Plaster's book SOG: the secret wars of America's commandos in Vietnam for the library I worked for. I read Plaster's book in 1997 and will now occasionally see references to SOG. Well, I read a reference a month or two ago, then searched the catalog, then requested this book.

Brokhausen was a Special Forces guy on his way back to Vietnam. He'd already done one or two tours and arrived in Vietnam with no assignment. He and a couple guys were to be waiting around for a place to go when he was recruited - bamboozled - into volunteering for SOG.

SOG was a volunteer unit because the work was incredibly dangerous. They were often sent into Cambodia, Laos, the DMZ, and even North Vietnam. This meant they were out of reach of the usual help from U.S. infantry and artillery. 

Brokhausen worked with a team of about 10 guys who carried about four times the ammunition of a regular infantry unit. Most SOG patrols were actively hunted by dedicated units of the NVA from the time the SOG teams were inserted by helicopter. Very, very rarely did one of these reconnaissance not get in a gun fight. Some teams just disappeared.

Brokhausen lived and succeeded in all this slaughter and terror. But, most of the stories - each chapter a different story - are about life at the base camps. Brokhausen mentions several times how a three day mission is 72 hours of high terror and little sleep. Gallons of booze, hot showers, and bordello trips are enthusiastically consumed when not training, patrolling, or planning patrols.

If you want stories of fightin' and killin' there are a couple in here. The rest are tales of hijinks and shenanigans. Brokhausen and friends playing pranks and screwing each other over. Getting to know their Montagnard partners. Complaining about their officers and senior noncoms. Much bitching and hatred about the Military Police. Griping about rear echelon "twinkies" in starched camouflage. Trying to avoid the crazy guys in their units.

Brokhausen frequently mentions the insanity. Usually when I read things like "We're all crazy" I kinda roll my eyes and think, "OK, ooh la la, you drank until 3AM and tipped over the outhouse."  But, Brokhausen would often consider murder as an acceptable method for conflict resolution on base. Now, to be fair, Brokhausen is not clear on these thoughts. I cannot say for sure if he was dead serious or joshing around. But, he thought about it often and they all acted in ways that were definitely not in in line with civilized life.  Brokhausen and friends's survival in the field was based upon immediate violence and killing. That kind of solution became a natural response.

Back at camp he and other SOG guys would used their suppressed .22s to shoot out the tires of MP jeeps, they regularly stole all manner of vehicles (one guy took a helicopter), dump CS gas grenades in the base tavern, have multiple bar fights, etc. 

Within all this are some very dedicated soldiers. They all dread going out on missions and are terrified of certain sectors that crawl with NVA troops. The SOG guys go out anyway. And the Montagnards are equally - or more - brave and dedicated.

Many of the stories are written as fond reminiscing of horseplay and friends and long drunks. A couple non-combat stories stuck out to me and they were the last two in the book. One was when a group of the SOG guys are driving in a jeep convoy early one morning back to their base. A U.S. Army truck comes driving along the jeeps and shoots them up with rifles and 40mm grenades. No SOG guys are shot and the grenades do not explode, but the impact of one grenade breaks some ribs and an elbow.

The drunken SOG guys are infuriated. The don't survive jungle trips to die at the hands of "junkies" who are targeting the SOG guys because they are white. The storm over to where the truck went and beat and threaten the local unit's guards and commanders. The SOG guys are close to killing people - in addition to one truck passenger killed when SOG shot back - until the SOG commander cools them down and the Army sweeps the issue under the rug.

The second story was a continuation of the previous one. Brokhausen and friends were on a huge drunk because they were expecting to go out on a horrible assignment. Brokhausen recently played a prank that greatly pissed off his commander. As punishment he was expecting his team to go into one of the super dangerous areas. The broken ribs and elbow of his two American teammates meant his squad was stood down and put on R&R. After a couple nights in Saigon Brokhausen took a solo trip to Vung Tau on the coast. He hangs out on the beach. He takes lots of showers. He makes friends with two pilots and two Australian women.  One of the woman is gorgeous and Brokhausen is enamored with her. I'm reading along thinking, "Does he end up marrying this woman or something?" when Brokhausen writes how he and the two pilots are 100 yards from a massive terrorist bomb.

Brokhausen and the pilots run over to give aid. Brokhausen assists one person, then finds a woman's leg, then assists one of the Australians who is missing a foot, and finds the corpse of the second, pretty Australian. Brokhausen is exhausted. He's been through so much terror and when he arrived at Vung Tau he was actually able to relax. He was making new friends who aren't killers. He could sleep in comfort. The Australian were a step back into normal civilian life. And then the war comes rushing back in with bodies parts, pools of blood, and the corpse of someone he liked.

1. Plaster - listed above - used to live in Northern Wisconsin. Maybe he still does.
2. Plaster was interviewed for Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories back in 20110. 

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