LtGen Leroy Manor Dies at 100 – The Son Tay Raid of 1970 Remembered

On February 25, 2021 LtGen Leroy Manor (ret) passed away at the age of 100 in Shalimar, Florida. His name perhaps wasn’t a household name, but his meticulous planning was well known, particularly with the Son Tay Raid in 1970. He logged hundreds of combat flying missions both in WWII and the Vietnam era. His 35 year career spanned WWII, Vietnam, and beyond. He retired in 1978 from the USAF.

He logged over 6,500 flight hours, which earned him a command pilot rating. But he was sincerely more than a combat pilot.

leroy manor

“Those SF guys revered him, which says a lot for an Air Force fighter pilot,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas Trask, who served as vice commander of SOCOM and met Manor at a Son Tay reunion and symposium. “He let them build and test the plan, and protected them along the way and ensured they had what they needed. Son Tay became a model for how we did business for decades after and was the impetus to build a real Air Force special operations command.”

Air Force Times

The Son Tay Raid

Son Tay was the name of a Vietnamese prison near Hanoi. In June, 1970 intelligence identified it as housing American prisoners of war. The Joint Chiefs assigned LtGen Manor to the task force, dubbed “Operation Ivory Coast,” which oversaw the plan to raid the prison to release the inmates. Manor’s meticulous planning for the assault on Son Tay kept the casualties to a minimum – only two injuries in the 26 minute operation. It was the only operation ever directly overseen by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so the pressure was on to succeed.

But the raid turned out to be a waste, at least initially, as the North Vietnamese had moved the prisoners. When the Americans landed at the Son Tay prison, no prisoners were there, just contingents of the enemy. But landing a group of Special Forces operators in the middle of a prison compound was delicate stuff- and they did it with no loss of American life.

Despite the successful execution of the raid, public response was negative. Some critics called the assault a “major escalation of the war,” while others insisted that the POWs had been endangered by such an attempt to rescue them. The truth was just the opposite. After the raid, prisoners at other locations were quickly transferred to Hoa Lo Prison in downtown Hanoi, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by the POWs. Their treatment eased; many received letters and parcels. For the first time in many months, most of them had cell mates to talk to. Morale soared. The men organized themselves into squadrons with assigned duties for each, helped each other with medical care, held church services, and conducted math and language classes.

Air Force Magazine

When those prisoners heard about the raid, they were thrilled to know that their country had not abandoned them.

We were absolutely elated when we learned of the raid. From our standpoint, it was the single most significant event in terms of POW life that happened in North Vietnam. It brought us together; it allowed us to be better organized; it reinforced the belief that the US would go to any length to see that we were returned. Disappointed that the raid did not work? Yes, but so very proud of the men and our country for the effort.

Former Air Force Association President R. E. Smith- Air Force Magazine

LTGen Manor earned many awards in his lengthy career, and the Son Tay raid was used for many years as a model of mission planning and execution.

The Distinguished Service Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters; Legion of Merit with one Oak Leaf Cluster; Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster; Air Medal with 25 Oak Leaf Clusters; Air Force Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster; Purple Heart; Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon; Republic of Vietnam Distinguished Service Order, 2d Class; Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal; Republic of Korea Order of Military Merit; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with palm; Republic of Philippines Legion of Honor; and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Leroy J. Manor was presented a medal of knight of the French Legion of Honor March 3, 2015 in St. Petersburg, Fla., for his determination and participation in the air offensive over Europe, including the Liberation of Normandy.

The citation on his Distinguished Serivce Medal for the planning of the Son Tay raid read,

Brigadier General Leroy J. Manor, United States Air Force, distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious service to the United States in a duty of great responsibility while serving as the Commander of a Joint Task Force on 21 November 1970. General Manor commanded the humanitarian force whose mission was to search for and rescue United States military personnel held as prisoners of war deep within the territory of North Vietnam. He conceived a brilliant tactical plan, carefully selected and helped train the volunteers with the necessary expertise to carry it out. Over a period of three months, he repeatedly simulated each phase of the operation, thereby insuring its faultless execution. General Manor’s brilliant talents of command and supervision resulted in a superbly trained joint task force. The mission was daring in concept, and bold in execution. General Manor directed the operation from his command post with the highest degree of professionalism. Despite great hazard, the operation was conducted without the loss of a single American life. The singular efforts and outstanding achievement of General Manor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Medal citation

LtGen Leroy Manor was more than an accomplished pilot with hundreds of combat missions to his credit, he was a strategist who knew how to keep his men alive. Rest in peace, Sir.


Featured photo: USAF photo of LtGen Leroy J Manor

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