12/72 is a documentary project that will tell the story of Linebacker II primarily through the voices of those who participated and survived the campaign. It will explain the importance to those participants of getting the US POWs released. We have talked to crew members about their participation in the war, their thoughts about their mission, and the tactics and mistakes during the campaign, with heavy emphasis on their personal experience.
We have recorded over 50 interviews to date, including 16 B-52 crew members (four of whom were shot down and became POWs), five POWs who were held in North Vietnam over 2,000 days, and support personnel including crew members and ground crew of support aircraft and rescue operations.
The Night of 18 December...
Left to right in the photo are:
- Captain Charles E. Bristol (Chuck), Radar Navigator
- Captain Harlold H. Hughes (Bud), Electronic Warfare Officer
- Captain William W. Beavers (Bill), Navigator
- Major Arthur C. Mizner (Craig), Aircraft Commander
- Captain Donald A. Craig (Don), Copilot
- Staff Sergeant Ronald R. Ragan (Ron), Gunner
This is crew CAR E-57 from Carswell AFB, Texas. They flew a B-52 D from Andersen AFB during Linebacker II.
The B-52 crews flew from Utapao, Thailand and Andersen AFB, Guam during Linebacker II.
"Nixon had to persuade the North Vietnamese to sign the agreement. And the only way he could see to do it was a massive escalation in force...The B-52...the North Vietnamese compared it to an earthquake... to the apocalypse. And as North Vietnamese soldiers who had been bombed by B-52s came back...they talked about the B-52 strikes... So everyone was very afraid of the B-52."
"I think it's very clear that General Meyer and his staff at Omaha were babes in the woods tactically about what the North Vietnamese defenses could and would do to us." Dr. John F. Guilmartin, Jr is a Professor of History at Ohio State University, Columbus. He is also a Vietnam War vereran, having flown over 120 combat missions. Guilmartin is the author of five published books:
Gunpowder and Galleys: Changing Technology and Mediterranean Warfare at Sea in the Sixteenth Century
America in Vietnam: The Fifteen Year War
A Very Short War: The Mayaguez and the Battle of Koh Tang
Galleons and Galleys - Gunpowder and the Changing Face of Warfare at Sea, 1300-1650
Helicopters: (The Illustrated History of the Vietnam War, Vol 11) with Michael O'Leary
"It's real easy to describe it as a telephone pole with a 15 foot stream of flame behind it... You don't actually see the missile until it's very, very, very, close and then you can see the outline, if there's any moon at all. And the biggest thing you see is the tail of the thing. And, of course, the next biggest thing you see is when it detonates... a nice big elliptical ring of fire that's shooting steel ball bearings out at you... Actually, it's real pretty if it doesn't kill you."
John Petelin was a B-52 D pilot flying from Guam. He flew with Standardization Crew SO-4 from March AFB, California. His crew flew three of the eleven nights of Linebacker II. John served as Chief of the Tactical Evaluation Branch of the 43rd SW.
"And I remember sitting in there looking around and thinking, you know, some of us probably have about three or four more hours to live. This is probably it for some of us. And I've never been in a situation in my life before... like that. Where you knew there was a pretty good possibility that at least some of the people in that room weren't coming back alive that night."
John H. Yuill was the pilot of Blue 01, a B-52 D shot down on night four of Linebacker II. Lt. Col. Yuill was shot down while he and his crew were flying their third mission in four days over Hanoi. He and the rest of his crew were captured and became POWs. They were the only crew shot down during Linebacker II to survive intact.
"And I went back and gathered my crew together and I told them to be prepared to go downtown and start making your final arrangements to do that. And I think we all called our wives that night. Of course, we couldn't tell them that we were going into Hanoi, but I think we all just called and said how things are going and how's the children and kind of small talk to make it possibly a last contact with them."\
Arthur Craig Mizner was the B-52 pilot of crew Carswell E-57 during Linebacker II. With over 9,200 hours in the B-52 alone, Maj. Mizner holds the record for flight time in a B-52. He retired with over 11,000 hours total flying time in military aircraft. Craig now works as an Aerospace Staff Engineer in support of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
"They told us...'We're going downtown; we're going to take the BUFF's (Big, Ugly, Fat Fellow - a nickname for the B-52) down with us...'Because the BUFFs were relatively vulnerable in that they had to keep on for the bomb run, they had to be on a reltively straight line as they would come into the target and drop the bombs for that finite period of time...It also made it really easy for a MIG to come up and tap them because they could see the contrails and they would just follow the contrail and at the end of the contrail, there's a big airplane..."
Nick Holoviak retired from the Air Force as a Colonel in 1998. During Linebacker II, Nick was a 1st Lt. and an F-4 Weapons Systems Officer stationed at Korat, Thailand.
"I basically...made my own peace and said, you know, I've had a great life. It's been good, yeah. I've got a wife... I'd justt been married in May of '72, so here we're into six months. But you know, I said, those poor devils have been up in Hanoi getting the crap beat out of them for six or seven years. I mean, if it's going to take me to let them have the rest of their life, that's the way it goes, you know?"
