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Son Tay Raid

American POWs in Vietnam Were Not Forgotten, Revised Edition

John Gargus

Publication Year: 2010

In May 1970, aerial photographs revealed what U.S. military intelligence believed was a POW camp near the town of Son Tay, twenty-three miles west of North Vietnam’s capital city. When American officials decided the prisoners were attempting to send signals, they set in motion a daring plan to rescue the more than sixty airmen thought to be held captive. On November 20, a joint group of volunteers from U.S. Army Green Berets and U.S. Air Force Special Operations Forces perfectly executed the raid, only to find the prisoners' quarters empty; the POWs had been moved to a different location. Initially, the Son Tay raid was a devastating disappointment to the men who risked their lives to carry it out. Many vocal critics labeled it as a spectacular failure of our nation’s intelligence network. However, subsequent events proved that the audacity of the rescue attempt stunned the North Vietnamese, who implemented immediate changes in the treatment of their captives. The operation also restored the prisoners’ faith that their nation had not forgotten them. John Gargus not only participated in the planning phase of the Son Tay rescue, but also flew as a lead navigator for the strike force. This revised edition incorporates the most recent information from raid participants and also includes recent translations of North Vietnamese perspectives. No previous account of this top-secret action has given such a full account or such insight into both the execution and the aftermath of Son Tay.  

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

Previously published books and articles about the Son Tay raid focus on the precision with which it was carried out and praise it as a brilliant joint military tactical operation in spite of its failure to free the U.S. prisoners of war. It turned out that this daring attempt was not in vain because its sheer boldness rekindled hope for the prisoners and brought about better treatment for them...

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pp. 1

To appreciate the mindset and patriotism of the men to whom I dedicated this book one should be aware of their soldierly commitment as well as the turbulent domestic environment in which the country found itself while fi ghting the war in Vietnam. Television brought the Vietnam War to American living rooms with a daily count of casualties and with commentaries from reporters that grew more and more critical of the...

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Chapter One: Raid Conception

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pp. 7-19

The shocking and bold plan to rescue American prisoners of war from North Vietnam required a unique, specially trained joint military task force and approval from the president of the United States, Richard M. Nixon. Military leaders assembled the best available Army and Air Force volunteers in Florida for training in utmost secrecy, half a world away from those who suffered deprivation, brainwashing, and torture in enemy captivity. The prisoner of war camp selected for this rescue was near Son Tay, twenty- three miles west of North Vietnam's capital of Hanoi...

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Chapter Two: Raid Training and Planning

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pp. 20-101

Preparation for the Son Tay raid was very challenging for both Army and Air Force participants. It demanded very rigorous training for the Special Forces and required highly unusual formation flying for the Air Force crews. Mission planning and training had to overlap because...

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Chapter Three: Preparations in Southeast Asia

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pp. 102-140

The deployment of our Joint Contingency Task Group to Southeast Asia is perhaps the least known phase of the Son Tay raid. Accounts about the raid focus on the rigorous training and meticulous planning in Florida and omit the way we sneaked into the combat zone and upstaged the regular troops there by pulling off the biggest surprise of the Vietnam War. We planned and trained well, but...

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Chapter Four: The Son Tay Mission

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pp. 141-243

It was the rescue mission that will trouble the minds of the raiders for the rest of our lives. We embarked upon it with such high expectations. We hoped to become heralded heroes of a protracted war that was beginning to wear down the nation's patience. Surely...

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Chapter Five: The Vietnamese Story about the Raid

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pp. 244-272

The story of the raid would not be complete without input from the North Vietnamese. They were surprised and shocked by the bold attempt to free their prisoners and embarrassed by the well- executed invasion of their homeland. They made the following sober admission about the "Son Tay incident" in their official history of the war, which they called "the resistance war against the Americans to save the nation":...

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pp. 273-281

Throughout the planning and training for the raid we had remained confident that the bold assault plan would surprise the North Vietnamese. To ensure this surprise, we planned to distract the enemy from focusing on our real objective west of Hanoi by having the U.S. Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin stage a mock attack against Haiphong. The North Vietnamese...

Appendix: Tabular Lists of Participants ,Equipment, and Chronology

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pp. 283-304


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pp. 305-314


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pp. 315-323


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pp. 325-333


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pp. 335-350

E-ISBN-13: 9781603442527
E-ISBN-10: 1603442529
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442121
Print-ISBN-10: 160344212X

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 23 b&w photos. 18 maps. 11 tables. App. Glossary.
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: Revised