The Son Tay Prison raid

| November 24, 2020

Son Tay Raiders

We missed the 50th anniversary of the Son Tay Raid. The date passed a few days ago now, which Jeff LPH 3 was kind enough to remind us of. He sent us this Military Times article that speaks with some of the men involved in the raid.

The Son Tay Raid was a daring special operations mission to rescue POWs from near Hanoi during the Vietnam War. Though the operation failed to rescue any prisoners, they had been moved just days before, it is considered the textbook example of planning and implementing a covert spec ops mission. It was the first large-scale joint operation under the direct control of the joint chiefs.

The linked article is a good read for those interested in military history. It would have been one of the greatest military operations in American history if the POWs hadn’t been moved before hand.

Category: Historical, POW, Vietnam

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5th/77th FA

Saw this the other night my own self Mason Thanks to Jeff for sending it and to you for posting. Remember hearing about it soon after on the news. IIRC the slant was “Another failure by our Military.”

One of the senior NCOs I served with in the FIRST MI (ARS) had done some of the Imagery Interpretation prior to the rescue attempt. They wanted to do one more flyover shooting pictures to insure the guys were still there due to a rumor that they may have been moved. Higher nixed the mission, fearing it may give away the rescue attempt.

WEB Griffin alluded to this rescue attempt in his Brotherhood of War Series “The Generals”. His version had a happier ending with POWs being rescued but Colonel MacMillan, ground Commander of the relief force, dying of a heart attack while using the still secret TOW Missile to take out a Soviet supplied tank coming to attack the rescuers.


I had never heard of the Son Tay Raid until I read WEB Griffin. I accidently learned a hell of a lot of military history from those books, but you do have to filter out the embellishments. A daring plan that was a victim of Murphy’s law. That little fucker wins sometimes.


Murphy almost always comes along for the ride. Alas.


” I accidentally learned a lot….but you do have to filter out the embellishments”

True. I would also recommend Mark Berent, who wrote a similar series about the air war in SEA.

Learning facts by reading fiction reminds me of Mary Poppins; “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work in all fields of learning.


Recommend The Raid by Benjamin Schemmer. In its indexes, and appendices it includes many thing including rosters with the names of all the Raiders, the Awards given, etc. An essential work for use in uncovering wannabes.

It also has an extensive bibliography if you want to read more about the Raid, planning, etc.

MI Ranger

Why does the LTC’s head look all fake in that photo? It seems different color, and all stretched out.
Are those CAR-15s that he and the guy in front have? I thought it was a fake photo because of the handguards, but maybe not I knew there were some carbines back then.

Yeah, I remember reading the “Brotherhood of War” series and thinking man a lot of those things sounded like real events, but not quite how they actually happened.


Look at the image in the Military Times article–it’s obviously photo-shopped–and pretty clumsily, too.


I can’t vouch for the head, but the body of the LTC in the above photo is likely LTC Joseph Cataldo, a former SF medic, he was also an Army Flight Surgeon, as he is wearing flight surgeon’s wings below his CMB. He was recruited by Col. Simons to act as chief medic and physician for the operation, per Skyjumper’s linked article below.


The LTC and several others in the photo are armed with the XM177E2, commonly known as the CAR-15. About 12,000 were in service in Vietnam. I carried the earlier version, an XM177E1, which had a slightly shorter barrel. All the MACV-SOG Command and Control strategic recon teams carried them, other than those who carried AK’s. I carried a folding stock East German AK-47 as my personal weapon. Interesting note, our 7.62×39 ammo was manufactured in the States with brass cases which had no head stamp.


There were a couple of LTC’c in command of the three ground elements in the operation. Team “Redwine” was commanded by LTC Eliot “Bud” Syndor, but that is not him in the above photo. The officer depicted is wearing army aviation wings. There were no army aviation units involved in the raid. All the aircraft involved were Air Force.


I saw the following photos on the Book of the Face. Some of these guys are still kicking.


Just over three years ago, I posted this story about a guy around 45 minutes from me that told everyone in earshot range, that he was a Navy SEAL involved with the Son Tay Prison raid. Here’s my post from then and the link to it.

If AW1Ed, Mason, ninja, Ex-PH2, etc. are interested, contact me either thru a post or my e-mail and I will send you the name and any other particulars concerning him. I hesitate to post his info only because my “google foo” skills suck today, and I can’t find the links to the articles about him.

“Skyjumper says:
August 24, 2017 at 12:16 pm
There was a poser eventually caught not far from my location here in the Cheesehead state.

Claimed he was a Navy SEAL and went on missions to rescue POW’s in Viet Of The Nam. He was just busted the early part of this year. He did serve in the Navy, but never as a SEAL.

He was a AmVets Post Commander AND made it all the way to Wisconsin AmVets State Provost Marshal before he was busted.

It was only when someone sent his fake info to Don Shipley that he was busted.

He was stripped of his Post Commander & state Provost Marshal offices, but he still is a member in the AMVETS, something about not being able to toss out a life member.

Yeah, some of these organizations do a piss poor job of vetting future members.”


Appendix II of Schemmer’s book has lots of names/ranks to include three contractor civilians and one DAF civilian in the Maintennace Support Group but no SEALS or WALRUSES.


To my knowledge, there were no SEALs on the Son Tay Raid. The trigger pullers were recruited from volunteers at Ft. Bragg. One of my NCO’s in 10th Group was in the initial auditorium meeting at Bragg. The call went out to SF personnel at Bragg that they were seeking volunteers for a classified mission. My NCO was not selected, but he said there were several hundred people that showed up. That group was carefully screened and 60 were ultimately selected. Very wisely, Col. Simons did not involve U.S. units in Vietnam, like MACV-SOG, because they were compromised. The NVA had notice of every one of its operations because the South Vietnamese military was notified of their operations, with such notice being promptly sent to Hanoi by Viet Cong spies which had infiltrated every level of the South Vietnamese government and military.

Mike B USAF Retired

Years later I would end up working Life Support on the MC-130E Combat Talon that was used for the raid. It’s now on display.

64-0523 (Used in the Son Tai Raid, Static Display Cannon AFB, NM, Air Park)

Would also be on the flight line playing taxi driver for a film crew doing a documentary on the raid. They filmed the aircraft with a crew members in it. They also had one of the actual pilots who flew the mission out there, talking about the mission. He had the mission worn flight suit with him.

The film crew asked if I would put the flightsuit on and play him. Said nope, I’ve got a meeting to be at. Reality is I just didn’t want to portray an officer, and the flight suit would have been uncomfortably snug on me.

There went my chance at a Hollywood career…..LOL!


As one that was on active duty during “Operation Eagle Claw” during the late 70s early 80s, it’s interesting to me to compare both ops and see ( when studied) Son Tay was as close to flawless as one could hope.


Here’s another story about the raid, from Air Force Magazine. Interesting read.


Tanks Sky! Good Linky. Have an extry helping of cheese grits with bacon and shrimps.