By November of 1970, there were 450 known American POWs in Vietnam and more than double that amount who were missing. Reports were surfacing of brutal conditions, torture and starvation of American POWs.

Operation Ivory Coast was the mission 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 conducted by Colonel Arthur “Bull” Simons and 56 specially selected Green Berets who trained for the mission. The mission failed despite it being a tactical success. Unknown to the raiders, rains had flooded the prison just prior to the raid, forcing the Vietnamese guards to move them to another location. The prisoners who were moved just a few miles down the road, watched the raid unfold.

However, the raid was viewed as a success and they killed over 50 guards and took the compound while suffering two very minor casualties. The Air Force was able to fly them in and out of one of the most heavily guarded air spaces on earth at that time.

Identification of the Camp: In May of 1970, the Pentagon learned of the camp when an SR-71 at 80,000 feet, streaked over the location and took aerial photographs that showed at least 55 American POWs. The catch? There were 12,000 North Vietnamese troops stationed just 5.0 miles away from the compound.

Planning began in earnest in early August. Simons was named the commander of the raid force and he selected the raiders from over 500 volunteers from the 6th and 7th Special Forces Groups at Ft. Bragg, NC.

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.

The men were not briefed on their mission and were only told that it was hazardous.