Operation Linebacker II: The 11 days that ended 11 years of war
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- The day was Dec. 18, 1972, a day where the flightline roared ferociously as B-52 Stratofortresses were generated for what is known as the largest bombing campaign in history. More than 700 sorties were conducted out of Guam.
During the 11 days, Operation Linebacker II intended to force the North Vietnamese Army into submission.
Dr. James Willbanks, director of the Department of Military History at U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, was an infantry captain during his time fighting in the Vietnam War. He had never seen a B-52 in his life until a faithful day in February.
"The entire terrain erupted for about three clicks and the air shook for what seemed like hours," Willbanks said. "This was my first introduction to the B-52 in Vietnam and it would not be my last time."
Willbanks would witness the full effects of the bomber in numerous battles against the North Vietnamese Army. In many hard-fought battles defeat seemed imminent, until air support changed the tide of battle.
"It was the B-52 that brought the most damage on the enemy," Willbanks said. "They were the difference between victory and defeat. When called upon, they never wavered. As someone who fought on the ground in 1972, I would be forever grateful."
When negotiations with North Vietnam fell through in late 1972, the B-52s were once again available.
"As we began for what would be Linebacker II, I can remember looking down the flightline and seeing B-52 tailfins as far as I could see," Willbanks said. "It was an awesome sight!"
At the peak Andersen AFB became the home to more than 15,000 Airmen, 153 B-52s and 27 support aircraft.
"Between Dec. 18 and Dec. 29, 1972, Andersen launched 729 sorties against 34 targets in North Vietnam," said Brig. Gen. Andrew Toth, 36th Wing commander. "In the wake of Operation Linebacker II, North Vietnam released 591 American prisoners of war and returned to the peace negotiation table. Strategic Air Commands mission to bring peace through strength was never more prevalent than during Operation Linebacker II.
"Fifteen aircraft and 33 Airmen did not return after the campaign," Toth continued. "Because of the men and women who served in Operation Linebacker II, the members from all military branches were returned home. Their sacrifice lives on in the Airmen who serve today and share the values of those 33 Airmen."
Guam served as an invaluable strategic location during the Vietnam War and the years that followed it.
"Our profession is keeping the peace and our instrument is preparedness," Toth said. "The activity on Andersen 43 years ago proves the extensive value of Guam and the strategic importance we identify in the Pacific."
As Team Andersen gathered to remember the 33 who sacrificed it all and supported the campaign 43 years ago, the spirit of the operation lives on in the current generation of B-52 aircrews supporting the continuous bomber presence.