Behind the Photo: Why This MACV-SOG Commando Carried a 55-Pound Bow Into Battle

MACV-SOG bow

During the Vietnam War, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group, better known as MACV-SOG, conducted cross-border operations in denied areas in Laos and Cambodia to strike North Vietnamese Army targets inside enemy territory. Since their missions were unconventional by nature and they usually traveled light, MACV-SOG members often used improvised weapons to carry out their operations.

“Recon men carried any number of odd weapons, from sawed-off shotguns to flail-like Okinawan nunchakus,” writes MACV-SOG veteran and author John Plaster in his book SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam. “But the award for the most peculiar weapon actually employed has to go to CCS [Command and Control South] One-Zero Robert Graham, who experimented with Montagnard crossbows but found them underpowered.”

A native Canadian and avid bowhunter, Staff Sgt. Graham sent a letter to a friend back home requesting that he mail a 55-pound bow with razor-edged broadhead arrows to Vietnam.

In 1969, while serving with Recon Team Pick in MACV-SOG, Graham would put his bow and arrows to real use on a prisoner snatch mission. The mission entailed infiltrating Cambodia’s Fishhook, an enemy-controlled area located about 50 miles northwest of Saigon.

Graham’s five-man team, including two other Americans and two Montagnards, found an ideal ambush site to surprise their targets. However, an NVA patrol stumbled onto their position before they could set up. Immediately, gunfire erupted, and the MACV-SOG team bounded back to their landing zone. The Americans reached a bomb crater for cover and were pinned down there by AK-47 fire. As the team’s ammo supply started to dwindle, Graham grabbed his bow and arrows and went to work.

“I yelled as loud as I could and fired exactly where the flashes were coming, and got back down again,” Graham told Plaster, adding that, when he looked around, he saw his teammates staring at him wide-eyed, and the noise of constant gunfire had stopped.

Graham perched above the bomb crater again and fired additional arrows toward the enemy just long enough for a Green Hornet Huey helicopter to swoop in and pick them up.

“I’m sure there’s a bunch of guys sitting around a bar up in Hanoi today, and they’re all saying, ‘Yeah, you think you got one!’” Graham reflected while retelling the story to Plaster. “‘I was out there one time and I had this guy yell, jump up and fire an arrow at me. No, no really!’”

Read Next: The Gear They Carried: The Equipment of MACV-SOG

Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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