John Singlaub, Special Operations Legend, Dies at 100

February 1, 2022Coffee or Die
John Singlaub

Retired Maj. Gen. John Singlaub was one of the few special operators to fight in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Major General (Retired) John Singlaub, a legendary commando who left his impact on the U.S. special operations community, passed away aged 100.

The American commando died peacefully surrounded by his loving wife Joan and his children at 0700 on Saturday.

Singlaub’s passing marks an end of an era as the commando was one of the few special operators who had fought in World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam.

A Special Operations Legend

Singlaub joined the Army as a second lieutenant in the infantry immediately upon graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1943.

He quickly stood out by his energy and toughness and was selected for service in the elite Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a military and intelligence unit that specialized in special operations; the OSS is the direct precursor of the Army Special Forces—nicked named the “Green Berets”—and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

He fought behind enemy lines in Europe and distinguished himself time and again with his grit and leadership. He was part of the Allied commandos who facilitated the breakout of Allied forces from Normandy in the summer of 1944 after the D-Day landings.

john Singlaub
Then-Lt. John “Jumping Jack” Singlaub improving his motorcycle driving
skills during World War II. Photo courtesy of USSOCOM/Facebook.

Once the war in Europe ended in May 1945, Singlaub sought more action in the Pacific against Imperial Japan. He led a team behind enemy lines in Japanese-occupied China to locate and rescue Allied prisoners of war.

With the war’s end, Singlaub was one of the very few OSS commandos who was selected to continue to serve in the Strategic Services Unit (SSU), a small organization that replaced the OSS and was absorbed by the CIA in 1952.

“Maj. Gen. Singlaub is a legend among SOF warriors, a forefather of the modern day Green Beret, and has had a long and distinguished career and history in Special Operations. He served in the office of strategic services (OSS) in WWII in both France and China,” Major General Miguel Correa had said during the first presentation of the Maj. Gen. Singlaub Award.

When the Korean War broke out, Singlaub went into action once again, serving with the secretive Joint Advisory Commission, Korea (JACK) and conducting covert action operations against North Korea and China. During his two combat tours in Korea, he also commanded an infantry battalion.

But his greatest challenge lay ahead in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Chief SOG

While Army infantrymen and Marine grunts were fighting the North Vietnamese and Vietcong in the jungles and rice patties of South Vietnam, the innocuous-sounding Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was taking the fight to the enemy.

Recon Team Idaho, a SOG team, taking a picture. Courtesy photo via Sandboxx.

Established in 1964 and authorized to conduct covert cross-border operations in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and North Vietnam—where U.S. troops weren’t supposed to be—SOG was a highly classified organization, its activities covert.

Composed of Army Special Forces operators, Navy SEALs, and Air Commandos, SOG special operators fought alongside a dedicated group of local mercenaries, conducting strategic reconnaissance, direct action, and unconventional warfare operations behind enemy lines. They mainly targeted the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex stretching for hundreds of miles above ground and underground, from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam.

In 1966, Singlaub was picked to lead the covert organization Chief SOG.

“During the eight-year secret war, there were five OICs [officers-in-charge] for MACV-SOG, dubbed Chief SOG. Jack served as Chief SOG from 1966 until early August 1968, replaced by Col. Stephen Cavanaugh. As Chief SOG Jack fought the bureaucracy to get close air support for SOG teams. He fought with the State Dept. to have our teams better armed in Cambodia in the early days of the operation,” John Stryker Meyer, a legendary Green Beret, told Sandboxx News.

There are many traits that make a good leader: Vision and moral courage are some. But a good leader isn’t necessarily beloved by his or her men. Those leaders that earn both the love and respect of their men are a rare breed indeed. One trait that they possess is empathy and sympathy for their men. They truly care about them and their well-being. They understand that a true leader is there to serve his men and not the other way around. Singlaub was such a leader.

John Singlaub
Retired Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub (seated), presents the Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Mark A. Milley, a green beret with new flash during the flash changeover ceremony March 23, 2016, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. US Army photo by Kamil Sztalkoper.

“He always cared deeply about the men who served under him. For example, Doug ‘the Frenchman’ LeTourneau and I had lunch with Jack, his wife Joan and Debra, Joan’s daughter. Joan told Jack that Doug was battling Stage 4 bone marrow cancer and was having some issues with the VA at the time.  Jack pulled out his cell phone, dialed a rare-cancer doctor in Houston who specialized in that cancer. The doctor took Jack’s call and following Jack’s request, he examined Doug 4 times and monitored his condition until he died from heat exposure-related causes July 26, 2019,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.

Meyer has written extensively about his experiences with SOG in Southeast Asia. His books Across the Fence: The Secret War in Vietnam,” “On The Ground: The Secret War in Vietnam,” “SOG Chronicles,”offer a rare and thrilling insight into the war these American commandos fought against all odds. During SOG operations, it wasn’t uncommon for the small recon teams to be dodging hundreds and thousands of enemy troops.

“Jack will be remembered as a tough, fearless operator. Highly respected by all. His book documents how he combatted communism throughout his military career, where as a student at UCLA before the start of WW II he ran into and disliked/distrusted communists he met there. During WW II in France, behind enemy lines he had serious concerns about them, ditto Korea, as Chief SOG, and during his time fighting communism in Central and South America. He is a role model for all of us,” Meyer added.

Singlaub was a true leader, always leading from the front. When SOG was testing the Skyhook exfiltration method, during which a C-130 aircraft flying at 500ft pulled a commando or agent from the ground, Singlaub insisted that he was the first to try the highly dangerous technique.

During his illustrious career, Singlaub earned the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Air Medal, and Bronze Star. He played a key part in the establishment of the Ranger Training Center. Honoring his legacy and contribution to the U.S. special operations community, in 2016, the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) established the MG John K. Singlaub/Jedburgh Award in order to recognize exceptional members of the Army commando community.

A century on earth is a long time. Singlaub made the best out of it.

This article was originally published Jan. 29, 2022, on Sandboxx News. Follow Sandboxx News on Instagram

Read Next: The Gear They Carried: The Equipment of MACV-SOG

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Coffee or Die is Black Rifle Coffee Company’s online lifestyle magazine. Launched in June 2018, the magazine covers a variety of topics that generally focus on the people, places, or things that are interesting, entertaining, or informative to America’s coffee drinkers — often going to dangerous or austere locations to report those stories.

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