Written by: Carl Gregory, Veteran United States Army
𝐓𝐡𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐦𝐲 𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐞, I’ve been fortunate to have five great friends who profoundly influenced who I am today. As we approach Veterans Day weekend, I want to pay special tribute to one of them, my warrior friend 𝐒𝐞𝐫𝐠𝐞𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐌𝐚𝐣𝐨𝐫 𝐉𝐨𝐡𝐧 𝗣𝗮𝘂𝗹 𝐒𝐢𝐥𝐤!
His name embodies valor and dedication, epitomizing the resilience and bravery of those who have served in the United States military’s most challenging and covert units. Born in 1942 in Arlington, Massachusetts, Silk’s remarkable journey started with his ROTC days at Pennsylvania Military College and unfolded into a distinguished military career that spanned more than two decades.
His time in Vietnam as a Special Forces RECON 1-1 and 1-0, particularly the twenty-five highly classified, deniable, cross-border missions into Cambodia with MACVSOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group) Project SIGMA, marked a significant chapter in his life. MACVSOG was a highly classified, multi-service United States special operations unit that conducted covert unconventional warfare operations before and during the Vietnam War. Established in 1964, it carried out cross-border operations in Laos and Cambodia, along with maritime operations against North Vietnam. The personnel serving in MACVSOG, like Silk, were engaged in highly dangerous and secretive missions, involving deep reconnaissance, direct action, sabotage, and gathering intelligence behind enemy lines.
In the face of overwhelming odds, with an extraordinary casualty rate exceeding one hundred percent, where over half of its members were either killed or went missing in action, MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group) demonstrated exceptional courage and commitment. Remarkably, every member of this unit had volunteered, bearing the scars of battle and sustaining injuries, sometimes multiple times, throughout their service. Their sacrifice and bravery are a testament to their unwavering dedication to their mission and country. In recognition of these remarkable sacrifices and their steadfast dedication to duty, MACV-SOG and the individual members were deservedly honored with the Presidential Unit Citation (equivalent to the Distinguished Service Cross individually) at a ceremony held at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, on April 4, 2001.
Following his valorous service in Vietnam, Silk continued to exemplify the exceptional skills and bravery synonymous with the Special Forces, during his tenure with Detachment A in Berlin, Germany. Detachment A was a covert unit of 90 Special Forces soldiers, known for their involvement in some of the most classified and sensitive missions of the Cold War. The unit, which existed from 1956 to 1984, specialized in unconventional warfare, sabotage, intelligence, guerrilla operations, anti-terrorism, sniper, and SWAT operations, often working closely with the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies. Silk’s role in such a unit underscores his extraordinary capabilities and the trust placed in him for missions of critical importance.
His military accolades, reflecting his exceptional service, include the Distinguished Presidential Unit Citation, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, and numerous others. These honors not only signify his bravery and skill but also his dedication to his country and fellow soldiers. Sergeant Major Silk also holds a reserve commission as an Army Captain.
Silk’s life post-military has been equally remarkable, serving in law enforcement and as a skilled gunsmith, carrying the same spirit of service and expertise into his civilian life.
In addition to his extraordinary military and post-military career, John P. Silk’s impact extends into the realm of personal relationships and mentorship, illustrating the depth of his character and his commitment to nurturing the potential in others.
Our friendship, spanning over four decades, has been a testament to his unwavering loyalty and steadfastness. Silk, embodying the true spirit of a Green Beret, has always been more than a friend; he has been a mentor and a guide. His impact is profoundly evident in his influence on my daughter, Destiny Dawn Gregory. As she embarked on her journey to excel in the Vernon High School Army JROTC and her aspiration to join a US Military Service Academy, Silk has been an instrumental figure, sharing his wisdom, experience, and encouragement.
Just as he trained and guided our allies with skill and dedication during his time as a Green Beret, Silk applied the same level of commitment to mentoring me when I served under him in the 101st Airborne Division and for the past two years in the twilight of his life mentoring my daughter Destiny Dawn Gregory. He has truly been an inspiration and a guiding light, among several, behind her success, quietly working behind the scenes, and instilling in her the values of discipline, resilience, and the pursuit of excellence. His mentorship has been an important factor in shaping her into a young leader to become the Battalion Commander of her high school Army JROTC battalion in the incredibly short period of just 1 1/2 years, ready to face challenges with the same bravery and determination he has shown throughout his life as she reached for the stars for the last two year to obtain a congressional nomination and to be accepted into one of our nations prestigious military academies.
Destiny made a deliberate and thoughtful decision to not include SGM Silk’s academy recommendation letter in her applications. He is currently too unwell to navigate the complex submission process. However, the wisdom and guidance she received from him transcend the value of a written endorsement. The lessons imparted by SGM Silk are more than mere words on paper; they are lifelong treasures that will serve her well throughout her life. See the letter in the photos.
This aspect of Silk’s life – his role as a mentor and friend – is as commendable as his decorated military career. It reflects his belief in the power of passing on knowledge and fostering growth in the next generation, ensuring that the legacy of commitment and service continues.
This tribute to SGM John P. Silk is more than just a recounting of his service; it’s a celebration of the spirit of a warrior who represents the best of American values – courage, commitment, and unwavering dedication to duty. His legacy is not just in the medals and commendations but in the lives he touched, the missions he accomplished, and the indomitable spirit he embodies.
