Who Will Go: Into the Son Tay POW Camp
by Terry Buckler
Publisher: Palmetto Publishing
Date Published: November 6, 2020
A Review by Bob Seals
November 21, 2020 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Operation IVORY COAST, the joint special operations mission to liberate American prisoners of war (POWs) held at Son Tay, northwest of Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam. The rescue effort, launched from air bases in Thailand, was a “mission of mercy,” according to President Richard M. Nixon. The raid was also an attempt to illuminate the inhumane treatment and abuse of the POWs by their communist captors. The ad hoc Joint Contingency Task Group (JCTG) included six helicopters, handpicked U.S. Air Force airmen, and a ground assault element of fifty-six U.S. Army Special Forces (SF) soldiers, largely from the 6th and 7th SF Groups at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
One of the fifty-six SF soldiers on the mission was Sergeant (SGT) Terry L. Buckler, Company D, 7th SF Group. The recent book Who Will Go, Into the Son Tay POW Camp, is Buckler’s first-person account of his life, the historic raid, and the dramatic twenty-seven minutes on the ground decades ago. The youngest Son Tay Raider at age twenty, with only a year and half time in service, Buckler seemed an unlikely choice for such a mission. However, his commitment, persistence and soldierly skills caught the attention of Colonel Arthur D. “Bull” Simons. SGT Buckler was selected and served as the Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) for the commander of the Redwine Security Group, Captain Daniel D. Turner, Company A, 6th SF Group.
Buckler’s account is an important contribution to our IVORY COAST historical knowledge and is one written from the unique perspective of an enlisted SF soldier on the raid. As such, he helps dispel a few ‘myths’ that have surrounded the operation since the first book on the subject was published in 1975. For example, according to Buckler, the mockup POW compound used to train on at Eglin Air Force Base, Auxiliary Field # 3 by the raiders was not taken down each day after training was completed. A minor point perhaps, but factual military history is written with such minor points. The book is also an interesting account of Buckler’s life from his humble beginnings on a farm in Missouri, to his enlistment in 1969, completion of demanding SF training, life after the Army, and his nine life lessons. Additionally, the work includes an excellent selection of little seen photographs and forty other accounts from a wide variety of participants and support personnel involved in IVORY COAST.
Unfortunately, despite almost flawless execution, the raid was unsuccessful due to the previous relocation of the POWs. Nevertheless, the raid dramatically demonstrated America’s ability to operate deep in enemy territory, and resulted in better treatment for some POWs, as prisoners were consolidated from smaller camps. IVORY COAST remains a textbook example of a well-planned, rehearsed, and executed direct action special operations mission. Who Will Go, Into the Son Tay POW Camp, is highly recommended for those interested in SF and the historic 1970 raid into the POW camp at Son Tay.
About the author:
Bob Seals is a retired Army Special Forces officer currently working at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School on Fort Bragg. He lives on a small horse farm with his wife, a retired Army Veterinary Corps officer. He was fortunate to have served with several Son Tay Raiders during his career.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MilitaryHistoryOnline.com.