SOG Seikos - Vietnam MACV-SOG Watches, Part II

SOG Seikos - Vietnam MACV-SOG Watches, Part II

Detailing the Lesser Known Fourth CISO-Issued “SOG Seiko” 

By Nick Ferrell

Read Part I: Vietnam MACV-SOG Seikos: Setting The Record Straight

Watches of Espionage previously covered a trio of vintage Seiko dive watches worn by the U.S. Military’s ultra-secretive Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG, aka SOG). All three of these watches were used during the 1960/70’s Vietnam conflict.  But now, a fourth reference has emerged.  We’ve since spoken with a respected SOG operator, Michael “Magnet” O’Byrne, and we’ve uncovered a SOG-issued Seiko previously unknown to the watch community, the 1960’s Seiko 6106-8100.  As likely the sole HUMINT Case Officer in SOG - and later combat pilot - O’Byrne earned three Bronze Stars (and five Purple Hearts) during his Vietnam tours. During our chats, he shared a wealth of stories about his tours and, of course, his time with his USMIL-issued Seiko.

MACV SOG Watches Seiko
O’Byrne exiting his quarters in Vietnam, wearing the Seiko 6106-8100, following recovery from malaria (Credit: Michael O’Byrne)

SOG, a special operations group conducting classified covert operations in North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, issued Seiko watches either directly via its Counter Insurgency Support Office (CISO, run by Conrad “Ben” Baker) or instructing the recon men to buy them on the open market.

W.O.E. outlined the three Seiko models known to have been worn by SOG forces: the Arabic numeral-dialed Seiko 6619 (first the 6119-8280, then the 6619-8060), 6119-8100, and 7005-8030 automatic divers. Recent research has revealed that SOG issued the non-Arabic dialed Seiko 6106-8100.  At the time, the evidence the Seiko 6106 was issued to SOG was sparse – the Special Forces History Museum website run by Jason Hardy, asserted a SOG member by the name of Michael O’Byrne had been issued the 6106 and provided several photographs of the watch as issued to him. Those photographs were the starting point to unraveling the mystery. 

1960’s Seiko 6106-8100 W.C.C. compass
The 1960’s Seiko 6106-8100, with sterile W.C.C. compass (Credit: DC Vintage Watches)

The museum photographs of the Seiko 6106-8100 appeared to have the correct Waltham Company Compass (W.C.C.) and rubber tropic strap known to have been used by SOG forces. This is where my previous career in intelligence came in handy. My instincts kicked in and I knew I couldn't rely on a single-thread and second-hand source. So I went digging. 

Michael O’Byrne’s CISO-Issued Seiko 6106-8100
Michael O’Byrne’s CISO-Issued Seiko 6106-8100 (Credit: The Special Forces History Museum, Jason Hardy)

I tracked down O’Byrne.  The BLUF?  O’Byrne was indeed issued a steel-gray dial Seiko 6106-8100, and he provided some previously unseen photographs of himself and other SOG members, revealing further evidence – this time, from a primary source – that the Seiko 6106 was indeed issued to SOG. 

Waltham WCC Compass Vietnam
O’Byrne returning from mission, W.C.C. compass visible (Credit: Michael O’Bryne)

In mid-1968, First Lieutenant Michael “Magnet” O’Byrne arrived to Vietnam as part of the USMIL’s 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne, or 5th SFG (A) Danang) Project GAMMA mission, assigned to a 13-man team based on the Vietnam / Cambodia border.  As a Case Officer, his mission was to spot, assess, develop, recruit, and deploy Principal Agents – under the cover of his civil affairs and psychological operations office – to gather intelligence on enemy actions in neighboring Cambodia. 

MACV-SOG
In the forefront, O’Byrne wearing his Seiko 6106-8100, with a SOG RT Rhode Island Arabic-Dialed Seiko in background, taken after Rhode Island was extracted from a mission near the end of his SOG tour (Credit: Michael O’Byrne)

5th Special Forces Group (A) Detachment B-57 assets were recruited largely from the Cambodian Khmer Serei and Khmer Kampuchean Krom ethnic communities to avoid counterintelligence issues associated with South Vietnam intelligence; these forces would prove highly effective at locating Viet Cong units, leading to their subsequent destruction.  

