For this post we have a very special guest. Below is an interview with Lynne Black Jr. I asked Mr. Black if he would be so kind to submit to the torture of me asking him a lot of annoying questions he has been asked a million times before and he very graciously accepted. Some of our readers who have come over to us after the too soon passing of our friend Kevin, who, like Mr. Black , was/is also a Special Forces soldier and owner of weaponsman will hopefully especially enjoy the conversation with Mr. Black.
He is a vet of the US Army Special Forces, The 173 Airborne Brigade and the legendary Studies and Observations Group (SOG) as a “One-Zero” team leader. MACVSOG was the top secret, super clandestine multi-service special operation forces unit from the war that had it’s hand in most of the war’s most notable events. SOG’s strategic reconnaissance teams and Hatchet force companies conducted a variety of missions, raids and rescues in the bordering countries of Laos, and Cambodia, North Vietnam and the DMZ with contingency planning for possible missions into China and Burma.
Mr. Black is also the author of Whisky Tango Foxtrot, where he recounts some of his time in the elite unit. You can, and should buy his book at the link below.
Mr. Black and some of his fellow unit members , were also featured on an episode of the History Channel’s Heroes Under Fire that details one of his many dramatic and inspiring missions. “Jungle Ambush”. You can buy and watch it at the link below.
This introduction was forwarded to me from Mr. Black from a previous interview for a brief background about himself. I include it so as to not make him type it all up again for our readers.
At first a small introduction to readers who you are and what SF groups you served?
Lynne M. Black Jr.: I was born April 22, 1945 at 10:00 a.m.; the same hour and day Hitler announced to his General Staff he would be committing suicide, the war was lost; coincidence I’m sure. I voluntarily joined the U.S. Army in June 1963 after graduation from High School. During school I had been working at a local television station art department as an artist. My boss was a World War II veteran who informed me I had a duty to perform for my country, and that the job would be waiting for me when I got back after three years.
I attended basic training at Fort Ord, California; Advanced Leadership School and Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky. During Armor School I was recruited into jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia and became a paratrooper assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I was assigned to a Cavalry Company on special assignment to 612 Quartermaster Arial Supply learning to rig personal parachutes and heavy drops, such as vehicles and ammunition. After six months with the 82nd Airborne I received orders for the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) on Okinawa, Japan. I reported to D Company, 16th Armor sometime in April 1964.
May 12, 1965 we disembarked off the USS Mann in Saigon Harbor, and trucked to Bien Hoa to secure the air base. We had been told this would be a short police action and that we would all be back on Okinawa for Christmas.
One of my two younger brothers, Hugh, was in the 173rd Engineering Company, which was mortared by an unseen enemy. Hugh’s injuries were critical and he was sent back home to Madigan General Hospital in Washington State. He spent several months recovering in the hospital and many more after he was released from military duty.
I spent thirteen months in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and have to say I never once saw the face of the enemy. They had nailed my younger brother and I was mad as hell and wanted revenge.
I got out of the Army July 1966 and moved to Hawaii where I worked in a television station art department watching the war on the nightly news; watching the gun fights from a safe place; watching the bodies coming home in metal boxes; talking with other veterans who said they had never seen the enemy, but had lost buddies to Viet Cong covert jungle tactics.
June 1967, I took and passed the Special Forces examination, and reenlisted reporting in at Fort Bragg, North Carolina to the 82nd Airborne Division. I was on a waiting list for the next Special Warfare School class; The Q Course. I had one goal in mind, to see the face of the enemy as I killed him. I would get even for the mortaring of my brother Hugh.
June 1968, I was back in Vietnam with classified orders for Military Assistance Command Vietnam/Studies and Observations Group (MACV/SOG).
I was initially assigned to Forward Operations Base – 1 (FOB-1) located outside Phu Bai just down the road from the old imperial capital city of Hue. Earlier that year during the Tet Offensive the area in and around Hue had seen a lot of battle. I and one of my classmates were assigned to Recon Team Alabama, which was a Vietnamese team. It was newly formed as most of the Americans’ and Vietnamese members had either been killed or severely wounded. Our first mission across the fence was October 5, 1968. We were to track a three thousand North Vietnamese Army Regiment down the Ho Chi Minh trail in order to collect intelligence. What we ran into that day was a Division of ten thousand; we inserted by helicopter right into the middle of them.
I have chronicled that day in the first chapter of my book, which is titled Whisky Tango Foxtrot. The History Channel also created a show titled Jungle Ambush, which was one in a series called Heroes Under Fire.
