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 The Raid on the Son Tay

Prisoner of War Camp - 21 November 1970

Tom Powell, “Greenleaf” Element

On the night of 20 November 1970 at 2300 hours, five HH-53s and one HH-3 helicopter took off with fifty-six Special Forces Soldiers from Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. The aircraft would refuel over Laos and enter North Vietnamese airspace from the west. The target of the helo borne assault was the Son Tay Prisoner of War (POW) Camp located 23 miles northwest of the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. The flight from Udorn to Son Tay was approximately 337 miles one way.

It was believed that at least 60 American Prisoners of war were being held captive at the Son Tay facility. The camp was believed to have been active since May of 1968. Evidence in May of 1970 suggested the camp was being enlarged.

The lead HH-53 arrived over Son Tay POW camp at approximately 0200 hours the morning of 21 November. As planned, the lead helo would take the guard towers and barrack buildings under fire with its two 4,000 round per minute Gatling guns. Once the lead helo cleared the compound, the HH-3 made a controlled crash landing inside the courtyard of the walled prison. Aboard the aircraft was a 14-man assault force commanded by CPT Richard Meadows, the assault force commander. This element was code named “Blueboy” and had the mission of clearing all cellblocks, freeing American POWs, and neutralizing any enemy resistance within the compound. Once the POWs were freed, the assault force would blow a hole in the south wall of the compound and lead the POWs to a waiting evacuation helo.

Navy diversion aircraft were flying from carriers and conducting diversionary strikes in the Haiphong and Hanoi area. This diversionary maneuver, prior to the Raid force reaching Son Tay, caused the North Vietnamese air defense sectors to focus their attention east thus allowing the Raid force to slide in the back door from the west.

At the same time the “Blueboy” element was searching for the US POWs, the “Redwine” element had landed south of the compound with the mission of clearing buildings, securing a landing zone, and blocking a road network to the south, preventing enemy personnel or vehicles from entering the target area (Son Tay) from the south. At the same time, the “Greenleaf” element was to land east of the compound and clear buildings and secure a road to the north, again preventing enemy personnel and vehicles from coming from the north. However, the helo carrying the “Greenleaf” element made a navigational error, landing some 400 meters southwest of the Son Tay Compound at a facility only known as a “secondary school”. On insertion, a huge firefight broke out between the “Greenleaf” element and an unknown number of enemy soldiers. To this day, the nationality of these enemy soldiers remains unknown. Some have commented through the years that they were Russian or Chinese advisors. Members of the “Greenleaf” element would only say later that the soldiers were taller than the average Vietnamese. (All members of the raiding force, except for three, had been to Viet Nam before, many serving multiple tours.) 

 As the fire fight continued, LTC Sydnor, the ground force commander at the Son Tay compound, realized the “Greenleaf” element had not landed at Son Tay as planned. He put Plan Green into effect. Plan Green called for the “Redwine” element not only to cover their responsibilities to the south, but now they must cover “Greenleaf’s” responsibilities to the east and north as well. Meanwhile at the “secondary school”, as the firefight continued, Col Simons, the Deputy Task Force Commander, was having his radio operator recall the helo. I believe Lt Col Warner Britton, pilot of Apple 1, had already realized the mistake. After dropping the “Greenleaf” element and gaining altitude, he now saw two huge firefights taking place separated by 400 meters. He immediately rolled the helo over and was inbound to the “secondary school” to pick up Simons’ men and reinsert them into the correct target area. In all, the fight at the “secondary school” lasted about five minutes. Some sixteen enemy soldiers were believed killed with no injuries to friendly forces.

Lt Col Britton effected the pickup and flew Simons’ men to the Son Tay compound, landing south of the facility. The “Greenleaf” element was required to do a passage of lines through the “Redwine” element – a tricky maneuver, especially at night. No friendly forces suffered any injuries during this passage.

About the time the “Greenleaf” element was in its position on the east side of the compound, radio traffic from the “Blueboy” element inside the prison was indicating there were “negative items”, a coded phrase that meant no US prisoners were found. Once that was confirmed by the Ground Force Commander, the helos were recalled from their holding area, approximately 3 miles west of Son Tay. Prior to leaving the prison, the “Blueboy” element destroyed the HH-3 that had crash landed inside the courtyard of the prison. The HH-3 was never intended to fly out as the courtyard was too small of an area.

After picking up the force, the helos headed west to an aircraft air refuel point over Laos. It was a long three and a half hour flight back to Udorn, Thailand. We could not believe no prisoners were present. After three months of training, over 170 rehearsals, half of which were conducted with live fire, we had just hit a “dry hole”. (In later discussions with ex-Son Tay prisoners, we learned they had been moved in July 1970 for unknown reasons.)

