The MACV-SOG Submariner: A Vietnam-Era Rolex with Recon Special Forces Provenance
By John E. Brozek
© InfoQuest Publishing, Inc., 2015
Website Article, Summer 2015
Paul Newman Daytonas, Jean Claude Killy Datocompax, Steve McQueen Explorers, James Bond Submariners, Anti-Magnetique “Prisoner of War” watches, and America’s Cup Presentation watches, as well as other memorable watches owned by celebrities and public figures with fascinating provenances, and equally colorful nomenclatures…
However, being a military veteran myself, and coming from a family with a history of military service (five uncles served in WWII from the South Pacific to the South of France, my father served during Korea, and a cousin served in Iraq & Afghanistan), I’ve become an avid military memorabilia collector. Thus, I always take special pride in purchasing watches with a military history, and while having a watch with any form of military provanance is nice, having the following documentation is something special.
The following watch was purchased from the original owner, a Vietnam War, Special Forces, Recon Team Leader. Not only does it have confirmed combat “experience”, its owner is a confirmed war hero whose decorated actions took place the very day after he purchased the watch! Talk about perfect timing… no pun intended.
The watch was in rough shape when we got it, but after an extensive restoration process we are very happy with the outcome, and we hope you enjoy it as well. With that being said, I take great pleasure in sharing his story with you here.
John E. Brozek
QualityTyme Rare & Fine Timepieces
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner
SN: 1.78 Mil
Caseback Date Code: iv67
Dial: Meters First
Bracelet: Rolex Riveted Oyster, 7206/80
Bracelet Clasp Date Code: 1/69
Date of purchase: August 13, 1969
Place of purchase: Quan Loi PX, Vietnam
Alex P. Saunders, Specialist Fourth Class, Special Forces
Saunders entered service on September 27, 1967, and served in the 5th Mobile Strike Force Command (AKA MIKE Force) (B-55) Special Weapons Platoon, from March 1, 1968 until June 1, 1968, where he operated the .50 CAL.
He then served as clerk in the 5th SFGA Hqs in Nha Trang, on an extension of his tour, until he became the regular 1-1 for 1LT Bob Bost’s team, Spike Recon Team “Hatchet”… MACVSOG, Subgroup CCS, on May 1, 1969, and ran over 25 missions together.
It’s worth mentioning that he came into MACVSOG shortly after Jerry Michael “Mad Dog” Shriver was KIA on 24 April 1969.
Awarded the Bronze Star with V device (for Valor),
Army Commendation Medal with V device (for Valor),
South Vietnam 1969 (ACMV) Cambodia 1969 (BSV)
Purple Heart, WIA (Wounded in Action), August 14, 1969, Cambodia
Listed on the Special Forces “Roll of Honor”
As well as being referenced several times in the book, “Secret Green Beret Commandos in Cambodia.”
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a highly classified, multi-service United States special operations unit which conducted covert unconventional warfare operations prior to and during the Vietnam War. Established on 24 January 1964, the unit conducted strategic reconnaissance missions in Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), Laos, and Cambodia; carried out the capture of enemy prisoners, rescued downed pilots, and conducted rescue operations to retrieve allied prisoners of war throughout Southeast Asia; and conducted clandestine agent team activities and psychological operations against country.
HATCHET forces, were of platoon size and consisted of 5 US SF and about 30 indigenous personnel. These reaction forces were much less clandestine than Recon Teams, and the most agressive. They were used for ambushes as well as reinforcing Recon Teams.
Two or more Hatchet Forces combined were termed HAVOC or HORNET force, and SOGs full companies were called SLAM companies (Search, Location, and Annihilation Mission).
The Bronze Star Medal was established by Executive Order 9419, 4 February 1944 (superseded by Executive Order 11046, 24 August 1962, as amended by Executive Order 13286, 28 February 2003). Initially, the medal was retroactively awarded to each member of the Armed Forces of the United States who displayed exemplary conduct in ground combat, thus being awarded due to their service, and not originally intended for a single act of heroism. A year after it was approved, the “V” device was introduced to designate a single act of heroism or valor from those who purely served in the infantry in combat during the war. The Bronze Star was awarded 395,380 times during WWII, and 30,359 in Korea. At that time, the Army did not appear to track how many were awarded for Valor. The first war to track the “V” device was Vietnam with only 170,626 awarded for Valor and 549,343 for Achievement/Service.
Saunders purchased the Submariner on August 13th, 1969, at the PX in Quan Loi, RVN, just before going on a recon mission in Cambodia (a classified area at the time), with the 5th Special Forces Operations Augmentation (SOA), subgroup CCS out of Ba Me Thuot, RVN.
He specifically remembers this date because he was shot on that mission (the next day during extraction), on August 14th, 1969.
Saunders received both the Purple Heart, as well as the Bronze Star with “V” devise (for Valor) for his actions during that mission.
He paid $234.50 for the watch. He remembers this because, “It was a whole months take home for a Buck Sergeant at that time.”
He also recalls, “I also remember we had to cover the stainless steel band and dials when in the bush to prevent being seen by the ‘other folks’ looking to do bad things to us!”
He goes on to say, “A 5-man MACV-SOG Recon Team has some serious capabilities in the field, but also a few limitations due to its small size…”
“…The day after we infilled via helicopter into our target area we got some heavy contact and had a bit of an issue getting out. During this goings on I had my watch band popped off and I lost the Rolex for a while. I remember digging around in the brush looking for it while we were in contact. I also remember catching hell from the other guys in my unit. In retrospect maybe I should have paid a little more attention to the bad guys and less to my investment in the Rolex. Years later not so much…”
“After another year running Recon with our little outfit, CCS out of Ba Me Thuot, RVN. I returned to CONUS a little worse for wear but still walking upright and able to use all my pieces. Thanks to many friends and great support from our helicopter support.”
Alex P. Saunders
Special Forces, RET
Some Statistics to ponder
MACV-SOG ran approximately 3000 missions into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
SOG Members operated in the most dangerous conditions imagineable, and were always outnumbered (frequently as much as 100 to 1).
Virtually ever RT member was wounded at one time or another while running their missions, which resulted in (unofficially) 53 MIA and 103 dead team members. This meant their casualty rate was literally over 100% in many instances, and the fatality rate at over 70%, yet there was never a shortage of volunteers! (These numbers did not include South Vietnamese, Nung, and Montagnard team members.)
However they were also directly or indirectly responsible for as many as 158 enemy killed for every one of their own dead.
Of the 17 Special Forces soldiers awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, 5 were MACV-SOG members.
MACV-SOG’s very existance was not even acknowledged until the 1980s.