Southeast Asia, May 1968.
A special operations team inserted into Laos for a covert operation.
The men of ST Idaho, two Americans and four South Vietnamese indigenous troops, were tasked with locating enemy forces and activity in the A Shau Valley, close to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Tet Offensive earlier that year had caught U.S. forces by surprise, and commanders were constantly anxious to know the location of large enemy formations and their intentions.
A snake-like tunnel and trail system that passed through nominally neutral Cambodia and Laos, the Ho Chi Minh Trail furnished North Vietnamese troops and Vietcong guerillas with materiel and supplies as they took the war to the South. The Trail was also ideal to move divisions of troops closer to the targets.
ST Idaho was comprised of One-Zero, or team leader, Glen Oliver Lane, One-One, or assistant team leader Robert Duval Owen, and four skilled South Vietnamese indigenous troops.
The highly experienced ST Idaho inserted on the morning hours of May 20, 1968. They sent the standard “Team Okay,” over the net. That was the last time anyone heard or saw them.
An overt organization for a covert war
Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a secretive organization that conducted covert cross-border operations in North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Successive U.S. administrations claimed that no American troops were outside South Vietnam. But that wasn’t the truth, as several hundreds of Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, and Air Commandos fought against all odds, against an enemy who always enjoyed a numerical advantage that sometimes exceeded a ratio of 1:1000.
In their covert campaign to gather strategic intelligence, destroy or harass enemy formations, or sabotage their installations and activities, SOG commandos enjoyed the loyal support and fierce martial skills of local partner forces and mercenaries. These “little people,” as the American commandos affectionally called them, fought shoulder to shoulder with their American brothers-in-arms, often to the death.
Special operators who volunteered and were selected for service in SOG had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that prevented them from discussing any aspects of their operations for 20 years. They were also instructed not to reveal their assignments to anyone, including parents, spouses, siblings, and friends. For all matters and purposes, they were just another G.I. fighting Communism in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam.
SOG fought its secret war for eight years. Out of the more than three million Americans who deployed to Vietnam, only 2,000 served in the covert outfit, with just 400 to 600 running recon operations and raids across the fence. It was, and still remains, a frightfully small group of warriors.
The mystery of ST Idaho
It was on the afternoon of the same day that people started realizing that something was amiss with ST Idaho. Staff Sgt. Robert J. “Spider” Parks, a former member of ST Idaho who had been promoted to the one-zero position in another team, became concerned for his old teammates and started prodding. By night, and when ST Idaho had missed another communications window, the team was the talk of the SOG camp.
“We had regular commo checks with the Coveys [Forward Air Controllers] during the day and with the airborne command aircraft during the night. Usually, we had a commo check early in the morning, another at noon, and one before dark,” John Stryker Meyer, a legendary Green Beret and SOG operator, told Sandboxx News.
“It was just two clicks on the radio handset, no words. The North Vietnamese were very good at intercepting our comms, and with the help of the Russians, Chinese, and the mole at SOG headquarters, they were able to track almost all secret comms in the area.”
Meyer, author of Across the Fence and two other books about SOG operations, never met Lane or Owen, but their trajectories brought them very close. In one of those peculiar twists of fate, ST Idaho flew into its target on the same South Vietnamese H-34 Sikorsky special operations helicopter that carried Meyer into his first SOG base. Meyer was able to catch a glimpse of the team, with their full battle rattle, as they entered the chopper while he was exiting it.
When ST Idaho again failed to make radio contact at the commo window the next morning, another SOG team, ST Oregon, went in a Bright Light operation.
One of the most dangerous mission-sets, Bright Lights were combat search and rescue or recovery operations that aimed to save stranded SOG commandos and downed pilots who were evading capture or to recover the remains of men who had to be left behind because of the overwhelming pressure of the NVA.
ST Oregon was inserted on the same landing zone, and they soon encountered numerous NVA troops. After a fierce battle, in which they lost one indigenous troop and all of the team members were wounded, ST Oregon was exfiltrated in the nick of time and only because of the heroics of the aircrews involved. The battle was so fierce, the indigenous commando who was killed was riddled with 94 separate wounds.
Before they managed to escape, ST Oregon spotted a trail in the grass they believed ST Idaho had taken. However, the NVA who attacked the Bright Light team had used weapons operated by SOG, including CAR-15 rifles and M-26 fragmentation grenades, further solidifying the belief that the ST Idaho had been so violently ambushed that they didn’t even have time to radio in distress.