The entire operation took twenty-seven minutes from touchdown to takeoff, including the “visit” to the “secondary school”. The only injuries suffered by friendly forces were one gun shot wound to the leg of a Raider and a broken foot suffered by the Flight Engineer on the HH-3 during the crashing of the HH-3 in the courtyard. It is estimated as many as 30 to 50 North Vietnamese were killed including those at the “secondary school”.

One of our Wild Weasel F-105 aircraft was shot down by a surface to air missile (SAM). Shot down is probably not the correct term. The SAM exploded near the aircraft riddling the fuel tank of the F-105 with holes. According to the pilot, the aircraft was still flyable but just ran out of gas due to the holes in the fuel tank. Both pilot and electric warfare officer were able to bail out over Laos. They both were recovered after first light on the morning of 21 November.

Training for the Raid began in August of 1970 and ended on or about 10 November 1970. At that point forces were deployed to Thailand for final preparations for the Raid. The training was conducted at Elgin Air Force Base, Florida, at Auxiliary Field 3, the same training area used by General Jimmy Doolittle’s Raiders in preparing for their bombing raid over Tokyo, Japan in early 1942.  Training was conducted in three phases. Phase I was to physically condition the force, conduct land navigation both day and night, weapons firing using the M-16 rifle, M-79 grenade launcher, M-60 machine gun, .45 cal pistol, and the M-72 LAW (light-anti-tank-weapon), target identification, etc. Shooting was conducted during day and night range operations. In Phase II the force was selected from a pool of 100 personnel based on physical condition, shooting skills, land navigation abilities, and other skills. The force was organized into three platoons: 1st Platoon, “Redwine” element (command and security - 20 personnel); 2nd Platoon, “Blueboy” element (assault force - 14 personnel); and 3rd Platoon, “Greenleaf” element (security and support - 22 personnel). During this phase, the force began training together on a mockup camp. Shooting skills continued to be honed as well as target identification (identifying bad guys from friendlies). During Phase III, the army elements trained with the air force elements. Over the three-month training period each ground element learned and knew their air crews. This was important due to the bond and trust that was formed. In all, more than 170 rehearsals were conducted during daytime and nighttime conditions. At no time did the Raiders know the true target. It was only after the final briefing on 20 November prior to leaving for the launch site at Udorn, Thailand that Son Tay was identified.

The total number of airplanes to support the Raid was 116. Most of these were Navy aircraft flying in the Haiphong and Hanoi area. Son Tay aircraft included 5 HH-53s (call sign Apple 1-5); 1 HH-3 (call sign Banana 1); 5 A-1E skyraiders (call sign Peach 1-5) providing close air support; 5 F-105s (call sign Firebird 1-5) targeting SAM sites; and 10 F-4s (call sign Falcon 1-10) providing protection from MIG aircraft should they launch. The refuel aircraft were Limes 1 and 2, and they were HC-130Ps which provided fuel for the helos over Laos going to and returning from Son Tay.

Many books and articles have been written about the Raid over the years. The best work written to date is Ben Schemmer’s book The Raid, first published in 1976 and to be republished in late June of 2002.

In 1973, when the prisoners were returned to the United States, Mr. Ross Perot set up a reunion in San Francisco between the prisoners that had been held at Son Tay and the Raid force and supporting aircrews. In 1990, ex-Son Tay prisoners, Raiders, support personnel, and aircrews had their first reunion and formed what is known today as the Son Tay Raid Association. We meet for a reunion every two years and have elected officials. We are a nonprofit organization and currently have 145 active members. A newsletter is published quarterly. Since the Raid, we have lost 24 members of the Association. Other prisoners held in Southeast Asia, to include China, are welcomed as Associate members. Our next reunion is scheduled for 6-10 November 2002, in Las Vegas. 

Dental Care – German Stalag-Style

Russell E. Kuehn
18825 4th Ave, North
Plymouth, MN  55447; (763) 475-0622 

The March, 2002 issue had some interesting articles about tooth care problems in Viet Nam. It brought to mind an experience I had in WWII in Europe. 

I was one of twenty-five GI’s with I Company, 110th Inf. Regt. 28th Inf. Div., just over the border from Germany in Luxembourg, when the Jerries attacked on December 16, 1944. We held them back all day long, but had to surrender when a Tiger tank rumbled up to our position and started to fire. 

After five days of marching, we came to Gerolstein which is a rail head inside Germany. There we were given a tin of cheese and a tin of biscuits. These must have been left over from WWI! The first bite I took of the hard biscuit broke part of one of my canine teeth. After 8 days enroute, we came to Stalag IVB, Muhlberg on the Elbe where I spent most of the rest of my POW days. Needless to say, the dental program at the camp was simple. It was non-existent. 