List of Awards
Presidential Unit Citation (Individual Award Equivalent to the Army Distinguished Service Cross)
Meritorious Service Medal (1st OLC)
Army Commendation Medal (1st OLC)
Good Conduct Medal (8th Award)
Army Occupation Medal (Berlin)
National Defense Service Ribbon
Vietnam Service Ribbon (6 Campaign Stars)
Humanitarian Service Medal
NCO Professional Development Ribbon (Numeral 5)
Army Service Ribbon
Overseas Service Ribbon (Thailand)
Vietnam Campaign Ribbon (With Year Device)
Combat infantryman Badge
Master Parachutist Badge
Military Freefall Parachutist Badge (HAL0)
Scuba Divers Badge
Special Operations Divers Badge
Air Assault Badge
Expert Marksmanship Badge (M-1) (M-14) (M-16) (45 Ato)
Thai Parachute Badge/with Fourragere
Vietnamese Parachute Badge
German Parachute Badge
Special Forces Tab
Overseas Service Bars (4)
Service Stripes (24 years service)
Meritorious Unit Commendation
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation
Chronological List of Assignments
1960-1962 Cadet, United States Army ROTC, Pennsylvania Military College, Chester Pennsylvania MAR-APR 1962 Basic Combat Training, Fort Dix, New Jersey MAY-JUNE 1962 Advanced Individual Training, Fort Gordon, Georgia JULY- AUG 1962 Jump School, Fort Benning, Georgia 1962-1963 Rifleman, Bravo Company, 327th Infantry Battle Group. 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Kentucky 1963-1964 Student, Special Forces Training Group, Fort Bragg, North Carolina 1964-1965 Light Weapons Leader, 5th Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, North Carolina 1965-1966 Heavy Weapons Leader, Detachment B-31, Phoug Vinh, Vietnam 1966-1967 Light Weapons Leader, 46th Special Forces Company Thailand 1967-1968 RECON Team Leader, B-56 Project SIGMA, Vietnam 1968-1973 Team Sergeant, HALO Detachment, 10th Special Forces Group, Fort Devens, Massachusetts 1973-1976 Heavy Weapons Leader, Detachment A, Berlin Brigade, Germany 1976-1977 Operations Sergeant, Scuba Detachment, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces, Fort Devens, Massachusetts 1977-1979 First Sergeant, Headquarters Company, United States Army Garrison, Fort Devens, Massachusetts 1979-1980 Chief Enlisted Advisor, United States Army Readiness Mobilization Region Nine, Presidio of San Francisco, CA 1981-1982 First Sergeant, Headquarters and Headquarters Company 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Kentucky 1982-1983 Chief Instructor, Headquarters. 1st United States Army ROTC Region, Fort Bragg. North Carolina 1983-1986 Administration Sergeant Major, Headquarters Company. United States Army Garrison, Fort McPherson, Georgia February 28, 1986 Retired from active duty
Silver Star Award
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY HBADQUARTERS, UNITED STATES ARMY VIETNAM APO San Francisco 96375 AWARD OF THE SILVER STAR GENERAL NUMBER ORDERS 5712 1. T0 320. The following AWARD is announced. STAFF SERGEANT United States SILK, JOHN P RA1 1403904 Detachment B-56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, APO 96240 Awarded: Silver Star Date action: 9 July 1968 Theater: Republic of Vietnam Reason: For gallantry in action while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam: Staff Sergeant Silk distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 9 July 1968 as an assistant patrol leader on a reconnaissance patrol. Moving through dense jungle, the patrol encountered a well-camouflaged and fortified enemy base camp. Entering the camp, they came under a fusillade of automatic weapons fire from an enemy force of unknown size, killing two allied soldiers and wounding two more. Disregarding his safety, Sergeant Silk exposed himself to the withering hail of automatic weapons fire to crawl fifty meters to administer first aid to the seriously injured soldiers. After moving the wounded to a covered position, he organized the remnants of his lead element and established a base of fire which enabled the remainder of the patrol to withdraw. Sergeant Silk then remained in an exposed position to direct artillery and helicopter gunship fire on enemy targets, His actions allowed the patrol to reorganize and assault the enemy emplacements. Encountering heavy resistance, the patrol withdrew to a secured landing zone. Again braving intense enemy fire, Sergeant Silk and three allied soldiers covered the withdrawal, thereby enabling the patrol to be safely extracted. Staff Sergeant Silk's gallantry in action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Editor’s Note by Bob Charest
I first met John (Slick) Silk in 1967 in Vietnam, B-56 Project Sigma, where we both served from 1967-1968.
We then both served together on the same team, Team 1, in Detachment “A” Berlin Germany in 1973 – 1976. Later, we again met at Fort Devens, MA in 1978 -1981 where we both eventually retired. We both remain close friends and keep in touch today.
The following photo was taken by John Silk.
Back Row L-R: Kevin Monahan, Bob Charest, Richard Lahue,
Ralph Ormes, Willy Headon, Ron Bruce
Front Row L-R: John Silk, Ernie Kirk, Frank Midell,
Lee Dickerson, Paul Piusz, Spanky Airhart