MACV SOG Gear ID Card

O’Byrne’s CCN ID Card (Credit : Michael O’Byrne)

Once he arrived in-country, O’Byrne’s superiors placed heavy pressure on him to produce intelligence, and they were not fans of O’Byrne’s propensity to join colleagues on combat patrols outside the wire (which earned him his first Bronze Star and Purple Heart).  O’Byrne said he saw his patrol participation as a natural way to “live his cover” as part of a Special Forces team and hide his main mission, the recruitment of agents to report inside of Cambodia.  Instead, his superiors preferred he remain focused on recruiting and running Principal Agent and support networks, sequestering himself safely in a bunker pounding out intel reports. O’Byrne was a bit of a maverick, but remained entirely mission-focused. 

O’Byrne’s first recruited Principal Agent had accompanied O’Byrne on a patrol adjacent to the border; however, following an ambush, the agent was brutally killed by an enemy Claymore and O’Byrne’s actions during the firefight earned him his second Bronze Star and Purple Heart.  Under mounting pressure to increase intel production after the death of his agent, O’Byrne used his “unique skill set” to recruit a group of 10 agents, train, and subsequently insert them with equipment into Cambodia.  

MACV SOG Vietnamese Army Recon Team
O’Byrne, his Seiko 6106, and the Vietnamese Army Recon Team he advised (Credit: Michael O’Byrne)

Although the network produced the desired intel, some were caught after a large fire fight and broke under interrogation, which earned attention from the U.S. Ambassador after it was determined O’Byrne’s identity and mission had been compromised.  Given the diplomatic heat placed on 5th SFG, O’Byrne’s superiors notified him he had to transfer out of the area until things calmed; O’Byrne chose SOG, despite not understanding fully what the unit did – after all, it was classified and need-to-know. 

Upon arrival at the SOG’s Command and Control North (CCN) command, O’Byrne was wearing a USMIL-issued watch.  Not just any watch, but a Seiko, issued originally on a canvas (later replaced with a rubber) strap replete with W.C.C. compass.   While O’Byrne couldn’t recall the exact Seiko reference, he readily identified it as featuring a steel-gray dial and provided several pictures of him wearing the watch during his SOG tour – in my educated assessment, O’Byrne’s watch can be easily identified as the 1960’s Seiko 6106-8100.

Inspection by Corps CDR LTG Stillwell, w/John Syryker “Tilt” Meyer
Inspection by Corps CDR LTG Stillwell, w/John Syryker “Tilt” Meyer behind Stillwell; O’Byrne is wearing his wiretap kit (Credit: Michael O’Byrne)

Arriving to SOG as the only Case Officer in the unit, O’Byrne initially served as deputy to SOG legend John Stryker “Tilt” Meyer, who taught O’Byrne what he needed to succeed – and then some – as the eventual leader of SOG’s Recon Team (RT) Rhode Island.  One of his responsibilities during missions into Laos was to surveil the Ho Chi Minh Viet Cong supply trail and place wiretaps along it to gather additional intelligence on enemy logistic movements and patterns of life.  Succeeding in his new role at SOG, by late 1969, O’Byrne had earned his third Bronze Star during a “Prairie Fire” mission to save a fellow SOG RT under heavy enemy fire.

Twin-Turboprop Grumman OV-1 Mohawk
The Twin-Turboprop Grumman OV-1 Mohawk (Credit: Richard Seaman)

O’Byrne told me he would wear his Seiko, “on every trip across the fence because it gave off very little light, just enough to read the time and the compass still worked.”  In late 1969, on his last patrol leading RT Rhode Island, the Seiko would play an integral role (albeit in a less than traditional sense) during an operation that would earn him his third Purple Heart.  During a fire fight after an ambush, the W.C.C compass partially deflected North Vietnam grenade shrapnel from O’Byrne’s wrist, damaging the compass in the process and resulting in a dislocated shoulder, shrapnel embedded in a bicep, and a concussion.  He was left with a scar the size of a quarter on his wrist (still visible during our conversation). Had the mission gone differently, the outcome would have been much worse. 

