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Echoes of Valor: The Lasting Impact of Linebacker II on BlythevilleLock Icon

2 min read

The closing of Eaker Air Force Base between Blytheville and Gosnell unquestionably took a huge and lasting economic toll on Mississippi County in 1992.

But the irrevocable human toll came nearly 20 years before, in December of 1972. That month, nine members of  97th Bombardment Wing died in Linebacker II, the most intensive B-52 campaign over Hanoi in all of the Vietnam War.

Linebacker II also led North Vietnamese negotiators back to truce talks in Paris, clearing the way for exchanges that freed American POWs within months.

Col. Robert Certain, a B-52 crew member and a POW after his bomber was shot down, recalled the losses.

“On 18 December 1972, we were one of the first ones shot down in the Linebacker II Christmas bombings,” he told Whispers. Ten of 200 B-52s were downed during the operation with 61 crewmen aboard. “We had 32 that were captured.” The other men were killed in action.

Three were Certain’s crewmates, “and we lost five off another B-52 crew from Blytheville,” Certain said. “Randy Craddock was that aircraft’s commander. Another casualty was Col. Keith Heggen, who was flying as an airborne commander in a jump seat, not an ejection seat. He was badly injured when he made a manual bailout, and then he died of his injuries within a day.”

The nine are memorialized outside Gosnell’s hospital under a sculpture of a miniature B-52. In addition to Capt. Craddock and Col. Heggen, the monument honors: Lt. Col. Donald L. Rissi, Maj. Bobby A. Kirby, Capt. George D. Lockhart, Capt. Ronald D. Perry, Capt. Robert J. Thomas, Capt. Charles E. Darr and Senior Master Sgt. Walter L. Ferguson.

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