The Studies and Observations Group was a covert American military unit in Vietnam that specialized in clandestine cross-border operations in Laos and Cambodia. In September 1970, sixteen Green Berets and one-hundred-twenty Montagnard mercenaries departed on Operation Tailwind, the largest and deepest raid in SOG history. Their mission was to disrupt and distract the enemy in support of a larger CIA operation that originated in the White House.
Over the next four days, as their ammunition dwindled and casualties mounted, these soldiers, and the aircrews overhead that went to extraordinary lengths to keep them alive, achieved the improbable if not the impossible.
Twenty-eight years after Tailwind concluded, CNN produced a documentary about Tailwind, called “Valley of Death,” accusing the participants of war crimes, specifically using nerve gas to kill women, children, and American defectors. This broadcast created a media firestorm that reached around the world.
In Operation Tailwind: Memoirs of a Secret Battle in a Secret War, Barry Pencek gives an incredibly detailed account of the four-day running battle and does a thought-provoking deep dive into the failure of journalistic ethics at CNN that created a media debacle. Besides being one hell of a war story, Operation Tailwind provides a great example of the need for the highest integrity in journalism and should be required reading for all J-school students.
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