US servicemen held as Prisoners of War in the Vietnam War in North Vietnam were treated in an absolutely inhuman manner. The communist government maintained that they were illegal combatants, and as such, war criminals, and outside the protections of the Geneva Conventions. Sadly, many of our own citizens supported that view.
The US Air Force was well aware of the deplorable treatment of our POWs, and in 1970 proposed a raid on a small compound in the village of Son Tay to retrieve 61 POWs held there. Amazingly, the plan was allowed to proceed, and after months of training under the utmost security measures, on 21 November, Operation Kingpin launched.
56 Special Forces soldiers were landed at the compound, in an area that held an estimated 12,000 North Vietnamese soldiers within five miles.
Unfortunately, the North Vietnamese had recently moved the POWs held at Son Tay. It was a dry hole. On the plus side, the US only suffered two minor casualties.
And the raid had one salutorious effect that the planners probably didn’t anticipate. Fearful that other raids might snatch POWs from them (and don’t forget, the fate of our POWs was a major lever for the North Vietnamese in the ongoing peace talks), the North Vietnamese consolidated all the POWs at the infamous Hanoi Hilton.
Whereas previously the POWs were routinely held in solitary confinement, the large numbers in the Hoa Lo prison meant that wasn’t possible. The increased ability to communicate and care for one another vastly improved the morale of the POWs. The knowledge of the raid also sent a very strong signal to the POWs that the US would not abandon them.