Nick Hinch was a B-52 G radar navigator flying from Guam during Linebacker II. Nick holds the distinction of being qualified and flying in every position on a B-52 crew with the exception of gunner. He is still flying today and is a Standards Captain for United Air Lines.
"For the Blytheville crews, the whole Linebacker II experience became very personal, because a total of 19 individual crew members were shot down. The war became very personal at that point."
Dick Rynearson was the pilot of a B-52 G flying from Guam during Linebacker II. He and his crew flew three of the eleven nights of the campaign. Rynearson now works for Raytheon as the Site Manager of the air-to-air missle flight test team.
"No B-52 had ever gone into Pac 6... And you cn just imagine what it was like on December 18...when all of a sudden all hell goes up around you... It was like the symphony of fireworks..."
"Nine o'clock at night...all of a sudden, just out of nowhere, the bombs started falling. No sirens, no lights going out, none of the normal stuff that would happen that you would expect in an air raid. And it was pretty clear they'd been surprised... And, you know, when that first raft of bombs fell everybody just started screaming... they knew we were free."
George E. "Bud" Day was awarded the Medal of Honor and is the most decorated officer since MacArthur. Col. Day was held captive as a POW for 2,027 days, and was in the "Hanoi Hilton" when Linebacker II was taking place. His bookDuty, Honor, Countryincorporates his first book Return With Honor.
"I was shot down on my 69th mission, June 20th, 1965. We went in and I said to my back seater, 'If a guy was going to get shot down this would be the place' I was the 12th American captured. He said as Linebacker II began..."We're either going to get out now... or we'll never get out."
Paul Kari was the first F-4 pilot shot down in the Vietnam War. He was a Prisoner of War for 2, 792 days.
"I was flying an A-4 from the USS Ticonderoga. I was on a road reconnaissance mission and I was shot down by anti-aircraft fire..."
"...At night you'd hear the fuards coming and they'd jerk somebody out of his cell and take them to what we call 'a quiz,' and they may not come back that night. You never knew when they were gonna come get you."
"Linebacker II was the crowning blow that got us out of Vietnam; I always will believe that. I don't think it would have happened if we would have gone on the way we were going. We could have been there for many years."
Render Crayton was a POW for 2,562 days. He was shot down on Feb 7th, 1966. He ejected from his aircraftafter it sustained severe damage. Crayton was released on February 12th, 1973 and retired from the United States Navy as a Captain.
"I was as confident as any 25 year old that I was not going to die... We were exactly on target, when the SAM from below kissed us on the cheek and we lost the plane and half the crew."
Robert G. Certain was the navigator of Charcoal 01, the first B-52 to be shot down dueing Linebacker II. He and two crew members were captured and became POWs... three other crew members were killed. After completing his degrees the Rev. Dr. Certain went on to become a Chaplain in the Air Force. He officiated the memorial services for President Gerald Ford and is currently ministering in Atlanta. He has authored a book about his life journey Unchained Eagleand collaborated with CK McCusker on a fictional account of Linebacker II Yankee Air Pirates
"We were looking for a downed pilot, and I was at the door of the helicopter looking out when suddenly something hit me in the chest..."
"The guards pushed us back into our cells, and I can remember hearing the B-52s and the sirens wailing. Then watching the SAMs going up, we could not believe how many they fired."
Arthur Cormier was a SMSgt PJ, or pararescue, when he was shot down on November 6th 1965. during a rescue attempt, the helicopter in which Cormier was riding was shot down 30 miles from Hanoi. He was in the "Hanoi Hilton" during Linebacker II, and was released on February 12th, 1973. Upon returning to the United States, while attending college, he was promoted to Chief Master Sergeant. In May, 1974, Cormier accepted a commission as a First Lieutenant in the Air Force. He retired from the Air Force as a Captain in 1984.
"You know the old term, YGBSM, You Got to Be Shittin' Me, I think it came from the fact that our job was to go in there and try to get their attention on us and have them shoot at us versus the strike force. Which was kind of an interesting mission, you know, why do you want to go in there and get people to shoot at you?"
Jim Pieczko was an F-105 G "Wild Weasel" pilot flying out of Korat, Thailand during Linebacker II. He is still flying today for Delta Airlines.
"Then we got hit with one. We were all injured... everybody on the crew... took shrapnel on that first SAM. I know the EW sitting right beside me was injured, I was injured and I could see over my shoulder the pilot and co-pilot... both acknowledged they were hit. [The pilot] recovered the aircraft and then we got hit with two SAM's and the co-pilot went down, the EW, navigator - the pilot said 'Fire on the left wing, bail out,' so I pulled the trigger."
James L. Lollar was the gunner on Tan 03, a B-52 G shot down on night three of Linebacker II. Sgt. Lollar was the sole survivor of his aircraft, was captured and became a POW. "It was all we could do to keep airplanes in the air. I mean, it was just a full-out effort for 11 days, absolutely... The guys in maintenance and putting gas in the planes - bomb loaders... I don't know when they slept, if at all. You know, I don't know how they did it. It's just amazing..."
