The Watches of MACV-SOG During Vietnam Special Operations
In the world of vintage Seiko, there are a lot of truly wonderful and rare references that can be found within what is considered to be, a market of value. Compare this to other vintage watch markets where you could easily push 5/6 figures for a watch, vintage Seiko looks to be an attractive method to add a watch of vintage pedigree to your collection. Also, if you look back across the latter part of the 20th Century, I could almost guarantee that at every major event there was a Seiko watch either directly involved, or at least bearing witness to events which would go down in the history books. Events range from the Apollo Space Missions right through to cult classic Arnold Schwarzenegger films. I mean even Colonial Marines sent to investigate a Xenomorph infested outstation wore Seiko Pulsemeters… Alright, not all of those events are historically accurate, but the point still stands. Like it or not, Seiko watches are everywhere. Their popularity grew out of the fact they are dependable workhorse watches, which can go decades without service, while handling as much or as little abuse as you, the wearer, could throw at it.
Let’s take it back to historical events that actually occurred. The Vietnam War. This article will focus on three Seiko references which were present during American military operations during the conflict. It is important to note that despite the fact that conflicts are usually darker periods in human history, if it wasn’t for the Vietnam War, an argument could be made that the popularity of Seiko watches in America could have been less. Service personnel wore Seiko watches due to their prolific availability in the Far East and servicemen would regularly return from theatre with a Seiko watch. It can be speculated that the North American Vintage Seiko Market is in direct result from the conflict.
The conflict itself was a protracted one between 1954- 1975. However, this article’s focus is purely on watches which were “in country”, as the American Forces would phrase, during their operations between 1965-1975. However, as a background to the watches in question, it is important to note that US military advisors were operating within the country as far back as the 1950s. Whilst I have given a lengthy introduction to the conflict, this article will not focus upon it. For those interested in the conflict itself, go to YouTube and search to your heart’s content.
MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group) was a highly secretive, multi-service, Special Forces (SF) unit which conducted covert and asymmetric military operations between 1964-1972. The area of operations for this unit span across Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Their mission statement was ‘to execute an intensified program of harassment, diversion, political pressure, capture of prisoners, physical destruction, acquisition of intelligence, generation of propaganda, and diversion of resources, against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.’’
Under their mission statement, SOG Operators had the ability, as well as resources and expertise, to conduct missions which would range from Close Target Reconnaissance, Intelligence Gathering as well as Cross Border Operations against the logistical supply chain of both the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Due to the ‘over the fence’ nature of their operations, SOG Operators would require specialist equipment which would need to be deniable. This would enable US Forces the ability to deny any connection to SOG Operators who were either killed, captured or missing during their operations. Operators took to filing off all serial numbers from issued equipment, removing all unit insignia and even integrating with Indigenous Forces in order to mask their military footprint within their area of operations.
Enter Conrad ‘Ben’ Baker, a gentleman who’s remit was procurement. He was responsible for providing kit and equipment to the SOG Operators in order for them to carry out their operations. He took his role so seriously that if there wasn’t commercially viable options, he took to creating it himself, examples being rations and the famous SOG Knives issued to MACV-SOG personnel. Ben Baker would often travel to Vietnam and meet the teams that his equipment was being sent to; on one particular trip it became apparent that the teams had requested the issue of Rolex watches. He is quoted in saying “at one point every team wanted 12 or 13 Rolex watches, the Oyster model I believe. They got Seiko watches instead at $6 or $8 apiece.” His reasoning for this, was that they were already wearing Seiko watches so why fix what wasn’t broken.
The accepted three SOG seiko models are as follows: 6619-8060 circa 1967, 6119-8100 circa 1968 and the 7005-8030 circa 1970.
According to SOG sources and references, the 6619-8060 was never issued through the military supply chain to any member of the US military in Vietnam. That reference was initially purchased privately by individual personnel (usually at the BX/PX) from 1967. The watch is a 36mm stainless steel cased watch with luminous arabic markers and hands on a sunburst grey dial with the venerable 21 jewel 6619 movement which runs at 18000 BPH and has a water resistance of 50m. This model was the reason that the two later models were issued to the SOG Operators.
The first iteration of issued Seiko watches via an official means to SOG Operators was the 6119-8100 model from 1968. At a glance, you can easily mistake it for the earlier 6619-8060 ‘Sportsmatic’ model. The 6119-8100 shares a lot of similarity to the previous model: same dial layout with luminous hands and markers, 50m water rating with a 21 jewel movement which runs at 18000 BPH.
The main differences other than the movement type and minor cosmetic dial details was the case construction. Seiko reverted to a base metal plated case. It is very common to find 6119-8100 watches with case wearing and discolouration where the base metal has begun to show from where the plated metal has worn away. In my opinion, it only adds patina and overall charm, a reminder if you will of the watches potential past!
The final iteration of the SOG Seiko watches was the 7005-8030. The watch is of steel case construction, in an almost tonneau shape, with luminous hands and makers on a black dial. Internally, the movement is a 7005A, 17 jewel movement. The watch has an overall 50m water resistance. Amongst collectors, it is widely regarded as the rarest model. This could be down to the period of issue being from 1970 until the disbandment of MACV-SOG in 1972. One could speculate further, factoring in how military operations may have been drawing down, so the supply of kit and equipment may also have been reduced. Side note, there is also speculation among some within the collecting community that this model was at least initially manufactured by Seiko directly to the US Forces as other 7005-8030 references have been found which do not share the same dial configuration.
The military watch trend has been increasing steadily over the past few years. Watches from various conflicts and unit connections are ever increasing in popularity and price. The difficulty for collectors is finding original examples at acceptable prices. This is where one can argue that vintage Seiko, as well as Vietnam Seiko watches, still offer incredible kudos and value to any budding military watch collector. From a collectors view, there is a definite charm to these watches. There is something special about owning a piece of history. When I wear them, I often wonder what missions and situations these may have witnessed (I am fortunate to know that all three of my examples have a validated connection to the Vietnam War). These watches are very unassuming, plain, almost humble in execution. To the uninitiated, this is “just a regular Seiko 5”, but to those who know, they hold that special charm of not only of telling the time, but also telling their own story. So, if you see one and you have the opportunity of adding it to your collection, do it, you will not regret it!