Subscribe

Guam’s strategic utility and proximity to Far East hot spots again is being demonstrated now that lethal Air Force B-1B and B-52 bombers are nesting there.

“Guam has been an important operating location for the United States, especially the Air Force, over the years,” said Patrick Garrett, a defense analyst for Global Security.org. “It is really the only location of its kind in the Pacific, from which long-range bombers can strike nearly any target in Northeast, East and Southeast Asia.”

During the Vietnam War, hundreds of forward-deployed eight-engine B-52 Stratofortresses launched a series of celebrated heavy bombing campaigns from the island, according to Vietnam War archives at the Air Force history office at the Pentagon.

According to the archives: On June 18, 1965, 27 B-52 bombers with the 7th and 320th Bombardment Wings left Guam to pound Viet Cong jungle hideouts in South Vietnam during missions dubbed “Arc Light.”

Convinced the B-52 could play a significant role in defeating North Vietnam, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, then commander of U.S. forces in South Vietnam, called for additional bombing missions.

Deeper into 1965, more than 100 missions were launched from Guam, primarily saturation bombing runs of Viet Cong bases in the south of the country.

The bomber also was used in tactical support of the Marine Corps’ Operation Harvest Moon, and the First Cavalry Division’s Ia Drang Valley operations that year.

By year’s end, B-52 crews had flown more than 1,500 Arc Light sorties over South Vietnam. Raids on neighboring Laos followed in December 1965; more raids over North Vietnam resumed in April 1966.

Guam-based B-52s then launched Linebacker I and II operations over North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia beginning in 1972. Primary objective: to force North Vietnam to the Paris negotiating table. President Richard Nixon’s administration sought a cease-fire as a way out of the deepening Vietnam quagmire.

Between Dec. 18 and Dec. 29, more than 700 sorties from Guam delivered 150,000 tons of 500- and 750-pound bombs, destroying or damaging 1,600 structures, 500 rail targets, 10 airfields and 80 percent of North Vietnam’s electrical power-generating capacity.

But surface-to-air missiles brought down 15 B-52s; 35 airmen were killed, and 39 were taken prisoners of war.

By war’s end, B-52 crews had flown 126,615 sorties, dropping more than 2.5 million tons of bombs in North and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

And now, Garrett, indicated, America’s big bombers again may call Guam home: “That it’s in the middle of the ocean is pretty helpful as that provides excellent protection from terrorism and from any possible North Korean missile strikes.”

As tensions between the U.S. and North Korea continue to escalate, he said, the island “may find itself being the Diego Garcia of the Pacific.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up