Operation Rolling Thunder

“We have met the enemy and they are us.” Cartoonist Walt Kelly’s twist on Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous line is a fitting sentiment for the little known operation codenamed “Rolling Thunder.”

In March of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson’s campaign to bomb North Vietnam began. The fear of a wider war made LBJ extremely cautious. Rather than begin “Rolling Thunder” with a series of massive air strikes aimed at destroying our enemy’s will to fight, LBJ opted for “gradual escalation.” Never in our history had a president been so involved in the details of target selection and tactics.

Our pilots were forced to watch enemy surface to air missile sites being built, unable to attack them until the enemy fired first. Communist MiG fighter jets could be attacked only after they took off. As a result, Ho Chi Minh’s airfields were protected for years by an order from a President of the United States.

Johnson’s cautious approach allowed North Vietnam time to prepare defenses and study our tactics. Parts of North Vietnam became the most heavily defended air space in the history of warfare. MiGs, surface to air missiles and thousands of anti-aircraft guns opposed our pilots. It was a painful situation for the men of the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps tasked with flying the missions. But they dutifully carried out their oath to “defend the Constitution against all enemies.”

In this compelling episode of “War Stories with Oliver North,” you will meet pilots George “Bud” Day and Paul Galanti. Shot down over enemy territory, they spent a combined 12 years in brutal captivity. You’ll learn how the skies over Vietnam became a proving ground for new weapons and tactics. You will hear the remarkable story of “Pardo’s Push” — one of aviation’s most dramatic and dangerous rescues. We will also bring you Air Force legend Robin Olds, who led “Operation Bolo” in January of 1967. It was a classic Trojan horse, and it severely stung our enemy.