Legionnaire and former Green Beret shares story of ‘best-kept secret’ of Vietnam War

Keith McKim stepped to the podium at The American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Aug. 30 with a pretty impressive military résumé.

A Green Beret during the Vietnam War, McKim earned both a Silver and Bronze Star, as well as the Purple Heart. But the life member of American Legion Post 171 in Cripple Creek, Colo., didn’t want to talk about himself. Rather, he wanted to share the story of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), and, in particular, a Medal of Honor recipient who served in it.

“The stories I write and tell are about the extraordinary men of MACV-SOG. SOG was the best-kept secret of the Vietnam War,” McKim said. “So secret, it was labeled a black operation, meaning its very existence was … even denied by the United States government. This top-secret unit existed for only eight years. During that time, it established tactics that are still in use today. And in the eight years of its existence, it garnered 10 Medals of Honor for the Green Berets. Twenty-three SOG men received the Distinguished Service Cross. Most SOG medals were downgraded by at least one degree in order to keep attention away from their top-secret operations – operations conducted across the fence. That is to say, across international borders into Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam.”

McKim said solders joined SOG on a volunteer basis. “Only the best were chosen,” he said. “Most soldiers, including most Green Berets, did not volunteer when they learned of SOGS’ high-risk missions and high casualty rates. SOG teams operated alone, deep behind enemy lines.”

McKim noted that the last Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War was a SOG soldier, Loren D. Hagan. Another SOG soldier, Robert L. Howard, earned the Medal of Honor but was nominated two other times – both for actions while in Cambodia, where the United States was fighting covertly.

McKim then shifted his focus over to another SOG soldier, Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavidez, who was credited with saving the lives of eight men while suffering 37 bullet, bayonet and shrapnel wounds. He was actually thought to be dead and was placed in a body bag before he spit on the attending doctor to alert him that he was alive. Benavidez was originally denied the Medal of Honor but was presented with it in 1981 after a witness emerged to his heroics.

“This is a story of a hero,” McKim said. “President Reagan said on the day he awarded the medal, ‘If this was a movie script, you would not believe it.’

“Roy Benavidez is a hero and an inspiration to those of us who are in this fight to save our nation.”