A Very MACV-SOG Christmas:

Kingbee Pilot Saved SOG Recon Team Idaho

ST Idaho before its first mission across the fence. John Stryker Meyer is in the middle, second row. The team would survive a very special MACV-SOG Christmas (Photo courtesy John Stryker Meyer).

By Stavros Atlamazoglou
December 24, 2021 | Article reposted with permission from Sandboxx.us

On Christmas Day, 1968, American families woke up to festooned houses and presents under the tree. But thousands of miles away in Southeast Asia, a small special operations team was fighting for its life.

Part of a covert special operations organization, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG), the small team had gone into Laos on a classified mission. It ended up being a very special MACV-SOG Christmas.

U.S. troops weren’t supposed to be fighting outside South Vietnam, but the realities of the war and North Vietnam’s use of neighboring Cambodia and Laos as staging bases for attacks in the south meant that American commandos had to go there too.

Search and Destroy Deep in Laos

Spike Team Idaho was comprised of six SOG commandos, three Americans and three indigenous mercenaries. Leading them as the One Zero (1-0), or team leader, was John Stryker “Tilt” Meyer. Shy twenty-two year old at the time, Meyer became a legendary SOG operator, completing two tours of duty at the covert special operations organization.

ST Idaho was an experienced recon team that had run several cross-border operations. Only a month earlier, the team had survived a mission against all odds. ST Idaho had gone in Cambodia looking for three North Vietnamese divisions, a total of 30,000 men, that had gone missing. The SOG operators ended up finding the missing divisions but almost exchanged their discovery for their lives, barely making it out at the very last moment.

On Christmas 1968, ST Idaho was tasked with going into Laos with an important mission. The primary mission objective of ST Idaho was to locate and destroy a fuel pipeline inside Laos. The SOG commandos were tasked “at the minimum [to] blow up as much of the pipeline as possible,” Meyer told Sandboxx News, with a secondary objective to locate and destroy any pump stations that they could find.

The North Vietnamese used the Ho Chi Minh trail complex to transport arms, men, materiel, and fuel to South Vietnam to support the insurgency.

The Air Aspect

Although SOG recon teams relied heavily on Air Force special operations helicopter squadrons for their insertions, as the war progressed, they depended increasingly more on an elite cadre of South Vietnamese pilots who risked everything to infiltrate and exfiltrate recon teams even from hot landing zones.

Flying the venerable H-34 Kingbee helicopter, these pilots would fly in almost any condition to save their beloved SOG commandos. That bond of trust and comradeship remains to this day, with veteran South Vietnamese pilots attending SOG reunions.

“Our beloved [South Vietnamese] Kingbee pilots were critical to our missions. During the end of ’68 and early ’69 they were our primary insertion/extraction support into Laos, North Vietnam for RT Idaho. Kingbee Pilot An described how he could fly at night, as he did for Lynne Black’s Oct. ’69 Brightlight, because he was familiar with the terrain after flying so many missions across the fence into Laos,” John Stryker Meyer told Sandboxx News.

Meyer has written extensively about his and others’ experiences in SOG. His books offer a rare first-person view inside America’s secret war in Indochina.

On the Christmas Day mission, ST Idaho would rely on the 219th South Vietnamese Air Force to insert in and extract them from Laos. Due to the existence of a potent anti-aircraft umbrella in the area — a SOG helicopter had gone down with all hands a few weeks prior — the Kingbees would fly nap-of-the-earth. On the one hand, this approach protected the chopper from ground fire, but on the other, it made it easier for the enemy to hear them.

The usual approach was to fly at a very high altitude and descend rapidly once over the landing zone. Moreover, the operational geography prevented fixed-wing aircraft from supporting the team.

From left: Kingbee Pilot Lt. Trong, Unk, Capt. Nguyen Van Tuong, John Stryker Meyer at SOG Launch Site in Quang Tri. Kingbee Pilot Capt. Nguyen Van Tuong saved SOG Green Beret Recon Team Idaho on several occasions, including Christmas Day 1968. This photo was taken just a few days prior to that day. (Photo Courtesy John Styker Meyer)

A Christmas to Never Forget

ST Idaho’s concerns about getting spotted by the enemy turned out to be true. As they approached the landing zone at a very low altitude, they noticed a few locals spotting them. Although these hill tribesmen weren’t North Vietnamese, they often cooperated with them out of necessity.</