“On a personal level, at that time, I was haunted by this question: If a veteran Green Beret with the experience of Lane on a veteran recon team, an experienced Green Beret Owen are wiped out along with four tough, fearless Vietnamese team members, what will happen to a recon rookie like me? The war waited for no one,” Meyer wrote in his book.
The lost and almost forgotten warriors
On May 1, 1968, Owen was at his home with his family in North Carolina on leave. He hitchhiked across the country to the West Coast, from where he would ship to Vietnam, and saved the money for the ticket for his family, knowing that they could use every cent. But before he left, he made a promise to his little daughter, Robin.
“I’ll be back,” he said, “for your birthday—that’s a promise.” Nineteen days later Owen went missing in action, another casualty in SOG’s secret war.
Robert J. “Spider” Parks has been back to the landing zone where ST Idaho was last seen twice, and he has even talked to former North Vietnamese troops he fought. But, alas, the men of ST Idaho are still unaccounted for.
To this day, 50 Special Forces operators and more than 80 aviators from across the services haven’t been located, and there are listed as missing in action since the Vietnam War. Despite vigorous efforts by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), former SOG members, and other veterans to locate and repatriate the remains of American service members in the jungles of Southeast Asia and the islands of the Pacific, these Americans are still without a home, their families without closure.
David Larsen says
Bob Owen’s daughter responded
amazing, well not I guess. Thank you for your dad’s service and reminding people veteran’s had families. Also surprised all operators were killed or wounded, or MIA, maybe not about that either. I would like have been part of DPAA. And glad as a former veteran I have the curiosity to still search out these vietnam stories, sort of a forgotten war now too.
Connor Anderson says
I love how most of these comments are just ripping on this scott dude
but seriously these guys deserve tons of respect, freakin badasses
Roy Lorenz says
With few exceptions, no one wants war, especially those who may have to prosecute it. WAR is RAW, it is a form of mental illness, a human sickness, it’s the response when sanity fails and survival is threatened. Yet, war results in destruction and death, exactly what sanity hopes to avoid. What is done in war’s name mostly creates ‘hero’s’, yet similar violence in peace is done by ‘terrorists’, ‘mass murderers’. Perception is part of the madness, we humans are good at rationalizing. Each war sows seeds for later wars.
War has been mankind’s companion for thousands of years, waiting in the wings to emerge, resurrect and sow its destructive madness. War is a lesson unlearned by each generation, despite its long and well documented history, would it were not so. Is eternal vigilance necessary for liberty and peace? Worldwide military budgets seem to mirror that mindset and bode ill for peace. Is civilization preparing for conflict, out of fear it may happen?
I’d like to think that helping others would help prevent war, that freeing ourselves of military expenditures would allow that. Maybe it would make for a better world. We can be sure that the powerful will probably prevent that.
Here is all I have left: there remains perhaps one billion years before our Sun will evolve and begin expanding, threatening Earth.
America has never won a war on its own, even from the revolution it’s needed help from other countries to win. The United States is a paper tiger
Bill Waits says
French and Indian war as British citizens, American civil war, Mexican American war, and Spanish American war. and how many times have we bailed out our European Allie’s…WWI, WWII, or used them as a token force…desert shield, Korea, Vietnam, etc.?
Spider Parks is my cousin. We had many conversations about his service. He desperately wanted to bring these men home. I am saddened to say he just passed away after an accident on October 29, 2022. He was a strong man devoted to his country and all soldiers both former and current.
I am so sorry for your and our country’s loss. I was part of the PGR team that received him yesterday in Huntsville and will stand to honor him at the funeral home. We lost a true Patriot when Spider passed.
Thank you Sam. I still miss him every day
Gregory Brasic says
My wife’s uncle Byron “Bunny” Saltman and a former colleague of mine named Byron Dewitt served as SOG Green Berets and were both in Laos. Bunny adopted a dog in Laos that went everywhere with him and his children have a photo of him with his dog in Laos. We would love to know if anyone remembers them?
My grandfather was Jack (Clarence) Carden, a SOG serviceman. My dad tells me very few stories… so I cherish getting to read the little there is online about them. Thank you. Thank you all, my heroes.
J.P. USMC 5711 says
A loud Marine Oohrah to all Vets, POW & MIA of the Vietnam conflict. (No hand salutes in the field!)
