Oceanside veteran recounts fighting secret war in Southeast Asia

SAN DIEGO – John Meyer’s life changed forever the moment he was dropped off in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  Trained as a Green Beret, Meyer was 22 when he landed in Vietnam in 1968. He expected to stay there, but fate had other plans.

America’s Secret War

“For the next 20 years you can’t talk about it, you sign it and you agree to come into this operation, no photographs, can’t talk about it to your mother, your girlfriend, never.  And we’re serious. If you do, you can be prosecuted,” Meyer said.

He’s referring to America’s Secret War in Laos – a CIA-led war to cut off communist supply lines.  Meyer and other Army special forces were tasked mostly with reconnaissance.  They studied the Laotian jungles, learning from wildlife, even being fooled by them once.

“One of our recon teams was tracked for two days, finally they got tired of it, pulled out grenades, ready to go when they found out they were being tracked by orangutans,” said Meyer said.

They also saw plenty of combat.  Meyer often compares the colors of the battlefield to Christmas.

“It was one of those scenes that if you didn’t know what you were looking at it might have been Christmas...cause the jungle was dark emerald green, and then you had all these sparkling things, and these green tracers, it looked like Christmas but it was the NVA trying to shoot us down,” Meyer said.

It was really Christmas Day 1968 when he and his team found themselves surrounded by enemies and a ring of fire closing in fast.

“We were stuck, we called for an extract literally fighting fire with plastic explosives to try to keep them back, kingbee came in sideways, last second, we jumped on and we left,” Meyer said.

Meyer returned home in 1970, but the events of that Christmas Day battle would haunt him for decades.

A Stranger in a Strange World

“When I got back we had the riots...my first assignment was driving a bus full of black kids into an Italian neighborhood and we got stoned and rocked.  I just couldn’t believe people could be outrageously violent against children...we expected that from the communists.  But in your city where you grew up, to see people throw stones at children.  No kapish,” said Meyer.

Meyer went back to school and became a newspaper reporter for nearly 30 years.  He’s also written several books about fighting the secret war.  He now volunteers for several non-profits that help veterans obtain affordable housing and other services.

“Our country learned a lesson from what the Vietnam vets suffered...so today everyone can disagree about what war we’re in, but the veterans are treated with respect,” said Meyer.

Meyer has received two Bronze Stars for Valor, a Purple Heart and several badges.  His particular unit also received a President’s Unit Citation, the equivalent of a Distinguished Service Cross, which is the nation’s second highest valor award.

Digital Exclusive

Oceanside veteran John Meyer was in the audience at Tuesday’s Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House, watching his friend receive the nation’s highest military award for valor.

Meyer himself is a retired Green Beret.  He served two tours in Vietnam, spending much of his time fighting the secret war in Laos.

He described to FOX 5 one of his most harrowing combat experiences, one where he was barely rescued from behind enemy lines and became a human pinball.