Honoring our Vietnam Veterans

  • Published
  • By Col. Ricky Rodgers
  • 509th Bomb Wing vice commander
This week we have the honor to dedicate the B-52 static display aircraft at Whiteman's Arnold Gate to a fallen warrior, Captain Robert Morris and the crew of Ebony 02. The crew of Ebony 02 flew into the heart of North Vietnam during Operation Linebacker II and was shot down on December 26, 1972. 

Captain Robert Morris, a Missouri native, and Major Nutter Winbrow gave the ultimate sacrifice and the remaining crew members ejected from the aircraft and became Prisoners of War. As we relook at this event and honor these Airmen, we should all internalize what these great Americans did for our country. Their personal stories not only reveal the character of the warriors that fought in the air, but they also remind us of service before self, the value of airpower and the Wingman concept. 

As I read the story of Ebony 02, I am truly inspired by the character of these men and their service before self. These Airmen were warriors who risked their lives flying multiple missions over some of the most heavily protected air space in the entire Vietnam conflict. During this particular mission, Ebony 02 was tasked to fly over Hanoi, the capital city of North Vietnam. 

Imagine the lengths we would go through to protect our seat of democracy and this will give you a sense of the efforts taken by the North Vietnamese to defend Hanoi. In describing the sight of the enemy's Soviet-made SA-2 missiles launched at the bombers, some of the aviators described the air space over North Vietnam that day as being filled with "flying telephone poles." It was a dangerous mission that included heavy U.S. casualties, but this crew considered their duty to serve more important than the personal dangers. 

Unfortunately, Captain Morris and Major Wimbrow were casualties during this mission. Their sacrifices on that tragic day will not go quietly into history. We also cannot forget the valor of the crewmembers who survived that day, only to live every Airman's nightmare; captivity and imprisonment in a North Vietnamese POW camp. These people made a commitment to fight for our freedom and they carried out their mission with honor. 

I also believe we need to focus on the strategic mission Ebony 02 supported. Due to the Air Forces' successes in Operation Linebacker 1, the first U.S. offensive that began in the Spring of 1972, the North Vietnamese leadership made promises to begin peace talks as soon as the U.S. would stop the bombing. We halted our activity and the North Vietnamese took advantage. 

Eventually, our National Command Authority realized that their political maneuvering, diplomatic ploys and excuses were just a ruse to buy time to resupply North Vietnamese ground troops. In response, President Nixon directed a second round of high-altitude bombing missions targeting North Vietnam's industrial complex. Just a few weeks after the Linebacker II missions began, the North returned to the negotiation table. The Linebacker campaigns served as a shining moment in Air Force history, proving the strategic value of air power. 

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't highlight one last item, the Wingman concept. As the 509th Bomb Wing Historian, Dr. Margaret DePalma, began to unravel clues that would help her find Captain Morris' family, we were even more surprised to learn that we had found the entire crew of Ebony 02. 

As a testament to the loyalty of this crew, they looked out for one another over the past 37 years. They had remained in contact all those years, living out the Wingman concept that all Airmen practice today. This makes me honored and humbled to be part of this terrific Air Force. 

Today, we get to formally thank the widow of the commander of Ebony 02, the crew, and the families of these Airmen who made a difference in our nation's history. We have the opportunity to show our gratitude to these brave men and women who were blessed to return home many years ago. 

So, if you didn't have the opportunity to witness the ceremony that honored these brave men and their families, I hope that you will take time this day to give thanks to our veterans for the legacy they have given us. In particular, consider the legacy of Captain Robert Morris and the entire Ebony 02 crew whenever you pass our B-52 at the Arnold Gate.