Thank you for your service. I was in diapers when you were in, but know that we 11 Bravos/Charlies idolized you 30+ years after the fact. We constantly compared our miserable situation and gained strength by thinking of how much worse it was for you guys. For what its worth…we all need heroes, and you guys were ours.
Joe Liptak says
You SOG guys are true American heroes and I respect the hell out of your bravery and patriotism. To do what you guys did across the fence is nothing short of remarkable. Thank you for such enormous sacrifice everyone made as a SOG warrior.
John Trizila says
With Honor I salute the men of SOG. Brave beyond words. I have the good fortune to know a few soldiers that were SOG Warriors.
Noel Mellen says
You need a decent education. You have no idea what you are espousing. Hopefully we will never need you to defend Americans. Our Special Forces were the pick of the litter of the US Army. It’s fortunate my late close friend Captain Larry Dring never read your clap trap.
Gunny Frank says
Hey Scott, apparently your uneducated snowflake ass thinks war and aggressors have and respect boundaries. I wonder, if ms13 came to your house,crashed in your door, killed your son and brothers and took your sister, wife, daughter, mother, and was gang raping them, and you found out where they were. Would you stop at their front porch to not violate their border?
joseph m. says
War is hell Snowflake, the reason you are afforded the right to express yourself in any manner is because of Men who fought & died defending our way of life…. Free speech, Right to bear arms, free to practice your respective religion without retaliation etc. Smarten up !! GOD BLESS AMERICA !!
Sure, pal – North Vietnamese were a real threat to your Freedumbs – just like the Iraqis, Afghanis, etc.
If you were ever in the rack or the stan, you would not be trolling like this!!!!! I’d be ashamed to look in the mirror if I were you!!!
This dude is a troll never served period any Marine Sailor or Soldier would ever be so disrespectful and ignorant
American arm forces personals are the true hero and should get everything free. THINK ALL OF YOU HEROS FOR YOUR SERVICE!!!!!
Nancy Powell says
“Scott” from his May 28 filthy bilge and drivel should be sent to the FRONT lines of any war so his COWARDLY as— can be blown up or shot. IDIOT..
“(MACV-SOG) was a secretive organization that conducted covert cross-border operations in North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.”
Why do we care about war criminals? They conducted an illegal cross border mission. They were forbidden by to enter neutral Laos. Congress had been explicit. Yet they did it anyways.
“They were also instructed not to reveal their assignments to anyone, including parents, spouses, siblings, and friends. For all matters and purposes, they were just another G.I. fighting Communism in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam.”
The commanders who issued the orders knew they were committing a crime. That is why they wanted to keep
Buck Fiden says
Your ‘war criminals’ are our ‘war heroes’. You are the daftest of fools if you think war is ‘fair’ or ‘just’. ‘If you’re fighting a ‘fair’ fight, YOU’RE LOSING!
Easy to say that setting behind your computer not fighting for your country.
You’ll forgetting all innocent women and children killed by the North Vietnamese.
Must be tough to be a snowflake all these years…Unless you’ve served, STFU!
You clowns don’t scare anybody.
He’s just a troll that’s all.
Gee… like the NVA being in those countries? Giving them free rein? Sure.
Dominic J Bender says
The truest forms of war have no restrictions on where the battle takes place or where the enemy will/can be engaged. Civilized restrictions to war make it harder to fight an enemy that will kill by any means. What you call crimes were actions meant to interdict the enemies ability to fight the was and were absolutely needed to stop them. People like you will never understand that aspect of the battle/war and the politics that were the deciding measure on preventing troops to fight the war were a travesty when engaged in helping out allies of South Viet Nam against their enemies in the north who were waging a truer sense of war without restrictions as to where they needed to move or transport the very supplies they needed to wage it.
“Why do we care about war criminals? ”
They were not “war criminals”–nothing in the Geneva Conventions or international treaties condemns what they were doing. There was an agreement between the US and North Vietnam not to violate Laotian neutrality and both sides agreed to withdraw their troops from that country in 1962. But North Vietnam never withdrew any troops, and in fact, reinforced its regular army commitment in that country and built the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos and Cambodia (violating that country’s neutrality as well) to infiltrate and support its huge forces fighting in South Vietnam. Perhaps 2/3s of the NVA went through Laos, while tens of thousands stayed to fight against Laotian forces throughout the Vietnam War. Another 100,000 or more stayed in Laos to service the Trail. If anything was a war crime, a continuing war against a neutral, while occupying 1/3 of its territory, is surely a real war crime.
