Book Review

SOG Medic by Joe Parnar and Robert Dumont.

SOG Medic

26 November 2007

Elite units carried out many dangerous operations during the Vietnam War, however some of the most secret and hazardous were conducted by the innocuously named Studies and Observations Group.

Formed in 1964, SOG was responsible for various clandestine activities, including sending spies into North Vietnam, maritime interdiction and psychological warfare. However, its largest and most successful division was the Ground Studies Group, which performed reconnaissance of the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos and Cambodia.

In SOG Medic Joe Parnar recounts his fascinating time as a Bac Si (Vietnamese for Doctor) with the recon men of this highly classified unit and reveals the burden of his vital role. Though each team member had his own area of offensive responsibility, the job of a Special Forces medic combined both soldiering and lifesaving. Consequently, when other team members were resting or taking cover during firefights, Parnar had to get up and help the wounded.

Having served in every section of SOG's Ground Studies Group, Parnar’s memoir contains fascinating detail on a wide variety of missions. The author graphically recounts a Laotian operation involving America’s most decorated soldier, Robert Howard, during which Parnar had to treat a man with a blown off foot, in addition to tending to nearly fifty other casualties. His description of a prisoner snatch mission conducted on the Ho Chi Minh trail in Cambodia is also a real highlight.

Though the book features numerous SOG operations, perhaps one of its most interesting aspects is the author’s discussion of his medical training, which shatters the Rambo style stereotype commonly associated with Special Forces. During the final phase of the medic’s qualification course, trainees had to operate on dogs that had been deliberately inflicted with gunshot wounds. Having successfully nursed his canine back to health, Parnar candidly conveys his sadness at having to assist in putting the animal down at the end of the course.

Co-authored by Robert Dumont, SOG Medic is well structured and extremely easy to read. Unfortunately all the book’s maps and photos are black and white, and the coffee table style layout is an unusual choice for a memoir. However, the author’s content more than makes up for the publisher’s frugalness.

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