James Vaught, 86, led failed Iran hostage mission

James Vaught attended the Citadel before he was drafted into the Army.
James Vaught attended the Citadel before he was drafted into the Army.

NEW YORK — Lieutenant General James B. Vaught, commander of the Carter administration’s disastrous April 1980 mission aimed at freeing more than 50 American hostages held in Iran, died Sept. 20 in Conway, S.C. He was 86.

General Vaught’s body was found in a pond in Conway, near his home in Myrtle Beach. He drowned, evidently after falling out of his small boat, and an autopsy also revealed signs of cardiac disease .

General Vaught, a combat veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars and a graduate of the Army’s Ranger school, was chosen to oversee a risky and complex operation to rescue hostages taken by Islamic militants who overran the US Embassy in Tehran in November 1979.


General Vaught had overseen training for the mission.

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The mission, Operation Eagle Claw, was months in planning and had been approved by President Carter and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the raiders never got close to Tehran.

Mechanical and communications failures and an unforeseen sandstorm put three of the eight helicopters out of action, leaving one fewer than the minimum needed to fly the Army commandos from the desert to the Tehran area. That caused Carter to call off the operation.

General Vaught retired from the military in 1983.

The fragmented command structure exposed by that failed raid also led to the creation of an elite Navy unit focusing on counterterrorism.


Thirty-one years after the botched hostage-rescue mission, the men from that unit, SEAL Team 6, killed Osama bin Laden.