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Interview With Ken Holmes 5th Special Forces-MACV-SOG Command & Control North

Like many of the SOG vets in recent Q&As, I met Ken through the MACV-SOG private group they graciously allow me to be a part of. He served first as a Marine in Vietnam (1966-1967) Then again in Army Special Forces in SOG ( 1971-1972)


1.How did you find out about SOG and got recruited/joined up to be in it and how long were you part of the unit?

I didn’t hear the term “SOG”, until years later. My orders read 5th Special forces Group. I asked to be assigned to CCN (Command & Control North) when I in-processed at Nha Trang. Because my best friend (S/SGT Albert “Mac” McCoy – KIA 16 April 1971), was already there. A few months later. CCN was renamed Task Force One – Advisory Element (TF1AE). We took off our berets and put on black baseball caps. So the powers-that-be, could DENY there were any Green Berets, still in Vietnam. Nothing changed for us … EXCEPT the name.

2.What was your roles while in SOG and which Command & Control were you part of?

I was the One-One (2d in command) of Recon Team HABU. Lemuel “Mac” McGlothern was the One-One. Later. When they began consolidating the American led teams. Nick Brokhausen & Bobby Cook, joined HABU. I spent 6 months on the team. 6 months in the TOC.

3. Can you share with us your most memorable or dangerous mission?

The Bright Light (reinforce, rescue, recover) mission, for Recon Team Alaska, 17 May 71′.

4.What was your primary weapons while on missions? and what did you think of each of the weapons most commonly used by the recon teams? For example their effectiveness or portability and usefulness for jungle fighting.

I carried a CAR-15 and as many magazines and hand grenades, as I could and a Claymore mine with a Willy Pete grenade taped to its front, in my rucksack. EXCELLENT weapon system for discouraging people who are chasing you. I liked the CAR better than the M-14 I carried, my first tour over there (1966-67). When I was in the Marine Corps. The CAR-15 was much better weapon in the bush.

5.What is your opinion of the small arms used by communist PAVN troops?

Soviet & CHICOM small arms are: simple, reliable & effective. If I was told I could only have one weapon I’d choose an AK.

6.The individual equipment carried by a SOG recon man is an endless topic of interest, do you recall what gear you carried and what type of webgear you used? Like say the BAR belt or canteen pouches for magazines etc.

Initially I had the standard (STABO rigged) web belt with canteen pouches. Later I got a BAR belt. I liked it better.

7.Which missions did you think were the most dangerous? BDA, wire tapping etc.

I think most would agree. A “Bright Light” mission. WHY ? Because the Dinks KNEW you were coming and where you’d be.

8.Did you carry any back up side arms like a pistol , sawed off M79 or suppressed 22 rimfire handguns while on missions?

No. CAR-15, grenades & knife.

9 In the MACV SOG group you mentioned a Bright Light mission, would you mind talking about that one?

It’s mentioned on page 339 of Plaster’s book. SOG “The Secret Wars of American Commando’s in Vietnam”. Just a few paragraphs. But that’s the one. That haunts my dreams.

(I will give a detailed article about this next week-Shawn)

10.One thing I have always wondered about is how would you rate the enemies marksmanship abilities? Being outnumbered by the NVA almost always I got the impression they relied on mass fire. But I have always wondered if they had any real ability.

They had snipers. There are some dead Marines who’d tell you. They were good shots. Deep in the bush at 15-50 meters though marksmanship didn’t count for much. Our fights were mostly … up close & personal.

11.Did you ever encounter any of the special NVA troops that were the specially anti-recon troops that hunted SOG recon teams?

Probably. But we never stopped to ask them if they’d had any special training. ( haha!)

12.Did you have experience with any of the really odd ball stuff SOG tested like the gyrojet pistol or the jungle boots with backwards soles to look like bare feet?

No. But we often left booby trapped: ammo, grenades and psy-war materials (forged NVA documents, diaries etc) behind. ( Ken is referring to the black ops projects known as “Project Eldest Son” for the booby trapped ammo and “Soap Chips” for forged documents-Shawn)

NOTE: Our missions were run STERILE Shawn. No ID, dog-tags or US markings. We were ALL volunteers. How dangerous was “running recon” ? CCN’s Recon Company had about 40 Americans in 71-72′. We lost 17. 13 KIA’s – 4 MIA’s. Most of the rest wounded, at least one. Some, more than once. Only 1 of the MIA’s made it home. Jon Cavianni. He and I were good friends. He & Lt Hagen were awarded the Medal of Honor. 2 Medals of Honor in a 40 man Company ? -Ken

A Special thanks to Ken for his time and sharing this with us and for what they all did for us in East Asia.

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