I have just finished reading John Gargus’ The Son Tay Raid: American POWs in Vietnam Were Not Forgotten (Texas A&M University Military History Series, 2010). The Special Forces Association gave me the book after my fall of Saigon presentation to them in November. Thirteen of them autographed the book to thank me. Their gift moved me deeply.
The Son Tay Raid was a difficult but rewarding read. The author, John Gargus, was a pilot who participated in the raid. He is not a professional writer, so not all the text is as smooth as one might wish. Nevertheless, the story is gripping and well worth the time and effort required to digest it.
The Son Tay raid to free POWs in North Vietnam took place in November 1970. I was in Vietnam at the time providing signals intelligence support to troops on the battlefield. I knew nothing of the raid until I read about it in the press. It was a spectacular success—all the participants got into and out of North Vietnam alive. But when they arrived at the prison camp, they found no prisoners. All had been moved to other locations.
The failure to free POWs notwithstanding, the raid is justifiably celebrated as one of the most successful operations during the Vietnam war. Despite the involvement of hundreds, the mission was never compromised and took the North Vietnamese by complete surprise.