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OBITUARY

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Leroy Manor, known for leadership in Son Tay raid, dies at 100

By JIM THOMPSON | The Destin Log, Fla. | Published: February 26, 2021

SHALIMAR, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Leroy Manor, whose distinguished military career included commanding the 1970 training of a task force to liberate American prisoners of war far inside enemy lines in Vietnam, died Thursday at the age of 100.

According to the Son Tay Raid Association, a nonprofit organization that commemorates the raid on the prison camp near Hanoi, Manor died peacefully in his home in Shalimar.

Funeral arrangements are pending, according to the association's Facebook page. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the current plan is for a private, family-only ceremony.

Manor's 36-year military career included 72 combat missions over Europe in World War II, including flying over Normandy during the D-Day invasion. Manor also flew 275 combat missions during the Vietnam War.

Manor died just four days after his 100th birthday. That birthday was a personal milestone that Manor had wanted to reach, according to neighbor Carolyn Ketchel, chairwoman of the Okaloosa County Commission.

"He wanted to live to be 100, and he did," said Ketchel. "He was so special to me ... ."

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Secord, who served with Manor, remembered him Friday as a special kind of officer. His unassuming conduct meant that "you would have to do a double-take" to recognize his rank, Secord said.

Manor was "just an ordinary guy. ... He certainly wasn't a boastful, way-out kind of guy," Secord continued.

"He was a really good officer," he added. "He was right down the middle."

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Gordon Fornell, who got to know Manor while they served on the board of the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base, remembered Manor on Friday as "a real stalwart in the special operations world" and "a true aviator" who had "a really amazing aviation career in the Air Force."

Sharing a personal recollection of Manor, Fornell recalled his devotion to recreational vehicle travel, even in his later years.

"He had an RV, and he would jump in that thing and go almost anywhere in the country," Fornell recalled. "He'd head out for Montana or somewhere."

Training for the raid on the Son Tay prison camp, dubbed Operation Ivory Coast and described as one of the most daring missions ever conducted by U.S. military forces, was held at Eglin Air Force Base, where 170 rehearsals were conducted before the raid. At the time, Manor was commander of the Air Force's Special Operations Force, then at Eglin, and personnel from nearby Hurlburt Field participated in the raid.

Manor and the operation's vice commander, Army Special Forces Col. Arthur D. "Bull" Simons, were given unimpeded authority in selecting personnel, aircraft and equipment for the mission from across all military forces. Ultimately, according to a U.S. Army history of the raid, it "included a U.S. Navy air diversion of fifty-nine aircraft, a USAF force of nineteen fixed-wing and six rotary-wing aircraft, and a fifty-six man Army SF (Special Forces) ground force."

Shortly after arriving at the Son Tay prison camp early Nov. 21, 1970, it became apparent that there were no prisoners there. After encountering small-arms fire and eliminating opposition, Simons ordered his forces to withdraw. It was later learned, in what was termed a failure of intelligence-gathering efforts, that prisoners had been moved from Son Tay a few months earlier.

Nonetheless, as word of the raid spread among American POWs, it boosted their morale. Also according to the Army history, the raid resulted in the closing of some prison camps and the consolidation of POWs, "resulting in better care."

And for the long term, according to the Army history, the raid "demonstrated that well-trained and rehearsed U.S. joint special operations forces could conduct missions even in heavily defended areas."

A few months after the raid, Manor was named deputy director for operations and special assistant for counterinsurgency and special activities for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C.

A command pilot who had 6,500 hours of military flight time at his retirement in 1978, Manor's military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters; Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster; Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster; Air Medal with 25 oak leaf clusters; and the Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster.

Oak leaf clusters attached to military decorations indicate multiple awards of those decorations.

Despite its lack of success, the Son Tay raid has been seen as a model for Special Forces operations, according to retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Clay McCutchan, whose career included civil service work as an Air Force historian.

Son Tay "is considered how to do a raid," McCutchan said. The history of the raid is taught even outside the U.S. military, including within the Israeli defense forces, he said.

McCutchan got to know Manor in connection with Manor's briefings on the raid to incoming Air Commandos.

"I really enjoyed his company," McCutchan said. "He was the classic Air Commando — the quiet professional. ... I never heard him, in all the talks, saying he was wonderful or anything. ... He really had a gift for working with people."

McCutchan also is awed by Manor's military service prior to his Special Forces services. In World War II Manor flew the propeller-driven P-47 Thunderbolt, and in Vietnam he was at the controls of the F-100 Super Sabre fighter jet.

"The guy had to be a terrific pilot," McCutchan said. "The airplanes he flew were hot rods."

In 1994, Manor was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Air Commando Association, a locally based nonprofit group whose mission is to "honor personnel of all ranks who made this nation great by their achievements in Special Operations."

In addition to his military aviation achievements, Manor has an honored and permanent place in local civilian aviation. In 2017 he signaled the opening of a new $6 million state- and federal-funded control tower at Destin Executive Airport by clearing the first flight directed from that tower for takeoff.

The control tower is named for Manor, who at the time called it "a great honor" and said the tower was "a big boost to the community."

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