Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Leroy Joseph Manor, known for commanding the special operations raid on the Son Tay prison compound in Vietnam, died Thursday, just four days after his 100th birthday.
In his nearly 35-year military career, Manor distinguished himself through service in World War II, the Vietnam era and beyond.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appointed Manor as task force commander for a mission dubbed Operation Ivory Coast in 1970. The force was charged with the responsibility of rescuing an estimated 61 prisoners of war from torture and neglect at the hands of the North Vietnamese.
The mission ended when operators discovered during the raid that the Vietnamese had previously moved the POWs, but the Son Tay Raid has continued to be recognized and studied for its exemplary planning and execution.
Saturday marks 50 years since a special operations group raided the Son Tay prison compound in North Vietnam to rescue some 61 prisoners of war.
As the first joint military operation ever to be directly overseen by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, there was pressure on the team of 219 servicemembers to succeed, according to retired colonel John Gargus in his book, “The Son Tay Raid.”
Task force members trained for months at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where Manor headed up Air Force Special Operations Force, a group that would one day evolve into Air Force Special Operations Command.
“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.”
Gargus, a planner for the raid and lead navigator for the assault force, fondly recalls Manor’s leadership ability throughout the operation and encouragement after the raid failed to result in rescues.
That admiration is something those who were close to Manor share.
“General Manor was a leader of special operations, a quiet professional, and he led by example. I would follow him to hell and back,” said former Air Force captain Norm Bild.
Bild was only in high school at the time of the Son Tay Raid but read a newspaper article about the operation and became entranced.
Following a brief stint in the Marine Corps, Bild commissioned into the Air Force, where he sought out mentorship from Manor.
“The only regret I have in my life is that I did not get to serve under General Manor,” said Bild. “…But I’m so grateful I got to know him in a different way. He’s one of the strongest individuals I’ve ever seen.”
Despite not serving together, the two became close friends, regularly visiting together until Manor’s passing.
“He epitomized the quiet professional, which is the motto of Special Operations Command. In fact, he’s one of the reasons there is a Special Operations Command,” said Bild.
Born in Morrisonville, New York on Feb. 21, 1921, Manor commissioned into the Air Force as a P-47 pilot in 1943. Over the course of World War II, he flew 72 combat missions in Europe with the 358th Fighter Group, according to his Air Force biography.
One of Manor’s combat missions was providing air support for the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, Bild told Military Times.
While attempting to take out bridges to prevent the arrival of enemy armor, Manor’s plane was hit by enemy anti-aircraft weapons. His arm and leg were injured and his plane damaged, but Manor still managed to make the flight back to England to land.
“He was one heck of a pilot,” said Bild.
Manor also served as a test pilot and a NATO operations officer in his more than 34 years of service. After commanding the Son Tay Raid, he would go on to work in the office of the Joint Chiefs and as chief of staff for PACOM.
According to his Air Force biography, Manor logged more than 6,500 flying hours and received numerous awards including a Purple Heart, the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, a Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, and a Distinguished Service Medal for his planning of the Son Tay Raid.
For his excellence in special operations, the lieutenant general was also awarded the Bull Simons Award, inducted into the Commando Hall of Honor, and granted a commander’s award from Adm. William McRaven.
The lessons of Son Tay would later influence McRaven’s planning for the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.
Manor retired from the Air Force on Jun. 1, 1978.
Following his military service, he continued to be involved in the special operations community, serving as a military advisor for Operation Eagle Claw, the 1980 attempt to rescue Americans in the Iran hostage crisis.
The lieutenant general passed away at his home in Shalimar, Florida, Bild said. Manor had been on hospice care and struggling with his health for months leading up to this death.
He is survived by his daughter and two sons.
“He was an incredible person. They say good things come in small packages. Physically, he was small and very soft-spoken, but the brainpower and the leadership that he possessed were phenomenal,” said Bild.