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5th SFG A-501 PATCH (APCI-1140)


Wartime, Vietnamese, hand embroidered, 5th Special Forces Group (ABN), A-501 patch (Don’t Let the Bastards Beat You Down). The insignia will come with a Letter of Authenticity from as artifact number APCI-1140.

The History of Special Forces Insignia During The Vietnam War

Over the years a lot has been said regarding Special Forces and MAC V SOG insignia of the Vietnam War. I have done extensive research on the subject by gathering photographic evidence, veteran acquired insignia, and interviews which can be verified in my book series: MAC V SOG: Team History of a Clandestine Army. I have also started to expand upon the site specialforceshistory that helps document wartime manufactured insignia. This site does not sell insignia but shows original wartime manufactured pieces that collectors can use to see the common traits found in each patch generation. I do not however show the reverse as I do not want to aid the reproduction artist.

US Special Forces Advisors were first assigned to Vietnam in 1957 and soon after a limited number of unauthorized insignia were developed to distinguish the different Vietnamese units, qualifications and awards. One of the earliest pieces that has been documented is the Vietnamese Airborne Rangers, “Tony the Tiger” patch. The insignia was developed in 1961 by a 1st Special Forces Group, TDY team while training the early Luc Luong Dac Biet (LLDB) / South Vietnamese Special Forces. The locally hand embroidered insignia was copied from a Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal box and held as a coveted award for graduates of the school.

As the War progressed, so did the US Special Forces involvement with the creation of the border surveillance camps (A-Camps), the Mike Force, CIDG programs, Projects Delta, Sigma, Omega and Gamma, and Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (MAC V SOG), ect. The South Vietnamese military had authorized some generic Shoulder Sleeve Insignia (SSI) designs that were manufactured in silk woven strips or printed on cotton sheets. These patches were worn on the left sleeve by the Vietnamese troops and the left pocket of US personnel assigned.

In 1968, unauthorized patch designs started to appear on a larger scale within several of the units assigned under 5th Special Forces Group (ABN). This insignia was mainly manufactured by local tailors with few Thailand or Taiwan examples. US personnel assigned to these units were just like any other US Army unit in Vietnam and authorized one out of country R&R (Rest and Recuperation / Relaxation) leave per one-year tour that could be taken almost anywhere in the world. With only a two week leave, having insignia manufactured was usually a low priority. This is why most patches associated with 5th SFG projects and programs other than that of MAC V SOG were of Vietnamese manufacture and of limited designs.

Personnel assigned to MAC V SOG were augmented through 5th Special Forces Group (ABN). This meant they were only to report to 5th SFG Headquarters for in-processing, awards, promotion and out-processing everything else was through MAC V SOG Headquarters. The individuals received the standard two week leave, plus MAC V SOG had an unofficial policy for OPS-35 personnel that allowed a Recon Team or Hatchet Force Company a week stand down after an operation. The indigenous personnel were allowed to return to their homes, while the US Cadre were given authorization to board what was termed a CCK Flight to Taiwan and the 1st SFG (ABN), Snakebite personnel could sometimes return to Okinawa. The personnel assigned to the unit started to incorporate insignia to distinguish the different recon teams and Hatchet Forces. The early insignia was locally manufactured and was later replaced with Taiwanese, Thailand or Okinawan insignia made during their team’s stand down. This insignia was produced in a very limited number of twenty to twenty- five pieces per design for recon team patches and about a hundred Hatchet Forces patches.

The different 5th SFG units and MAC V SOG patches were soon copied by the South Vietnamese on a commercial scale in Saigon and dispersed throughout the county for the GI patch collector market. These patches were manufactured in quantities of several hundred per design and were even offered for sale in the United States through ASMIC (American Society of Military Insignia Collectors) dealer’s mail order catalogs. This insignia today, is collectively termed “Cheap Charlie’s” and are of wartime manufacture.

To summarize; the insignia that was manufactured early in Vietnam at the local tailor shops along with the Taiwanese, Thailand and Okinawan patches do bring a premium, even more if they are documented to an individual. These pieces have greater detail but are far less in quantity (estimated less than ten to twenty pieces per design remain) compared to the commercially manufactured pieces.

This article is specific to Special Force and MAC V SOG insignia of the Vietnam War. This same application cannot be applied to US Air Force, US Navy or US Marines as their bases, regulations, and R&R centers differed from that of the US Army.

As with any other collecting hobby, once items reach a certain monetary value there are always individuals looking to take advantage of the unsuspecting collector. In my thirty years in this hobby I have heard it all and even have a drawer full of mistakes I purchased in my early days. It is up to the collector to do his diligent research, understand the area he is interested in, research the individuals he is buying from and their reputation as well as applying common sense.

©Jason M. Hardy 2017

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