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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.


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

    Robert W. Wallace

    Read Full Bio

    Robert W. Wallace is the former director of the CIA's Office of Technical Services whose officers supported covert communications with Vice-Admiral James Bond Stockdale during his captivity in the "Hanoi Hilton."

    CIA/OTS led the CIA's communications with Stockdale, with the help of Stockdale's wife, Sybil. The Stockdale partnership would develop into one of the most important covert assets in the history of the Vietnam War, paving the way for the recently declassified Operation Thunderhead -- a mission set up to rescue U.S. POWs from North Vietnam.

    After completing his service in Vietnam in 1968, Wallace was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, two Bronze Stars with a "V" for valor, and three Air Medals, and was honorably discharged from the Army in 1970.

    In 1971, he joined the CIA, where his field assignments included two tours as an officer and three tours as Chief of Station. In the latter capacity, he directed clandestine operations and managed intelligence collection programs. From 1991, he held several senior positions at the CIA.

    Wallace eventually retired from the CIA in 2003 and went on to form a private consulting group that provided organizational, management, and business development services for government and commercial clients, as well as various other activities.

    In 2005, he was honored by his alma mater, Ottawa University (class of '66) with an Outstanding Achievement Award.

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