Ed Wildeboor was a B-52 G co-pilot during Linebacker II, flying from Andersen AFB, Guam. He also flew C-123s in Vietnam. Ed had 66 combat missions in the B-52 and 580 combat hours in the C-123K. He now works as a Marketing Representative for the U.S. Treasury Department.
"The other kind of interesting point was the radar navigator got on and he said, 'The same offsets are in here that were in here from day one.' I guess that plane... had flown day one. He said 'It's the same offsets.' So he said, 'What that tells me is that we're coming in on the same routing, the same turn points, the same setup that the guys on day one had.' And he said, 'That's probably not good.'"
Terry M. Geloneck was the pilot of Quilt 03, shot down on night three of Linebacker II. He and three crew members were captured and became POWs; two other crew members were killed. Terry continues to fly as an airline pilot.
"Well, Linebacker II, the first 4 days were an absolute disaster for the whole force... and to go the same route, the same altitude, the same headings for four nights in a row is probably the worst planning that I think that's ever been done in the world of strategic bombing. I think the SAC planning staff had no idea of how to go against a high-threat area like the tactical people had, that had been doing it for seven years."
Charles R. Schaefer is the author of The Final Conflict - The End of Innocence . He retired from the USAF as a Lt. Col. with over 5,000 hours of flying time, about 2,500 of them in the B-52. He was a B-52 instructor pilot and became the B-52 Training Officer for the 15th Air Force. Dick also worked at SAC headquarters on the Joint Strategic, Targeting, and Planning Staff, and in the Pentagon in Strategic Force Planning, XOXFS, before his retirement.
"Not knowing that day three, it was going to be an ambush like they never expected. And of course after losing six on day three, plus a whole lot of airplanes that came back with battle damage, the loss rate took a pretty big spike. And they knew that, uh oh, if this keeps happening, we're not going to be able to sustain it."
Karl J. Eschmann is the author of Linebacker - The Untold Story of the Air Raids Over North Vietnam and a contributing author on the Time/Life series Air Combat. He served as an aircraft maintenance officer on the flight line, in staff positions, and was an F-4E maintenance officer during Linebacker II. He is currently Deputy Director for Command and Control Test Operations for the Technical and Engineering Acquisition Support Contract at the 605th Test Squadron. In his bigraphical sketch Karl writes:
"I knew some very good people who didn't make it out of Southeast Asia, people who would have become well known citizens if they had survived. I think of them often, and made my commitments to always do my best in their places, so that their sacrifices would have some meaning and purpose."
"The thing you're really asking, you know, is... knowing all of this and now you're about to launch the next night's missions, what did you do to try to assure that it won't happen again the next night. Well, it turned out that SAC had already decided that the next night was going to be the same damned way it was the first night. Same routing, and the same seperations. And that same horrible turn right after bomb release."
"So, you're jamming the radar that's tracking you, but there's four other missiles that are coming up that aren't being tracked... And so that was the biggest though, was, how many do they have? How many are they going to fire at you or me... And we got down and we're told the General wants to see me, and I said, oh, oh okay. What's the General want to see me for? He said, well, they're going to have a tactics meeting. And so all the heads of the departments , the radar and the ECM and pilot - there were four of us, I believe, that were there that had high time. They just wanted to get all our inputs because he was going to try to get some changes done because we've been taking... a lot of hits."
R.J. Smith was a B-52 D Electronic Warfare Officer flying out of Utapao, Thailand, during Linebacker II..He and his crew flew seven of the eleven nights of the campaign. RJ finished his career with a USAF - record 506 combat missions.
"Linebacker II... it wasn't the straw that broke the camel's back, it was the sledgehammer that hit the camel in the head where he should've been hit back in 1964... every prisoner believes that."
Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr. spent seven years and seven months as a prisoner of war. He suffered severe mistreatment, and was subjected to four years of solitary confinement. He is wel-known for two incidents as a POW: The first was blinking out with his eyes the message "T-O-R-T-U-R-E" in Morse Code during a television interview, confirming that POWs were being tortured. And as the senior POW with the first group of POWs released in 1973, he spoke for the group as the plane landed in the Philippines. Admiral Denton's Naval career spanned 34 years. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1980 and served until 1987. In 1983 he founded the National Forum Foundation, which has become the Admiral Jeremiah Denton Foundation . In collaboration with Ed Brandt, Admiral Denton chronicled his experience in the book When Hell was in Session.
Brigadier General Glenn R. Sullivan was the commander of the 17th Air Division (P) at Utapao, Thailand.
According to Marshall Michel in The Eleven Days of Christmas:
"If there was a single hero of the Linebacker II it was General Sullivan, a man who exhibited real moral courage - the willingness to express unpopular views and say what needs to be said. Many crewmembers probably owe him their lives, but General Sullivan, like Dowding and Park after the Battle of Britain, was not well treated."
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