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Andersen pays tribute to Linebacker II warriors

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Team Andersen paid tribute to the Airmen who took part in Operation Linebacker II, an 11-day bombing campaign in 1972 over heavily defended North Vietnam, during a remembrance ceremony at the Arc Light Memorial Tuesday.

Approximately 155 B-52 Stratofortress bombers from Andersen Air Force Base flew more than half the missions of Linebacker II, contributing to what some experts say was the deciding factor in bringing North Vietnam back to peace negotiations in 1973.

After the arrival of the official party, national anthem and invocation, Master Sgt. Steve Berens, 36th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent, gave the audience some insight in to the maintenance and support struggles on the ground during the immense operation.

"Guam's hotels became saturated. Hotel rooms that normally held one person now held six. Andersen's gymnasium no longer contained the sound of bouncing basketballs and weightlifting, but 300 snoring, bone-weary bodies on cots. Tent cities sprang up across the flightline, but even they could not deal with the massive in-flow of personnel. Many had to share a bed. In essence, one slept while the other worked. It was called shift sleeping.

"Another unique feature called 'Tin City' sprang up on Andersen. 'Tin City' was a seemingly endless row of pre-fabricated square metal buildings meant to house a maximum of 80 shift workers. By Dec. 19, each building housed not 80, but 200-plus men and, without air conditioning, experienced internal temperatures of 110 degrees during midday."

Col. Tom Gilbert, 36th Expeditionary Operations Group commander, provided a first-person narrative illustrating scenes of the sacrifice and bravery of the aircrews, flying in the dark over some of the most well-defended territory in the world.

"You hear the crew of Lilac 03, a D-model out of Andersen, approaching the Kihn No vehicle repair facility at 38,000 feet to drop its bombs. At 15 seconds to release, an SA-2 Guideline (surface-to-air missile) is fired from site VN-133. Lilac 03 is damaged by the SAM and unable to make the post-target turn. It drops out of the formation and continues to fly south from Hanoi.

"Eleven minutes after Lilac 03 is hit, your aircraft is struck by two SA-2 missiles - just prior to the navigator calling 'bombs away' over the rail yard. Pandemonium breaks out in the crew compartment, and in less than a minute the B-52 has nosed over and is headed to its final resting place - Kim Anh, Vien Phu province, Vietnam. Three of your six buddies from Blytheville, Ark., eject successfully only to be captured by the North Vietnamese and held in the Hanoi Hilton. You and two others don't make it."

The names of those Airmen who died during the operation were read as Brig. Gen. Douglas Owens, 36th Wing commander, and retired Lt. Col. Chuck McManis, deputy director of plans for Linebacker II at Andersen, laid a memorial wreath at the base of the flagpole. The roll call was punctuated by a B-52 flying overhead, and the flag was lowered to half-staff where it will remain for 11 days, marking the length of the original Linebacker II campaign.

The ceremony culminated with a 21-gun salute for the fallen and a lone bugler playing Taps ended the ceremony.