“Across The Fence” by John Stryker Meyer is one of the very few memoirs written by and about the highly classified Studies and Observations Group or SOG. Running cross border operations during the Vietnam war, small teams of Special Forces soldiers partnered with indigenous team members launched missions into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. These missions were so secret that it wasn’t until the 1990’s that information started to become available about this unit. To this day, details are somewhat hard to come by, only three or so former SOG members having written about their time running recon in one of the most dangerous assignments of the war.
As a former Ranger and Greet Beret myself I have a few patrols under my belt, but I can tell you that reading this book made me feel like a pansy. I don’t have anything on my predecessors, especially those who served on SOG conducting missions deep behind enemy lines, often outnumbered ten to one (on a good day).
“Across The Fence” recounts the authors personal journey through SOG, but also tells the stories of many of his fellow soldiers and comrades to include the South Vietnamese and American pilots who daringly flew into hostile fire again and again to extract Meyer’s team.
Eventually Meyer attains the coveted position of One-Zero, the Team Leader on SOG Recon Team Iowa. Although initially uncertain if he is ready for such a promotion he quickly adapts, leading his men through the exceedingly dangerous and extraordinary absurd, two characteristics that came to characterize the Vietnam War as a whole in my opinion. Meyer also has the unique experience of having led patrols into both Laos (his primary AO) and Cambodia, giving the reader a sense of how those two areas differed from each other. He also leads a patrol into the tri-border region that legendary SOG operator “Mad Dog” Shriver remarks to the author that no one had returned from alive in months!
You will also read about poor Lynn Black, who I think must have done something bad in a past life to have had drawn a short straw and literally got the patrol from hell. It seems like everything that could have gone wrong did. Black’s team had to stack dead NVA like chord wood as things continued to deteriorate, all while screaming at a fellow team mate to stop praying to God and fire back at the enemy!
There is plenty in here for the gear heads as well. The author gives extensive detail on the types of weapons and equipment that SOG teams carried, including highly specialized and advanced kit designed specifically for SOG teams by CIA technicians.
To date, I feel that this is the best book written about this secretive unit. The author tells it like it is and like it was, not sparing himself in the process. The book itself is well written and hard to put down. I also appreciated the fact that it was specially formatted for the Amazon Kindle, making this book a must have for those interested in the military. The Kindle edition also includes pictures provided by the author and his friends and although Kindle doesn’t do pictures all that great it is good that they are in there and give the reader some insight into visualizing the people and places. I would still like to have a hard copy for my collection but at 3.29 this is a no-brainer.