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ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — A ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the U.S. bombing campaign aimed at persuading North Vietnam to return to peace talks was held Friday at this Pacific base, where waves of B-52s were launched 33 years ago in Operation Linebacker II.

More than 150 of the huge bombers flew almost 730 missions out of Andersen against 34 targets in the Hanoi and Haiphong areas, according to Air Force officials.

Friday’s ceremony paid tribute to the 33 crewmembers who lost their lives aboard the 15 B-52s downed during the campaign.

The operation took place in mid to late December 1972. Its primary goal was to persuade the communist North Vietnamese government to re-enter stalled peace talks in Paris. The talks resumed Jan. 8; an accord that freed U.S. prisoners of war and brought about the U.S. withdrawal from the conflict was signed Jan. 27.

Network 56, an organization for staff and technical sergeants, sponsored Friday’s ceremony. About 200 active-duty Air Force personnel, veterans and community members attended.

As Capt. Kevin McGlone read the names of the bomber crew members lost in the campaign, each of 33 airmen standing in formation saluted in turn to represent the individual whose name was being read. Retired Col. Charles McManus and Col. Michael Boera, 36th Air Expeditionary Wing commander, laid a wreath at the Arc Light Memorial

Senior Airman Kristen Hand sang “Amazing Grace.” While “Taps” was played, the flag at the memorial was lowered to half-staff, where it will fly for 11 days to coincide with the length of Linebacker II.

Boera, the ceremony’s only speaker, called the bombing campaign “one of the truly decisive moments of the Vietnam War” and “the most massive buildup of air power in history.”

The 12,000 people involved, he said, filled all quarters available on Andersen with more “jammed” into a tent city, a tin city and occupying “every available hotel room” along Guam’s Tumon Bay tourist district.

Also attending the ceremony was retired Col. Anthony Merritt. During Linebacker II, he was director of intelligence for the 307th Bomb Wing and 17th Air Division in U-Tapao, Thailand, the other base from which B-52s took part in the operation. Navy pilots also flew sorties from carriers.

“It was a very difficult time … particularly when we started losing our planes,” he said.

Thirty-three years ago, as part of his duties with the 8th Air Force Combat Plans Division, McManus compiled the crew folders and conducted Linebacker mission briefings. Echoing sentiments of many veterans of the time, McManus said the operation was about seven years too late. “Once we turned it loose, the results were obvious,” he said.

North Vietnam came back to the peace table, POWs were sent home and the U.S. role in the war began to wind down.

“So Linebacker was the turning point in the war,” McManus said, “but for all practical purposes, the end of it.”

For Vietnamese, however, the war lasted two more years, ending with the North’s victory over the South when Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, fell in spring 1975.

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