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Why Vietnam POWs Refused This CIA Rescue Mission

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Why Vietnam POWs Refused This CIA Rescue Mission

Short | 03:49

In May 1972, the CIA launched Operation Thunderhead to rescue escaped American soldiers from a North Vietnamese prison. Here's why James Bond Stockdale and the other "Hanoi Hilton" POWs decided to shut it down.

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In 1973, 591 American POWs returned home from the Vietnam War, bringing with them harrowing tales of survival. But there was an even more remarkable -- and secret -- story to tell: a feat of incredible spycraft that remained classified for decades...until now. This is the unbelievable story of James Stockdale and his fellow prisoners at the notorious "Hanoi Hilton." Their clandestine communications with U.S. intelligence alerted the CIA and Pentagon to the horrors of the Vietnamese POW camps and prompted a daring, top-secret rescue mission.

Bios

  • James Bond Stockdale
  • Moki Martin
  • Michael Mullen
  • Spence Dry
  • Robert W. Wallace
  • Red McDaniel
  • Dr. James B. Stockdale II
  • Danny E. Glenn
  • Sybil Stockdale
  • James Bond Stockdale

    James Bond Stockdale

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    Vice-Admiral James Bond Stockdale was a Navy Commander who survived 2,621 days in captivity during the Vietnam War.

    In 1965, during a routine bombing mission over North Vietnam, Stockdale's plane was shot down, leading to his capture and imprisonment in the infamous Hoa Lo prison -- better known as the "Hanoi Hilton." It was the beginning of a grueling ordeal that would last until the end of the war.

    Despite brutal and relentless torture, Stockdale risked his life by relaying information back to his wife Sybil in the U.S. Together, they worked with the CIA to help build a covert communications system that remained a government secret until 2015. Over the remainder of his captivity, Stockdale was able to organize a large number of his fellow POWs, leveraging their skills and coordinating their efforts in order to transmit vital intelligence back to the U.S. government.

    In 1973, after the war ended, Stockdale was released and sent back to the U.S., where he was reunited with Sybil. He was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor and became one of the most highly decorated Navy officers in U.S. history. In 1992, he ran for the Vice Presidency of the United States, on the independent ticket with H. Ross Perot.

    Vice-Admiral Stockdale died peacefully in his home in 2005 and was buried at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery.

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