4 Seests in Paradise
Our 3rd P.O.W./M.I.A.
Unit: 22nd Bomber Wing, Utapao Airfield, Thailand
Rank/Branch: O3/USAF, co-pilot
Date of Birth: 22 December 1942
Home City of Record: Natchez MS
Date of Loss: 22 December 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 212500N 1062500E (WJ866264)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 2 -- Suspect knowledge
A. Involved in the same incidents as individuals in Category 1.
B. Lost in areas or under conditions that they may
reasonably be expected to be known by the enemy.
C. Connected with an incident that was discussed
but not identified by name in the enemy news media, or
D. Probably identified through analysis of
Other Personnel In Incident: Joseph B. Copack;
Gerald W. Alley (remains returned);
Peter Camerota, Peter Giroux, Louis E. LeBlanc (all three returned POWs in 1973)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998.
SYNOPSIS: Frustrated by problems in negotiating a peace settlement, and pressured by a Congress and public wanting an immediate end to American involvement in Vietnam, President Nixon ordered the most concentrated air offensive of the war - known as Linebacker II - in December 1972. During the offensive, sometimes called the "Christmas bombings," 40,000 tons of bombs were dropped, primarily over the area between Hanoi and Haiphong. White House Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler said that the bombing would end only when all U.S. POWs were released and an internationally recognized cease-fire was in force.
In early December 1972, several men stationed at Utapao, Thailand sent Christmas presents home and readied themselves for a few final runs they would have to make before Christmas. They were looking forward to returning to Thailand in time to see Bob Hope on December 22. They never saw Bob Hope, and none of them returned for Christmas.
On December 22, a B52D crew consisting of Capt. Thomas W. Bennett, co-pilot;
LtCol. Gerald W. Alley;
Capt. Peter P. Camerota, bombardier;
1Lt. Joseph B. Copack, Jr., navigator;
Capt. Peter J. Giroux, pilot;
and MSgt. Louis E. LeBlanc, tailgunner;
departed Utapao on a bombing mission over Hanoi.
When the B52D was about 50 miles northwest of Hanoi, it was hit by Surface to Air Missiles (SAM). Bennett called the mayday and manually ejected the pilot, who had blacked out and then bailed out himself. The tailgunner later reported that he observed in the bright moonlight that the entire crew of six had deployed parachutes. Three of them, Camerota, Giroux and LeBlanc were released from prisoner of war camps in Hanoi a few months later in the general prisoner release of 1973. The U.S. was not expecting them. They had not known that the three were being held prisoner. Alley, Copack and Bennett were not released and remained Missing in Action.
During the month of December, 62 crewmembers of B52 aircraft were shot down and captured or went missing. Of these 62, 33 men were released in 1973. The remains of about a dozen more have been returned over the years, and the rest are still missing. At least 10 of those missing survived to eject safely. Where are they?
As reports mounted following the war convinced many authorities that hundreds of Americans were still held captive in Southeast Asia, many families wonder if their men were among those said to be still alive in captivity, and are frustrated at inadequate efforts by the U.S. Government to get information on their men.
On June 23, 1989, the U.S. announced that the Vietnamese had "discovered" the remains of Gerald W. Alley and Joseph B. Copack and had sent them home at last. For 17 years, Alley and Copack - alive or dead - were prisoners in enemy hands. Their families at last know for certain that their sons are dead. What they may never know, however, is how - and when - they died, and if they knew that their country had abandoned them.
Gerald W. Alley was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Thomas W. Bennett was promoted to the rank of Major and Joseph B. Copack was promoted to the rank of Captain during the period they were maintained missing.
January 4, 1993
Dear Heart of Illinois POW/MIA Association,
I am sending you this copy of an article about my brother, Major Thomas Waring "Buddy" Bennett, Jr. and myself which appeared in the St. Louis Post- Dispatch on December 21, 1992. The article was written because the 22nd of December 1992 marked the 20th anniversary of Buddy's shoot down/missing date and his 50th birthday. Moreover I wanted to put a face and personal story to another mans name, another cross on the WALL, another one of the 2,263 still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. To make this issue more personal to the American people so they will help to bring our missing men home.