Jack Dash says
You need to hang out with hamas in their tunnels … get a little idf treatment
Aaron Foster says
You are a disgrace! On Oct 4, 1966 I was a door gunner on a slick inserting 2 SF and 4 Chinese Nungs into Loas. While hovering and off loading the troops our engine quit and we fell 50 and were on the ground overnight before being located and recovered. One Nung on the rope ladder was killed. The only criminal is your chicken crap reporting.
jimi shorten says
Scott, you are an idiot…
Tell me, what was the NVA and Cong doing in Laos and Cambodia??? They supposedly signed the same agreement, not to be in those countries. They broke the same treaty… We just stopped them the best we could to take away their advantage…
My guess is, you were not there. So you have no right to talk us down… Those of us who fought in that war, are all hero’s…You should respect that…
James Jones-Shorten, 1-0 Rt Delaware and Rt Illinois, SOA-CCC, MACV-SOG 1969-71
Johann Dorfling says
Sir, I am from South Africa and by chance found this interesting site. I was reading this article. Well said and I thought that your statement made so much sense and then I saw the date. Sir, if you read this then I am wring to a SOG Veteran and being a collector and having copies of the RT Team patches, make my copies extra special. I simple “Hallo” from you will be awesome. Please take good care.
Robin Owen McNeill says
Thank you for educating this idiot who truly doesnt understand war. So sad that those exercising the freedoms that have been preserved for them have no idea their true cost. Signed Robin Owen McNeill, daughter of SFC Robert Duval Owen MIA 5.23.1968
James Adamietz says
Another 1-0 still here. After some missions I landed at Long Than training more like us. Live long and well my friend.
Peter LaSorsa says
Thanks for your service Mr. Shorten. Being a 1-0 of a SOG team shows you were the best of the best. I was in Special Forces in the 80’s, too young for Vietnam. My best instructors were of the Vietnam era, including my Camp Commander at Camp McCall Col. Howard-former SOG legend.
I hope life is treating you well and would be interested in knowing if you have any memoirs from your time in RT Delaware and Illinois. I think people should know first hand accounts of what you brave souls did.
Why don’t you try selling communism somewhere else, you uneducated moron? You realize You communist Pieces of Shit have been stirring up shit until Reagan stopped you communist phucks in Latin/Central America in the late 80s. Go get an education as Communism has killed more than all those killed in WWI & 2 combinedned, dumb phuck.
R Trad says
I’ll bet your a democrat and probably not old enough to remember the war. I’ll also Bet mommy sent you to a university to teach you how to be a left wing jerkoff. The MACV SOG guys were heroes to me, kicking ass when the odds were unbelievable. If you don’t like go read about nancy, chucky, or aoc your heroes.
Tony Hepner says
Well said, brother.
Stephen Good says
Alls fair in love and war, GFYS
Tony Hepner says
Snowflake. And why are you here? What a p*ssy response.
Tony Hepner says
It’s useless to point out to this Scott character how wrong he is. He wouldn’t get it because most of his life, to this point anyway, has not been in the arena. The arena of life. His world going forward will most likely be devoid of truths, as he continues to criticize what he can’t fathom. A sad little man who’s life is not one to be recorded.
Joseph Liptak Jr says
Scott, you clearly have no idea what you’re talking about. Do you think these guys from SOG were out there risking their lives because they had nothing better to do? If you’re an American you need to be thanking these guys for their service otherwise Fu€k you.
Try not to argue with stupid people ,, they will bring you DOWN to there level
Little Scotty sounds like the scum who rightfully got their heads caved in @ Grant Park. Or maybe even had the balls to call men like my Dad a “baby killer” or even spit on him & his returning brothers.
Sadly, Little Soctty has not the courage of his convictions, as he hasn’t “defected” to such Worker’s Paradises like Cuba, China, North Korea or even Vietnam to take up the struggle against the “fascist” homeland he so obviously despises. Either THAT, or he is the spawn of such subhuman scum.
Would that he & those of his ilk do their Republic, & the world as a whole, a favor & go hug a suicide bomber.
Donald K Thompson says
God Bless all who served.
go to hell, Scott