At the end of the war, in the summer of 1945, I had a visit with my older brother who was commissioned a Captain in 1943, after graduating from dental school, and he was assigned to Camp Atterbury in Indiana where there were quite a large number of German POWs. He spoke fluent German, so most of his time was spent working on the German POWs.

He told me how demanding all of the POWs were when it came to their teeth. Whatever they wanted, they got, including gold crowns, bridges, etc. Those were his “orders”. “Conform to the Geneva Conventions” was the policy. My brother did very good work and I’m sure there are some elderly Germans that still show the benefit of his work.


Stalag III-C Reunion

Former internees at Stalag III-C, Altdrewitz/Küstrin, traveled to Hershey, PA for their second reunion since 1945.  Fourteen veterans and their wives and families shared four days of central Pennsylvania hospitality and delightful weather. 

The event opened on April 3 with an evening reception.  The following day, faculty and students at Hershey High School greeted the veterans with a brief musical program; then eighty advanced placement history students met in small groups with the ex-POWs and their wives for discussion and question and answers sessions.  They graciously provided lunch and transportation.  April 5th was a full day in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with a morning tour of the Eisenhower Farm Historical Site and an afternoon tour of the battlefield.  After dinner at the historic Herr Tavern, the highlight of the Gettysburg experience was a fireside chat presented by President Abraham Lincoln. Jim Getty, a Gettysburg native and Lincoln aficionado, mesmerized his audience with his portrayal of our 16th President. 

The final day began with a Service of Remembrance at the Soldiers and Airmen’s Chapel at Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation; Colonel Ronald Miller, retired Army chaplain, officiated.  The veterans stopped to view Pennsylvania’s 40 x 8 boxcar; these ex-POWs, like so many, were transported in these small cars during their interment in Germany.  The group also had an opportunity to visit the newly dedicated (October 2001) Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial located in the National Cemetery.  

The reunion concluded with a banquet on the evening of April 6.  Keynote speaker was Brigadier General Cecil Hengeveld, Pennsylvania’s Deputy Adjutant General for Veterans Affairs.    Cadet Samantha M. Kruper, USMA, Class of 2004, and granddaughter of the late John E. Kruper, an ex-POW from Stalag III-C, shared observations on character development of all soldiers, citizen and professional.  Congressman George Gekas of Harrisburg extended greetings and spoke briefly about legislative support of veterans.  State Commander Frank Kusnir welcomed the ex-POWs and encouraged them to stay informed about veterans’ affairs by remaining active in the American EX-POW Organization.  Honorees were awarded a variety of gifts and each veteran received a packet of historical research and documentation about Stalag III-C. 

Stalag III-C, near the Oder River, 60 km due east of Berlin, held French prisoners as early as 1940.  Americans began arriving at this camp the summer of 1944 through late fall, 1944.  the camp was overrun on January 31, 1945 by Russian tanks leading the Zhukov spearhead on its push toward Berlin.  The large majority of the 2000 GIs interred here found their way across Poland to Odessa, Russia.  Two British ships, the Duchess of Bedford and the Circassia, departed Odessa in mid-March carrying many Americans from III-C. After stops in Port Said and Naples, these kriegies were in the first wave of ex-POWs to reach the United States via Boston and New York. 

If you were in III-C and would like more information, please contact: Jackie Kruper, 125 South Second Street, Lebanon, PA 17042.  Phone 717-273-9254 evenings.   


 The History of Flag Day

The Fourth of July was traditionally celebrated as America’s birthday, but the idea of an annual day specifically celebrating the Flag is believed to have first originated in 1885. BJ Cigrand, a schoolteacher, arranged for the pupils in the Fredonia, Wisconsin Public School, District 6, to observe June 14 (the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of The Stars and Stripes) as ‘Flag Birthday’. In numerous magazines and newspaper articles and public addresses over the following years, Cigrand continued to enthusiastically advocate the observance of June 14 as ‘Flag Birthday’, or ‘Flag Day’.  

On June 14, 1889, George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City, planned appropriate ceremonies for the children of his school, and his idea of observing Flag Day was later adopted by the State Board of Education of New York. On June 14, 1891, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia held a Flag Day celebration, and on June 14 of the following year, the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution, celebrated Flag Day.  

Following the suggestion of Colonel J Granville Leach (at the time historian of the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution), the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames of America on April 25, 1893 adopted a resolution requesting the mayor of Philadelphia and all others in authority and all private citizens to display the Flag on June 14th. Leach went on to recommend that thereafter the day be known as ‘Flag Day’, and on that day, school children be assembled for appropriate exercises, with each child being given a small Flag.  

