21 November 2020 is the 50th anniversary of Operation Ivory Coast
You may have heard of Operation Ivory Coast, the 1970 mission to rescue POWs from a prison camp in North Vietnam. The great men that put together and executed the bold plan came to be known as the “Son Tay Raiders,” after the name of the camp. The team came together and trained diligently for the mission with one thing in mind- free American servicemen from the tortures of a brutal regime. It was all or nothing for those Raiders and each would have given their life for the success of Operation Ivory Coast.
As the Raiders moved in on Son Tay in the dark of night, fully trained for whatever might come their way, they were stunned to find the camp empty. The prisoners were moved. The mission was a failure and as you can imagine, those involved were heartbroken. On the long trip home and for the months that followed, the Raiders talked about the failed attempt and their fear that it would result in even harsher treatment for the POWs. The despair sat heavy in their hearts as they watched the escalation of the war and then subsequent aftermath. It wasn’t until Operation Homecoming and the repatriation of POWs three years later that they learned of the true impact of their heroic efforts.
After the raid – and as the story played out in the media- it was very clear how much the people of the USA cared for the well-being of our soldiers. Despite the growing opposition to the war in America, people wore bracelets with the names of POWs and families pushed congressmen to take action. The NVA and their government clearly understood that what they were doing to our POWs gained international interest and they moved them to much more appropriate facilities and treated them with more dignity. After Operation Homecoming we learned from many of the POWs that conditions improved for them which directly attributed to them surviving the war. This was due in large part to the efforts of those brave Raiders. Those who have thought to have failed.
My family and friends- I want you to know that being a Catholic in these times can be difficult. We often see our efforts to bring love, truth and eternal salvation to others as fruitless, and like the Son Tay Raiders, that can leave us in despair. In fact, I often think that my efforts may have caused a bitterness in someone’s heart towards what it means to be an image of God. Instead of lifting them up towards the face of God, they turn instead to a world of relativism. Much like a commander of a military operation, I need to know the effects of my actions quickly and fully. But knowing the fullness of our actions does not work that way. It takes time- and we may never know while living on this earth what the impact of our words and living in God’s word has done for others. And it doesn’t matter.
Why doesn’t it matter?
Because, as Bishop Fulton Sheen once said “One can never love in a hurry.” I must understand that- and I must move forward in humility that I may not know what fruits I bare, rather know that God does the heavy lifting, I just train and execute. As we call it in the Air Force after a mission “BDA” (bomb damage assessment). For Catholics, that BDA may be slow in coming – and may never come this side of heaven, but it should never stop us from training and executing.
A final note as most of us these days may see what is going on in the world as a defeat of our values and all we hold dear in Christ. Please repost this quote if you want, but at least carry it in your heart as the country swells in anger. From Bishop Fulton Sheen:
“What makes our moment in history arduous is our failure to see the relation between things, so bent have we been on their disruption and destruction. But God never really abandons the world, though the world abandons Him. He can take those very elements of nature which turned against Him, and make them instruments of redemption”
And I always believe He will.
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