6:46 | When Bob Ratonyi heard that a good friend had fled the country after the Hungarian Uprising, he decided to do the same. He recruited another friend and they began to plan their escape. Their group of two expanded to seven and they naively set out for the Austrian border. Part 3 of 4.
Keywords : Bob Ratonyi Bob Reichmann Hungary Hungarian Uprising Austria human smuggling shakedown
Bob Ratonyi was growing up in a large Jewish family in Budapest. He had lots of aunts, uncles and cousins but he was born in 1938, which was not a good year for a European Jew to be born. Two events in that year shook the continent. He recorded all of these stories and more in his book, "From Darkness into Light: My Journey Through Nazism, Fascism, and Communism to Freedom."
Bob Ratonyi was four years old when his father was sent to a labor camp. He was taken after Hungary became a de facto ally of Germany and, since he was Jewish, he was among the earliest victims of the forced labor system. No one told the him his father wasn't coming home until a year or two later, and his uncle divulged the details of his fate decades later.
When his father was taken for forced labor by the Nazis, Bob Ratonyi's mother managed to support herself and the boy by working in a factory. The overwhelming poverty kindled a desire in the young Hungarian Jew to never be poor again.
His father was already in a concentration camp and when his mother was taken, Bob Ratonyi was cared for by his grandparents, who also took in other relatives. One uncle managed to get most of them Schutz-Passes which gave them some protection them from deportation.
It is difficult for Bob Ratonyi to talk about seeing his mother taken away at gunpoint when he was six. The Hungarian Holocaust had taken his father when he was four and now they were getting around to the women. He was very fortunate that a neighbor knew where his grandparents lived and took him there.
When Bob Ratonyi was a child in the Budapest Jewish ghetto, he had an older cousin who had a dangerous job. He went out without his yellow star to scavenge for something that could be traded for food. Decades later, that cousin would recollect some of those dire circumstances when Bob was writing his book.
As soon as Bob Ratonyi came into the care of his grandparents, they began a series of moves trying to stay ahead of the Hungarian fascists who were rounding up Jews. First they moved into the Jewish ghetto, then, after getting some coveted Schutz-Passes, they moved through several so-called protected houses. The final move was back into the ghetto because it was actually safer there.
How could a continent populated with Christians stand by as their Jewish neighbors were murdered? Hungarian Holocaust survivor Bob Ratonyi has given this a lot of thought. He survived the Nazis and their successors, the communists. He wrote of these experiences in his book, From Darkness into Light.
His family was not very religious, but they followed all the Jewish traditions and holy days. Bob Ratonyi had barely survived the Holocaust and then he was faced with more oppression of religion when Hungary became a Communist satellite of the USSR.
It was near anarchy in Budapest following the fall of the Nazis. Many were starving surrounded by rubble. Bob Ratonyi was overjoyed when his mother returned from a labor camp but then he watched as communists turned Hungary into a Stalinist dictatorship.
It was all propaganda, everything on the radio and in the newspapers. That was life in communist Hungary as Bob Ratonyi was coming of age. He urged his mother to take an offered post as the party representative at her factory so she could take advantage of it.
For Bob Ratonyi, living in communist Hungary meant only one inevitable outcome, moral decay. When you have to lie, cheat and steal, just to have a decent life, it begins to affect your soul. Still, there were true believers in the utopian fantasy.
It began as a simple student march in Budapest permitted by the communist government. Overnight, it became a bloody uprising. Bob Ratonyi was an eighteen year old freshman who was swept up in the moment. It began a course of events that would lead to a brutal crackdown and to his eventual escape to the West. Part 1 of 4.
The student led march to the parliament building had been exhilarating for Bob Ratonyi and he got up the next morning to go to his classes but there were no streetcars running. Then he saw two dead Russian soldiers in their vehicle. The peaceful march had turned into the bloody Hungarian Uprising. Part 2 of 4.
It was a shakedown. Bob Ratonyi saw that he had to go off the trail and around the soldier collecting the money. Along with six others, he was making an attempt to escape communist Hungary after the brutal putdown of the Hungarian Uprising. He stumbled through the dark and found a group of peasants, but they were part of the operation, too. Part 4 of 4
He was free. Bob Ratonyi had made it out of communist Hungary into Austria. His first stop was a refugee camp, which was overcrowded. He made it to Vienna with the help of a Catholic charity and, once there, he made straight for the American embassy. Unfortunately, the quota for refugees had been met. He had three choices, Australia, Sweden and Canada.
On the spur of the moment, Bob Ratonyi sent a transcript to MIT. He'd never heard of it but one of his professors said it was one of the best engineering schools in the world. As a Hungarian refugee in Canada, he was unaware of it's reputation and he surely could not afford it. When he was accepted, he faced a hard choice. (Caution: coarse language.)
The newly formed Joint Special Operations Command was beefing up the capabilities of all branches. One of the keys was the formation of SEAL Team 6. Over at the Air Force, Roland Guidry explains how they struggled to come up with the assets to succeed at their part of the plan. In the middle of all this, Grenada suddenly became a hot spot.
Operation Eagle Claw was the name of the attempt by US Special Forces to rescue the hostages from the embassy in Iran. The mission was aborted because of mechanical failures in helicopters and then turned tragic when eight men died in a fiery crash. Pilot George Ferkes was part of that team and he describes the events from his perspective.
After months of intense planning and training, Operation Eagle Claw commenced. Pilot Roland Guidry was on the first plane to arrive at Desert One, a remote rendezvous point in the Iranian desert. There, the mission would unravel, done in by mechanical malfunctions and worse.
Delta Force and the Rangers had arrived at Desert One but the helicopters were delayed by a dust storm. Only five of them were deemed flyable when they got there and the mission requirements were for six. The mission was scrubbed until the next day and mission planner Keith Nightingale describes the tragic circumstances of the departure from the Iranian desert.
