The Son Tay Raid (2)

The passage that moved the most in John Gargus’ The Son Tay Raid was the author’s description of his own involvement and his intentions:

“As all this went through my mind, I always returned to my own personal concerns with getting captured. My whole immediate family lived in Czechoslovakia. My parents, brother, and sister had experienced years of persecution because they stood accused by that country’s communist regime for their ‘collaboration in my traitorous escape to the USA.’ My captivity in another communist country would provide a tremendous new opportunity for further exploitation of their lives. During my prior tour in Vietnam, I had resolved that I would never be taken alive. I would provoke my potential captors into shooting it out with me. That made me a poor team member when I flew with an eleven-man crew. My personal reservation about captivity would put anyone else with me in jeopardy. My only rationalization for this scenario was that such an event would never come about. Now I was back in Southeast Asia, this time with a twelve-man crew [as part of the Son Tay raid], and the same daydreaming nightmare kept me awake. No one knew of my concern, and I resolved not to let anyone in on it. Along with this secret, I had a wish to die with a U.S. flag in my possession. During my prior Vietnam tour I carried a nine-by-fifteen-inch flag in my navigator’s bag. I would put it in my left breast pocket on our nighttime missions over North Vietnam. In November 1970, though, this flag was at home in Fayetteville, North Carolina, with my unsuspecting wife and four children. (When my American-born mother died in Slovakia in May 2000 I placed this flag in her funeral casket.) Before our departure from Eglin [Airbase where the team trained] I bought a three-by-five-foot flag that I planned to wrap around my chest under the flight fatigues. Then, if the worst scenario materialized, an American flag would cover at least a part of my body.”

Gargus’ courage and devotion are reminiscent of the valor I encountered with soldiers and Marines on the battlefields of Vietnam. I continue to have the utmost respect for these men.

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