I would appreciate it if you would reprint the article in your newsletter or magazine. I have obtained permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as long as you print under the article "reprinted with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch". If you do choose to have the article appear in your periodical, would you please send me a copy?
Thank you so very much for working for and caring about our POWs and MIAs.
[signed]Mrs. Bowen Bennett Johnson
P.S. I want to extend this special "Thank you" to your association. I find your newsletters to be a wealth of information and support. If the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs doesn't get an extended mandate I will be almost completely dependent on your newsletter to stay abreast of everything happening. So once again let me thank all the fine people of your organization for all their help and devotion. If I could ever be of service to you, please just ask.
A. Bowen Johnson
715 Gingerwood Ct.
Ballwin, MO 63021
Monday, Dec. 21, 1992
Christmas Calling For Brother's Keeper
Twenty Christmases ago, Bowen Bennett was a high school sophomore in Natchez, Miss. One night just before the holiday, she heard her parents talking at the door. She crept down the stairs and saw two men in Air Force uniforms.
The men bore bad tidings. Her big brother, Air Force Capt. Thomas Waring "Buddy" Bennett, Jr., was missing in action, shot down near Hanoi. A missile had hit his B-52 in the early morning darkness of Dec. 22, 1972--his 30th birthday.
Now, that high school sophomore is Bowen Johnson of Ballwin -- 35, a wife, a dental hygienist. But the passage of two decades hasn't made Christmas any easier. Next to the Christmas wreath on her door in Ballwin rests a stained-glass POW/MIA plaque. Beneath its silhouette of a POW's bowed head are the words "You are not forgotten."
Be assured that Buddy Bennett is not forgotten, at least not in one sub-division tract house in Ballwin.
His sister wears a POW/MIA sweatshirt. She wears three POW/MIA bracelets; sharing her right wrist with the bracelets is a symbolic loop of barbed wire, made from plastic.
The gospels for the Advent season speak of a voice crying in the wilderness, and that's how Johnson hears herself and a few thousand other American families. In their case, the wilderness bristles with forgetfulness, apathy and bureaucratic maneuvering.
Johnson entered that wilderness on Oct. 9, 1980, when the Air Force changed her brother's status. Instead, he was KIA/BNR - killed in action, body not recovered. That infuriated Johnson. It still does.
"They have no proof whatsoever," she says. Over a kitchen table teeming with documents, letters, and maps, she makes a case that her brother ejected alive from the burning B-52.
The bomber carried six crewmen. Three came home from POW camps in 1973. Fifteen years later, Vietnam returned the remains of two more. That leaves her brother unaccounted for, just like 2,263 other American servicemen.
Washington eventually classified almost all of them as killed in action, just like Buddy Bennett. Johnson isn't buying it. She's not sure her brother is alive. But until she gets hard evidence to the contrary, she's holding out hope. Meanwhile, she's angry at the Vietnamese, and she's REALLY angry at her own government.
Bowen Johnson is not a woman you want to have angry at you.
She writes letters, she makes phone calls, she buttonholes people. She's determined to make sure that her brother Buddy is remembered ? and that in some future war, other American families aren't left with a hole in their hearts at Christmas.
At the very least, she wants to keep alive the Senate Select Committee on POW/ MIA Affairs, now due to go out of business shortly after Christmas. "We need every voice we can get," she says. "The government won't listen to you if you're just a whisper."
Johnson doesn't whisper. She speaks in exclamation points and at length. "It can consume a family member," she says, and it would be easy to write her off as consumed, even obsessed. Until her voice breaks, just once, as she talks about what a gentle bear of a man her brother Buddy was.
"At Christmas, I feel good and bad," she says. "Good that it's Christ's birthday. But the Christmas season has been tainted. It's not the same as it was before." This one, at her brother's 50th birthday, will be especially tough.
Even so, Merry Christmas, Bowen Johnson.
And hang in there.
[Distributed through The P.O.W. Network]
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