Two weeks later on May 8th, the Board of Managers of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution unanimously endorsed the action of the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames. As a result of the resolution, Dr. Edward Brooks, then Superintendent of Public Schools of Philadelphia, directed that Flag Day exercises be held on June 14, 1893 in Independence Square. School children were assembled, each carrying a small Flag, and patriotic songs were sung and addresses delivered.  

In 1894, the governor of New York directed that on June 14 the Flag be displayed on all public buildings. With BJ Cigrand and Leroy Van Horn as the moving spirits, the Illinois organization, known as the American Flag Day Association, was organized for the purpose of promoting the holding of Flag Day exercises. On June 14th, 1894, under the auspices of this association, the first general public school children’s celebration of Flag Day in Chicago was held in Douglas, Garfield, Humboldt, Lincoln, and Washington Parks, with more than 300,000 children participating.  

Adults, too, participated in patriotic programs. Franklin K. Lane, Secretary if the Interior, delivered a 1914 Flag Day address in which he repeated words he said the flag had spoken to him that morning: “I am what you make me; nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.”

Inspired by these three decades of state and local celebrations, Flag Day - the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777 - was officially established by the Proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30th, 1916. While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after Wilson’s proclamation, it was not until August 3rd, 1949, that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14th of each year as National Flag Day.

A True Flag Story

Carl S. Nordin
1473 Doman Drive
New Richmond, WI  54017 

In March of 1942, Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) 3 brought General MacArthur out of Corregidor to the southern Philippine island of Mindanao for his onward flight to Australia to lead the Allies back to the Philippines and Japan. After his successful escape, the PT squadron remained stationed in the area around Bugo and Cagayan on northern Mindanao for the duration of the war, carrying out more missions from there. Two of us from our outfit were on detached service at Bugo at the time. Roderick McKay was in charge of the pier at Bugo; I was in charge of convoys running supplies from Bugo to various parts of the island. 

Living among these gallant men (in fact we were quartered in the same building as ten or fifteen of them), we learned a lot about their earlier exploits while operating in the Corregidor-Luzon area before , as well as missions in the southern Philippines after coming down to Mindanao. Navy Lt. John D. Bulkley was the Squadron Commander, and his flag ship was the “41 Boat”. Richard Regan was the Chief Bo’sun. By war’s end, the “41 Boat” was the only boat remaining. But they had accomplished a lot – even single-handedly sinking a Japanese cruiser of the large Kuma class in one of their last engagements. McKay and I used to thrill to watch them go out on a mission, as they wheeled out of the bay with the flag fluttering from the “41 Boat”. 

All of this came to an abrupt end at the fall of the Philippines to Japanese forces May 10, 1942. Some of the specialists of PT Squadron 3 were able to get out to Australia by plane at the last moment. A few of them were in a position to join up with the guerillas on Mindanao and Leyte, but most of them ended up in the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) with the rest of us. 

Life in prison camp was difficult, tedious and boring. After a couple of years, the Japanese allowed a few musical instruments in camp. Naturally, in a group of 2,000 men, there is considerable talent, so with these instruments, a Corporal Biggs developed an entertainment troupe. Soon they were developing USO-type programs. But there was barely room enough between the barracks to accommodate an audience. Over a period of time, the Japanese had come to realize this as a good way to keep the prisoners from becoming restive. As the popularity of the troupe, and the confidence of the Japanese increased, they were finally able to convince the Japanese to put on a full-fledged program. 

One condition was necessary, however. The Japanese would preview the program before it was put on for the troops. This preview would be in the hospital area. That way the sick could see it along with the Japanese, and with the added benefit of shade for the viewers. The performance for the rest of the camp would be out in the hot sun of the parade ground, where a stage had already been erected for the use of the Japanese camp commander for his annual (Pearl Harbor Day) reading of the Imperial Rescript. And for other occasional diatribes.  Programs were varied, but usually consisted of short skits, comedy acts, a unique whistling act, and musical numbers of various kinds. At the close of each program everyone would join in singing “God Bless America”.  This went on for several months; the content was no different than before; but at the performance out on the parade ground (where there were no Japanese present), and at the close of the performance with everyone singing “God Bless America”, Corporal Biggs and Chief Bo’sun Regan stepped to the front of the group as Chief Regan reached inside his denim jacket and began pulling out the American Flag, and – handing one end to Corporal Biggs – they held up the flag of the “41 Boat” for all to see, bullet holes and all! Never have I heard “God Bless America” sung with more gusto and feeling as those several hundred hard-bitten men stood out there in the hot sun, and belted it out at the top of their lungs. For there before them was the flag of our country, for which we had fought and sacrificed, and which we had not seen in over two years. In all that group of men, I doubt there was one dry eye as we viewed the symbol of the greatest country on earth. 

Although this event occurred almost sixty years ago, and half a world away, even to this day, when I see that flag or hear that song, I am overtaken with a special feeling of awe and gratefulness.


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