FARGO Randy Wimmer, of Fargo, was checked out as an Air Force B-52 navigator only a few months before participating in Operation Linebacker II in December 1972 40 years ago.
The campaign was the largest B-52 campaign of all time the largest heavy bomber strikes launched by the Air Force since the end of World War II.
The North Vietnamese would not surrender and President Nixon was disappointed, said Wimmer, who, at the time of Linebacker, was on active duty in the Air Force.
Wimmer retired from the North Dakota Air National Guard in 1997 after 21 years of service and with the rank of colonel. He also was active duty in the Air Force for five years from 1970 to 1975.
In October 1972, the Vietnamese withdrew from the negotiating table, Wimmer said. "President Nixon wanted the war over."
Then in December, he said, Nixon stepped up the U.S. effort with Linebacker II, focusing on Hanoi and Haiphong Harbor. For 11 days, the U.S. forces bombed the "heart" of North Vietnam. "We lost 15 B-52s," Wimmer said.
Besides the B-52, other planes participating in Operation Linebacker II included F-111s, Navy tactical aircraft, A-7s, F-4s, EB-66, Navy EA-6s and KC-135s for inflight
This is the 40-year anniversary of the historic operation that occurred Dec. 18-29.
On Dec. 8, a Linebacker II commemoration event was held at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., headquarters for Air Force Global Strike Command.
Reminiscing on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day, about those days of the historic airpower operation, Wimmer said, "We were trying to bring the war to an end and, of course, as well bring home our POWs."
"We had specific targets in the Hanoi area. Prior to Linebacker, we didn't fly near Hanoi. We felt like we were only doing half the job because we didn't have the type of military targets to end the war," Wimmer said.
Linebacker involved many supporting aircraft Air Force and Navy, Wimmer said.
The operation is considered one of the most successful campaigns in the history of airpower.
"Yes, it certainly was because it did accomplish that in just 11 days," Wimmer said.
Wimmer, whose U.S. home base was Ellsworth AFB at Rapid City, S.D., had been in Vietnam since April. He said they flew every day or every third day, depending on the week.
"We were spending a lot of time in the war but not accomplishing any goals. This (Linebacker II) was remarkable and accomplished what we were there for," he said.
Andersen AFB in Guam was the site of the massive air power build up.
"We flew out of there. It was about a six-hour mission going over, about 45 minutes to an hour bombing run and six to seven hours coming home," Wimmer said.
During the entire Linebacker operation, 15 B-52s were lost, Wimmer said.
Several months earlier on April 15, 1972, Wimmer was on a B-52 bomber out of Ellsworth AFB, flying to Vietnam. He had passed his checkride as a B-52 navigator on April 1.
Wimmer said the next nine months would be historic to him and his crew because they were now participants in a war that would end.
Within the next months after Wimmer arrived in Vietnam, he said, tons of bombs were dropped on the enemy. On July 8, a crew from Ellsworth bailed out of a trouble-ridden B-52 into the Pacific during a typhoon. Five of the six crewmembers survived and were rescued by a submarine.
He said a few weeks earlier, a navigator classmate was shot down and became a prisoner of war.
Throughout the 11-day Linebacker operation, Andersen-based B-52s flew 379 of the 729 sorties, according to Air Force information.
The operation was a success, however, 33 B-52 crewmembers were killed or missing in action by the time Linebacker concluded, Air Force information reported.
After Linebacker, Wimmer said another Ellsworth crew went down the night of Dec. 27 a surface-to-air missile claimed its target.
Then on Dec. 29, he said, the bombing stopped and the war was over. The Paris Peace Accords were signed Jan. 27, 1973, and on Feb. 12, Operation Homecoming delivered 591 POWs to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
During the Vietnam War, Wimmer was deployed for three tours. "They sent us over for 179 days at a time," he said.
His first tour was from April to August 1972; then September 1972 to February 1973; and back again in March 1973 and staying to July 1973. "The war was over but they kept us there on alert," he said.
"Our crew flew 92 combat missions which were 12 to 13 hours in duration (about 1,150 hours). Of the 92, three were flown over the North (Hanoi and Haiphong Harbor) during the Linebacker II Operation," he said.
Wimmer flew the G model of the B-52 at Andersen and Ellsworth.
"After Linebacker II, we felt a sense of accomplishment," Wimmer said. "I had known veterans since 1966 on the NDSU campus. So many veterans went to Vietnam, served their country as they were asked to do, and came home with an empty feeling. We went from April to December of 1972. We flew the missions we were asked to fly, and we witnessed the END. The Paris Peace Accords were signed and the POWs came home."
After the Air Force, Wimmer was in the North Dakota Air National Guard, retiring in Fargo in December 1997, with the rank of colonel. With the Air National Guard, he was the weapons systems operator for the F-4 fighter.
A native of Fargo, Wimmer and his brother, Brad, are co-owners of Wimmers Diamonds. They have two retail jewelry stores in Fargo, one downtown and one at West Acres. Their grandfather started the business in 1919.