I served with MACV/SOG in the Recon Company for 25 months under the codename of Blackjack before getting out of the Army for the second and last time. As I stated earlier I began with RT Alabama at FOB-1, moved to RT Idaho just before we closed down Phu Bai, FOB-1 and moved to FOB-4 the Danang Command & Control North (CCN) headquarters.
Above intro was excerpted from previous interview by collectors.eu and provided by Mr. Black for our readers.
1.The Colt CAR15 is well known for being used by SOG, how well did you like it or did you prefer something else? By most accounts it seems to have been well loved.-LR
The Colt CAR 15 was an excellent weapon in that it was light, accurate, short and ergonomically suited for jungle warfare. It didn’t hang up in the brush or rust like the M14 or other all metal weapons. The majority of my time was spent in Laos and the DMZ which were heavy brush and mountainous. Our enemy contact, due to the terrain, was usually close and intense.
This topic has been talked to death over the years. So, here’s my experience and two cents worth. The M16s we were issued in 1965 fired the .223 round which was marginally suited for the weapon; there were many extraction and ejection problems. These issues got some of our guys killed or wounded and forever cast a cloud over the M16.
When I went back for a second tour the military had alleviated many of the malfunction issues, but exacerbated another which was the overheating of the barrel; especially on full auto. Both the M16 and the CAR15 had thin “pencil” barrels which did not handle heat effectively. Hence the pictures of a lot of us having a glove on our left hands to deal with the heat.
Those AR platforms were designed by Stoner to handle a .22 magnum round and that level of recoil. All that said, by military standards the CAR15 was exceptionally light, accurate and lethal. The majority of jungle warfare is close encounter, so in my opinion, vegetation penetration was not an issue. It is well documented that when the 5.56 round hits bone that it can ricochet inside the human body causing extensive damage; that’s a plus not a minus in war. If I were in camp defense mode I’d choose an M14 or a BAR over the CAR15 due to shooting at greater distances. It’s just about choosing the right tool for the job.
The AK47 (7.62×39) is a good weapon in the hands of a big man that can wield it. The Vietnamese are not big enough to effectively handle the AK47. They can’t control its barrel climb on full auto and on average take a lot longer time to regain their sight picture on single shot. Also, the recoil pounding the shooter is far greater with the AK than a 5.56. If you’re the guy they’re shooting at this is good news; averages are on your side. The round the A47 fires is excellent. The AK47 is reliable but not as accurate as the M16 or CAR15.
Much of the debate is around a thing referred to as stopping power. A 7.62 round will easily pass through the human body. Unless it hits a vital organ, makes a head shot, or cripples the target can keep moving. The 5.56 round will also pass through but if it comes in contact with bone will often ricochet and cause even more internal damage. Take your pick. No matter what caliber fired, a kill shot is a kill shot.
- Did you make any changes to your carbine for you personally? Many pictures have been seen with forward grips attached to CAR15s among other things and I wonder if that was done by the users or an armorer. -LR
The only change I made to the CAR was the temporary addition of an experimental 40mm grenade launcher. I used it on a couple missions and found it to be awkward and not as accurate as the sawed-off usually carried. The only good news about it was it allowed my hand to be further away from the hot front grip during a firefight. Normally I wore a glove on my left hand to be able to handle the barrel heat.
I don’t recall ever seeing anyone with a forward grip on their CAR during my two years in SOG, so I can’t answer that question
- When on missions did you or your peers carry a sidearm/pistol as a secondary weapon? And if so what was it and where was it normally carried? Many books mention carrying handguns but few photos give any indication where on the body or field gear it was carried.-LR
I carried a Browning Hi Power on a lanyard around my neck with the pistol tucked into an inside pocket of the One Zero vest. I considered it to be part of my E&E gear or to be used when I ran out of 5.56 or 40mm.
Many of the Americans carried a Browning, Colt .45, silenced Hi Standard twenty two, Smith & Wesson Combat Masterpiece, and other personal firearms. They were carried in holsters, rucksacks and pockets.-LB
- Could you tell us what other weapons you may have carried during your time in the war and how you liked each?-LR
I had three tours in Vietnam. The first was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The weapons I carried there were:
M14 – Not good for jungle patrols in that it was too heavy and long. Better suited for base camp defense and long range shooting. Great round and penetration.
Grease Gun (.45) – I have nothing nice to say about this weapon in that it would rust right before your eyes. The magazine springs were weak and we had to double them up. They continually had feeding problems to where we had to turn them upside down to gravity feed the rounds. This caused hot brass to eject onto forearm bare skin causing blisters, which became infected.
