Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: Across the Fence by John Stryker Meyer

I read this book within a couple of days - it is a short (but not too short) and engaging story about the author's experiences as a SOG commando in Vietnam.  It is an interesting counterpart to the other book I read on the same topic, SOG: The Secret Wars of America's Commandos in Vietnam by John L. Plaster.

Plaster's book is much larger in terms of the scope of the story he tells - the exploits of many SOG Recon Teams and Hatchet Forces are covered, and the time frame extends throughout SOG's involvement in Vietnam.  Meyer's story is much more personal; it starts with his arrival in Vietnam and follows him for several months.  Only a few side stories involving other friends and Teams are discussed, but these are also engaging and informative.

One of the more interesting aspects of Meyer's story is that he's coming into the SOG experience rather late in the game.  The Studies and Observation Group had been established for several years by the time Meyer fought during late 1968 to early 1969.  From what I've gleaned reading Plaster's book, Meyer's tour put him in-country during the word period of SOG's operations, the point where almost every team was being ambushed as it was reaching the LZ, and SOG was regularly losing whole teams, never to be heard from again.

Meyer's story is well worth the read.  It is very personal, very raw at times, and it is interesting to read about many of his Recon Team (or as they were called in his AO, Spike Teams) missions.  Particularly grueling is one mission where Meyer's team has to flee enemy search teams by climbing a mountain under bad weather, pursued by dogs and sapper teams.  The team was carrying so much ammunition for its experimental pump-action grenade launcher (which is a cool bit in the story in and of itself) that the team had to bury and booby-trap ammo left behind.

If I have one complaint about Across the Fence, it is that this memoir seems to end rather suddenly.  I didn't really feel a sense of closure, and there is no real discussion of the end of his tour, or his opinion of the war or the effect his missions had on the war effort.  Meyer is a good writer, with a lot of heart, and I would have enjoyed reading more about his impressions of the war.  As it is though, this is well worth the money, without unnecessary vitriol, ego, or anger.


Anonymous said...

I agree, I would have liked to see him comment a little bit more on the combat effectiveness of SOG at the tactical level as well as the over all strategic aims of the unit. Tactically they were pretty amazing, but later on in the war I wonder what the big picture effect on the enemy really was other than a harassment campaign. Getting shot out of 10 LZ's a day (which the author gripes about with good cause) isn't really their job and was a hard headed move on his commander's part it seems

Jack Badelaire said...

Yeah. In both Plaster's and Meyer's books, from 1969 on, SOG was basically hanging its butt out on the line for, I feel, almost no good reason. We had effectively given up on the war, their mission intelligence was horribly compromised, and the NVA were simply too well built-up "over the border". Every mission seemed like a horror show, and rather than picking up real intelligence the RTs just spent all their time running, fighting, and dying.

What a mess.