In the aftermath of the debacle at Desert One, an effort to plan and execute another mission to rescue the hostages in Iran got under way. Air Force special ops pilot George Ferkes recalls that new tactics and equipment were developed that served as the blueprint for the revitalization of special operations units throughout the military.
Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
From the beginning, Tom Fleming wanted to be a fighter pilot. He settled for a tour as a forward air controller in Vietnam and, after that, his quest for fighters continued as he embarked on a lengthy Air Force career. That career took him to Turkey, Germany, many stateside bases and the Pentagon, but it was Hawaii that was most satisfactory.
As Operation Desert Shield gave way to Operation Desert Storm, the Pentagon needed someone like a fighter pilot to brief the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense on biological and chemical warfare in language they could understand. So, Tom Fleming became the "bugs and gas guy."
Keith Nightingale was heading up post-invasion operations in Grenada when he got a packet of good intelligence on the leaders of the coup there. This aided him in locating and capturing Hudson Austin, who had been behind the Communist takeover. Part 4 of 4.
On his first operation, Green Beret Changiz Lahidji went to Afghanistan to help the Mujahideen fight the Russian occupiers. The Iranian embassy takeover led to the second, a daring solo mission into Iran, where he surveilled the embassy. He had to make it out on his own after the aborted rescue attempt. (Caution: strong language.)
After a long stint with Joint Task Force Eagle Claw, Keith Nightingale left to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne. This unit was called to be part of Operation Urgent Fury, the liberation of Grenada from a Communist takeover. Part 1 of 3.
When he returned from Vietnam, George Ferkes is fairly sure he saw his old hooch burning on the television when Quang Tri fell. After a couple of years he leapt at the chance to join a special ops outfit, even though, at the time, there was little interest in those units.
Operation Eagle Claw was a pivotal moment in Special Operations history. Unconventional warfare had been ignored after the Vietnam War and three veterans of that conflict, who were also deeply involved with the attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran, reveal the inside story of the planning and tragic outcome. George Ferkes, Roland Guidry and Keith Nightingale each offer a unique perspective on the events.
No one could get Charles Beckwith to admit that Delta Force didn't have enough personnel to secure all the locations that would be needed for the rescue of the hostages in Iran. Keith Nightingale had to present three times the briefing that proved this. Finally, the Rangers were brought in to enhance the operation and training began in earnest. Part 3 of 4.
When Roland Guidry was given the command of the 8th Special Operations Squadron, he had to prove himself because he was not from a special ops background, per se. He did just fine. The missions he'd flown in Vietnam were perfect preparation. He says it takes a certain type of low key individual to excel at that type work.
In the aftermath of the Grenada invasion, peacekeeping forces from all around the Caribbean were assembled to help keep order. Keith Nightingale's battalion was spread all around the island involved in various missions and the locals in all these enclaves helped their liberators celebrate Thanksgiving. Part 3 of 4.
It's tough to be a Green Beret. Changiz has broken both legs and dislocated his shoulder, among other injuries. Even the extreme training is dangerous, like the high altitude parachute jumps for which he set a record. He spent time in Haiti and Grenada and was in Somalia when the Blackhawk Down incident occurred.
The plan was complicated, with a lot of moving parts, but there was high confidence that the team would be able to rescue the hostages in Iran. Pilot Roland Guidry describes how a combination of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters would deliver the Delta Force and the Rangers and then extract them along with the hostages. Part 3 of 4.
Keith Nightingale remembers that, during the buildup of the new Ranger Battalion, the team researched units from the past including British commandos and Vikings to extract any useful training techniques. Live fire exercises and road marches became very important. In December of 1974, the new Rangers were ready.
Early in the planning for the rescue attempt of the hostages in Iran, it was decided that carrier based helicopters would be the key aircraft. They would rendezvous with fixed wing aircraft carrying personnel and fuel in the remote Iranian desert. Pilot Roland Guidry explains why a preliminary clandestine mission was required before planning could continue. Part 2 of 4.
When the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized the American embassy, the joint chiefs began looking for the means to rescue the hostages. It was decided to build a team around Delta Force, the elite special ops unit led by Charles Beckwith. General James Vaught was selected as the overall commander of the operation and on his staff was Keith Nightingale, who was then immersed in the urgent planning process. Part 1 of 4.
The Pentagon set up a commission to investigate Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran. Roland Guidry was the first chief of air operations at the newly formed Joint Special Operations Command, the organization created to deal with unconventional warfare in the future.
The decimation of the Army was complete. The leadership had punted in Vietnam and there was no support among most of the public. Army Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams decided to rebuild the Army around a reborn Ranger Battalion, which would be built from the ground up as the finest light infantry in the world. Keith Nightingale found out about this and made sure he was in on it.
The seizure of the American embassy in Tehran caught the Pentagon flat footed with no existing special operations capability to do anything about it. An ad hoc task force was hastily assembled and Roland Guidry was part of that effort. He had just assumed command of an Air Force special ops squadron which immediately began training with the new Delta Force. Part 1 of 4.
The rebuild of the 75th Ranger Regiment was underway at Fort Benning. Keith Nightingale was the headquarters company commander among other odd jobs. They were developing a new training regimen that was to be the finest anywhere. One important task was the creation of a Ranger Creed.
The rescue attempt failed but it was the genesis of an all out effort to reorganize and improve the special operations capability of the military. Roland Guidry helped manage the air operations as the team began Project Honey Badger, which aimed to mount a second try at freeing the hostages in Iran.
It had been a long and tortuous process for Keith Nightingale and the rest of the joint task force but Operation Eagle Claw was ready. All the moving parts were primed and all that needed was for President Carter to give the word to go. Pt 4 of 4.