MACV SOG OPerations Special Forces
O’Byrne returning from mission, center, wearing his Seiko 6106 (Credit: Michael O’Byrne)

Following his first Vietnam tour, O’Byrne was accepted to flight school to receive instruction on piloting the Army’s military intelligence aircraft, the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk, an armed observation and attack aircraft designed for battlefield surveillance and light strike capabilities; 65 airframes would be lost during the Vietnam conflict alone.  Following successful completion of flight school in 1972, O’Byrne returned to Vietnam for a second tour with the 17th. 

Hughs OH–6A “Loach” Scout Helicopter
The Hughs OH–6A “Loach” Scout Helicopter (Credit: Joe Kline)

Cavalry as a Liaison Officer to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Command and later transferred to 8th Cavalry, Scout Platoon.  Unfortunately, all Mohawk airframes had already departed as part of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, and he instead flew the ubiquitous Bell UH-1 Iroquois and nimble OH-6A “Cayuse/Loach'' helicopters, earning his fourth Purple Heart in the process.

O’Byrne would earn a total of five Purple Hearts (earning the nickname “Magnet,” for his ability to attract enemy fire) during his two tours in Vietnam; his final Purple Heart was awarded for a portion of his foot blown off by one of three 12.7 mm anti-aircraft rounds that hit his OH-6A Loach scout helicopter while he was flying nap of the earth on a “pin the box” anti-aircraft recon mission during his second Vietnam tour.

U.S. Air Force Bell UH-1 helicopters fly into Cambodia
U.S. Air Force Bell UH-1 helicopters fly into Cambodia, circa 1970 (Credit USAF/Capt. Billie D. Tedford)

In 1977, following a tour Stateside to recuperate, O’Byrne departed the U.S. for West Germany as a newly minted Major and eventual commander of the Army’s 73rd Military Intelligence Company (Aerial Surveillance) and its 31 OV-1 Mohawks operating out of Stuttgart Army Airfield, where he commanded 33 OV-1Ds, 10 RV-1D “Quick Look” Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) aircraft, and 300 troops; he also flew frequent missions along the East/West German and Czechoslovakia borders.  He recounted one blacked-out night mission during which his dog tags floated up unexpectedly into his helmet visor – it was then O’Byrne realized he had been flying upside down. 

MACV SOG Freefall
O’Byrne coming the drop zone after a 2020 Phantom Airborne Brigade static-line jump (Credit: Michael O’Byrne)

In mid-1980, O’Byrne resigned from active duty and transitioned to the Civil Service, eventually working his way to an SES-3 rank (equivalent to an Army three star general) as the Chief of the Intelligence Operations Directorate under the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.  After  that tour, he traded in his Seiko 6106-8100 in favor of a more robust Seiko dive watch, becoming a SCUBA dive instructor first in DC and then in the Florida Keys, where he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1995.  O’Byrne would later become an Adjunct Professor at the University of Central Florida, teaching Political Science while working towards his PhD, satisfying his adrenaline thirst with the occasional static-line parachute jump, most recently in 2020.

Where is O’Byrne’s Seiko 6106-8100 today?  He had continued to wear it regularly following his Vietnam tours, until he gifted it to an individual that reached out in recent years to discuss O’Byrne’s time in SOG; O’Byrne expressed sincere regret he no longer possessed it to give it to me. 

This country owes O’Byrne a debt of gratitude for his prolonged USMIL service – resulting in three Bronze Stars for bravery – and I took the opportunity to personally thank him for his service. Little did he know that he also helped write a new chapter in horological history. 

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About The Author: Nick Ferrell is a vintage watch dealer and founder of Los Angeles-based DC Vintage Watches.  He is a former U.S. diplomat and intelligence community member, and previously served on the National Security Council.  When not obsessing over watches, he is an avid reader of, well, everything.  DCVW’s Instagram account is @DCVintageWatches

8 comments

Absolutely incredible story!!! Thanks so much! Wearing my new Five Eye strap as I read it. What a well lived life and an inspiration. Look forward to the Dispatch every week! Keep doing what your doing!

Karmic_AV8r

Incredible, “Seiko if the Toyota of watches”- I have used this many times since the first SOG article.

Walter M

Another fantastic piece! I love this history, the Dispatch is something I look forward to reading every Tuesday morning. Just ordered my FVEY strap.

GC

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