By mid-November 1970, there were 450 known American POWs in Vietnam, and more than double that amount reported as missing in action. Reports were surfacing of brutal conditions, torture, and starvation of American POWs. Operation Ivory Coast was a daring rescue mission conducted by U.S. Army Green Berets, flown in by Air Force Commandos, to rescue the POWs at a small prisoner of war camp at Son Tay, 23 miles west of Hanoi. The raid was commanded by Colonel Arthur “Bull” Simons and 56 specially selected Green Berets who had trained for the mission.

The mission was deemed a failure. Unknown to the raiders, rains had flooded the Son Tay prison just prior to the raid, forcing the Vietnamese guards to move the POWs to another location. The prisoners who had been moved just a few miles down the road, watched the raid unfold.

However, the raid was viewed as a success by many in the U.S. military, as the Special Forces troops killed over 50 guards and took the compound while suffering two very minor casualties. And the Air Force was able to fly them in and out through one of the most heavily defended air spaces on earth at that time.


The POW Camp Is Identified 

In May of 1970, the Pentagon learned of the camp when an SR-71 flying at 80,000 feet, streaked over it and took aerial photographs that showed at least 55 American POWs. However, 12,000 North Vietnamese troops were stationed just five miles away from the compound.

Planning began in earnest in early August. Simons, who was a legend and one of the most well-respected Special Forces officers, was named the commander of the raid force. Simons had taken part in the outstanding prisoner rescue during World War II with the 6th Ranger Bn. The Rangers rescued 500 POWs, who had survived the Bataan Death March, by raiding the Japanese POW camp at Cabanatuan in the Philippines. The Japanese were planning on killing every one of the POWs when the Americans arrived at the camp and foiled their plans.

He would have to select the raiders from among the 6th and 7th Special Forces Groups at Ft. Bragg, NC. Word spread through the Green Berets at Ft. Bragg that something big was brewing and it was to be commanded by Simons. Over 500 packed the post theater to hear Simons make a pitch for volunteers for a very dangerous mission. 

The training facility chosen for the raiders was Duke Field at Eglin AFB, Florida. USAF planners selected key Air Force commanders, who then picked personnel for their crews. Helicopter and A-1 Skyraider crews were put together from instructors at Eglin and personnel returned from combat tours in Southeast Asia. Two crews for C-130E(I) Combat Talons were assembled from squadrons in Germany and North Carolina.