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This article is about a film. For the real life events on which the film is based, see Rescue of Bat 21 Bravo.
Bat twenty one ver1.jpg
theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Markle
Produced by Michael Balson
Gary A. Neill />Jerry Reed
Screenplay by William C. Anderson
George Gordon
Based on Bat-21 (book) by
William C. Anderson
Starring Gene Hackman
Danny Glover
Jerry Reed
David Marshall Grant
Clayton Rohner
Erich Anderson
Joe Dorsey
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Mark Irwin
Edited by Stephen E. Rivkin
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • October 21, 1988 (1988-10-21)
Running time 105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $3,184,348[1]

Bat*21 is a 1988 film directed by Peter Markle, and adapted from the book by William Charles Anderson.[2] Set during the Vietnam War, the film is a dramatization based on the true, costly, and controversial rescue of a U.S. navigation officer from North Vietnam. The film stars Gene Hackman and Danny Glover.


During the last days of the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel Iceal E. "Gene" Hambleton, United States Air Force, is the sole survivor of the crew of an EB-66 electronic warfare aircraft, which is downed by a surface to air missile over enemy territory. The plane, callsign Bat Two-One, was doing electronic scans preparatory to a major bombing strike.

Hambleton (Gene Hackman) makes radio contact with Birddog (Danny Glover), the pilot of a Cessna Skymaster, flying a Forward Air Control mission near where the EB-66 was destroyed. Birddog (Captain Bartholomew Clark) becomes Hambleton's link to rescue.

Hambleton, an expert on electronic weapons systems, is known to the North Vietnamese, who begin an all-out search, attempting to capture him. Meanwhile, American forces begin an all-out attempt to rescue him.

Knowing that it is too dangerous for rescue aircraft to come to where he is, and knowing that the bombs will soon be falling where he is, Hambleton devises a plan to reach safer territory. He plots a course to the river which is the boundary of the target area, then communicates his intended path to Birddog in a code composed of various golf courses he knows well. This will allow the rescuers to keep track of his progress, making it easier for them to pick him up.

Comparison to actual events[edit]

Portions of the film were highly dramatized, including the climactic battle. Some characters were composites of real people, while others were created for the film. However, some other details were accurate, including the fact that Captain Larry Potts was of African American ancestry.[3][4]

The actual rescue took over eleven days, during which a major attack was delayed, resulting in numerous South Vietnamese soldiers being killed and wounded. Several attempts were made to recover Hambleton. Two helicopters were lost and members of its crews were killed or captured. A Forward Air Observer aircraft was shot down and USAF 1Lt Bruce Walker and USMC 1Lt Larry Potts parachuted to the ground safely, eluding capture. In an ensuing attack, six more Americans lost their lives attempting to rescue him. The North Vietnamese, alerted by the intense efforts to find the flyer, increased their efforts to find Hambleton. Walker was discovered and killed by the Vietnamese forces. Hambleton was finally rescued in a land operation by U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. j.g Thomas R. Norris and VNN Petty Officer Third Class Nguyen Van Kiet during a night-time, covert operation from more than 2 miles (3.2 km) behind enemy lines.


The film was filmed entirely on location in Sabah, Malaysia, with the assistance of the Malaysian government. Resources, locations and other assistance were supplied by the Malaysian Army and the Royal Malaysian Air Force, which also supplied aircraft and pilots, including Captain V. Thiagarajah, who flew both on and off camera.


  1. ^ "Money" on
  2. ^ Anderson, William C. BAT-21 Prentice-Hall, 1980. ISBN 0-13-069500-9
  3. ^ "Walker, Bruce Charles (FAC-POW/MIA), Capt". Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  4. ^ Cutler, Thomas J. "Lest We Forget: Larry Fletcher Potts; VF-126". Retrieved 31 October 2011. 

External links[edit]