Eldon Bargewell knew he would serve in the military from a very young age.
With Vietnam War heating up, he enlisted in the Army in 1967 and went straight to Special Forces selection. Once he received his Green Beret, he deployed to Southeast Asia. There, he further volunteered for the elite Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG).
SOG was a covert unit that conducted cross-border operations in Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam. It was composed of Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, and Air Commandos. As conventional units struggled against the North Vietnamese and Vietcong, these operators fought America’s secret war.
Related: MACV-SOG: The covert special operations unit you’ve never heard of
Bargewell quickly made a name for himself as a steadfast operator who was cool under fire.
During a cross-border operation, Bargewell’s team came upon an NVA base camp that appeared deserted. They quickly scavenged through the camp, trying to locate any valuable intelligence. Bargewell did indeed find something, but in the process, he was shot in the chest by an enemy soldier who had been hiding. Miraculously, the bullet got stuck in his chest rig.
In another harrowing mission, Bargewell was shot in the face. Despite the severity of his wounds, he continued to provide cover fire for his team to exfiltrate as their perimeter was being overrun by scores of North Vietnamese troops. His actions on that day earned the Distinguished Service Cross, an award second only to the Medal of Honor.
“Eldon was an absolute stud. He always pushed guys to the limits, whether it was in training or in the field,” John Stryker Meyer, another legendary Special Forces operator, told Sandboxx. “Another great thing about Eldon was his thirst for knowledge. His desire to learn never left him, not even when he made general.”
Bargewell and Meyer served together in the secretive SOG. Meyer has written several books on SOG that offer a unique combination of on-the-ground but also historical perspective.
Bargewell commissioned as an officer in 1972. Nine years later, he tried out for the Army’s new counterterrorism outfit: Delta Force. He successfully completed the arduous selection process and passed the technically and physically rigorous Operator Training Course (OTC). He went on to command at every level in Delta Force, including as commander.
Related: Why does America need Delta Force? An operator’s perspective
Later in his career, Bargewell held positions in the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and as commander of US European Special Operations Command (EUCOM).
In an interview in 2003, Bargewell had described what draw him to service and the military.
“As a child growing up, I was always interested in the military. I still remember watching newsreels from World War II and the Korean War, and thinking that was something I wanted to be a part of. When I was promoted to brigadier general — one star — my mother told me that when I was 6, we were watching a newsreel of the Korean War, and a general was talking on it, and I pointed and told her that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
But Bargewell was far more than just a great leader and operator. He was a compassionate man with great emotional intellect. In 2005, Meyer learned that his stepson had been wounded by an improvised explosive device during a patrol. He knew that Bargewell was the Director of Strategic Operations in Iraq, and had mentioned his stepson’s condition during an e-mail conversation. Bargewell took the time out of his extremely busy schedule to visit Meyer’s stepson at the hospital.
Bargewell spent the majority of his career in special operations units. He deployed to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, El Salvador, Panama, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq (both during Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom).
When Bargewell retired in 2006, he was the most decorated soldier on active duty. His award repertoire included the Distinguished Service Cross (the second-highest award for valor under fire), three Bronze Stars with Valor, four Purple Hearts, and the Presidential Unit Citation from his time at SOG, among other medals.
His hometown in Hoquiam, Washington State, hasn’t forgotten the man, Eldon. The Major General Eldon Bargewell Foundation is raising funds to create a park in his memory in Hoquiam. The required sum is $300,000 for the complete project. You can find out more by following this link.
Read more from Sandboxx News:
- How the Army uses the West Virginia wilderness to find out who has what it takes to join Delta Force
- This long-forgotten unit was the predecessor to Delta Force
- James Stockdale: ‘Hanoi Hilton’ survivor and SERE example
- Murky waters, crystal clear legacy for BM1 James E. Williams
- This Army Special Forces veteran was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times
This article was originally published 2/8/2021
Feature image: courtesy of eldonbargewell.org
Ralph Richardson says
when i think about Eldon it makes me think back to our beloved President Kennedy when he said “ask not what your country can do for you , ask what you can do for your country ! Eldon was a true Patriot !! thank you Jason for your help to bring us together to honor him today.
Winifred Williams says
TO: Stavros Atlamazoglou
FROM: Winifred Williams, WINIFREDW663@comcast.net
RE: INFO OF ELDON BARGEWELL’S FRIEND, GREGORY ARTHUR MONTGOMERY
Thank you for all you work writing about MACV-SOG heroes. General Eldon Bargewell and my Greg Montgomery were close friends going back to the very beginning of Eldon’s military service. Greg was MACV-SOG. When Greg died 2011, Eldon not only attended his memorial but arranged for HONOR GUARD OF ONLY ACTIVE DUTY SPECIAL FORCES to attend, which is even more remarkable considering Greg was neither killed in duty nor retired military. Greg served onlu 2 yrs in Vietnam. I tell you this as example of how highly General Bargewell thought of Greg. I have photos of Greg in Vietnam but almost all of them have no info on the back. I would most like to know where Greg was stationed in Vietnam since a lot of photos were taken there. I also have photos of covert operation in Laos Summer 1971 (basically the only photos I had the foresight to ask him to write info on the back). I gave these pictures and others to General Bargewell at Greg’s memorial. General Bargewell stated that they would be included in the new Vietnam Special Forces museum or part of museum that was being constructed 2011. Anyway, I have no military connections except General Bargewell, and as you know he since passed away. If you could help me in any way to obtain infomation about Greg Montgomery as member of MACV-SOG so that I can honor his memory for his family, I would be deeply grateful!
PS: I saw a comment from one of your readers that suggested you get a better title for one of your articles: THE COVERT SPECIAL OPERATIONS UNIT YOU NEVER HEARD OF… Don’t believe it for a second! That was a great title for that article. It truly caught my attention and I am so glad it did! I loved that title! It reminded me of old fashioned journalism in a good way! I hope to hear from you soon as I am getting up there in age myself and trying to care of these things for my loved ones. Anything information or ideas of places to look would be most appreciated. God bless you, Winifred
Jason Fry says
Thank you for recognizing our project to honor Eldon. We are are small town on the Washington coast with a population of 8,000. Our goal is to create a park honoring Eldon’s selfless service to our country and how a person from a small town can impact the world. I proud to have known him. Please visit our website: eldonbargewell.org and leave your photos and or stories.
“A picture full of legends. Eldon Bargewell (left) and Robert Howard, Medal of Honor recipient (right).
It’s the opposite: Mr Howard is on the left and mister Bargewell on the right.