M16 – In 1965 the M16 was not a reliable weapon, which is well documented. We learned to tape the cleaning rod segments to the fore grip in case of shell casings being jammed in the receiver.
Colt .45 – I’m not a fan of the .45 for only one reason which is ergonomics. I couldn’t effectively wrap my hand around the grip and hang onto it after the first shot. I like the round. I don’t like the pistol.
M60 – Absolutely one of the worst light machine gun designs ever foisted on any military unit. As long as you were in a fixed position, with an assistant gunner, were in a level firing position and didn’t tilt or twist it on its side it fired. Otherwise it was a jamming piece of shit. I much preferred the Russian RPD.
Second and Third tours were with MACV SOG:
Browning Hi Power – For my hand a perfect ergonomic fit. I used it several times in combat and never saw a target get back up.
Tokarev – Fun to shoot in camp and on the range. I considered it to not be a field weapon for our area of operation.
Gyrojet – Love the concept of a .50 caliber rocket round, but … like all rockets the round had to build up inertia to penetrate its target. Firing it at anyone closer than 15 feet away would only piss them off and cause a big bruise. How do I know that? I was shot in the stomach with one from about six feet. The round hit my belt buckle and knocked me down. Bruised the hell out of me for a couple weeks. At lethal distance they were not accurate. We gave the weapon back to the armorer.
Spanish Star 9mm (Silenced) – Specialty weapon to be used in prisoner snatches. Functional, no pro’s or con’s.
Llama 9mm (Silenced) – Specialty weapon to be used in prisoner snatches. Functional, no pro’s or con’s.
High Standard .22 (Silenced) – Specialty weapon to be used in prisoner snatches. Functional, no pro’s or con’s.
British Sten Gun 9mm and .45 (Silenced) – Specialty weapon to be used in prisoner snatches. Functional, no pro’s or con’s.
Swedish K 9mm – Loved this submachine gun. Perfect for close in fighting with minimal recoil. Great for one day in and out missions due to the weight.
AK47 – Good cyclic rate of fire. Not accurate. Poor recoil ergonomics on full auto causing extreme barrel climb. The North Vietnamese had difficulty staying on target … thank god.
CAR15 – Primary Weapon: Can’t imagine a better jungle warfare weapon. Because of my experience with the M16 during the first tour I taped cleaning rod pieces to the fore grip. Never experienced a jam or malfunction of any kind with the CAR.
40 mm Grenade Launcher (Sawed Off) – Handheld artillery. We didn’t operate in areas where artillery support could reach us. We improvised by sawing off the barrels and stocks of M79 Grenade Launchers. Doing this resulted in no loss of accuracy or range. The versatility of rounds from high explosive, buckshot, gas, flares, etc. was very useful.
Russian RPD – We used this in place of the American M60 as it was much more reliable and versatile.-LB
- During the Vietnam War some very early optics were used like the colt 3x and 4x and the early red dots, did you use or see used any of those early optics?-LR
I range tested each of them as they became available and they did everything as advertised. However, I found them to be useless due to the kind of missions we ran. Generally we were operating in close and most of us were instinct shooters.
Instinct or snap shooting is a whole other topic worth describing. When I went through the Special Forces Qualification Course (Q Course) for weapons one of the things taught was instinct shooting. An instructor took four of us into a room with tall ceilings. We were each given a Red Ryder BB Gun and each stood in one of the corners. The instructor tossed number 10 can lids up and we had to hit it with one shot. When we walked out of that room, after picking up all the BB’s, we were hitting 8 out of 10. They loaded us on a truck and to the range we went. We shot at pop up targets with M16’s without sighting and hit our average of 8 out of 10. That technique also works with pistols. Sights became obsolete for jungle fighters.
6. Always an ongoing topic of interest, the individual gear and items is something people who read about SOG are curious to learn . Can you tell us what was carried on your person for mission?
7.Back to the CAR15, pictures exist of the gun with a cleaning rod taped to it to clear stuck cases. Was this also a practice of yours? Did you know of any of your fellow SOG vets having to use it in a fight?-LR
This picture of my CAR15 being held by our hooch maid is a good example of the cleaning rod being taped below the hand guard. By the way, she was a damn good shot.-LB
8.Of all the configuration of the current M4/M4A1 and its various rails, optics lights/laser offering nearly endless variations. If you could have had them in your time in SOG, is there a combination of carbine and part of the SOPMOD kit for it you would like to have had back then for your missions in SOG?-LR
The short biased answer is NO. The current weapons are set up for long range sandbox warfare and are heavier with so much stuff to get hung up in the brush. Wrong weapon for jungle warfare.L