Vietnam vet recalls 'sobering' moments after US army bombing missions in thick of night

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On January 15, 1973, US President Richard Nixon began one of many ceasefires with Vietnam. For 18 years, the terror of death for thousands of brave soldiers who battled in the devastating conditions of the Vietnam War was a tangible reality. Day after day of living in fear during the conflict defined a generation, and left an age questioning why war was even necessary.

And so many were pleased when Nixon called the ceasefire. Reports from the time show that at 10am in Washington, he ordered an end to all “bombing, shelling and mining of North Vietnam, after “progress was made in negotiations”.

The “unilateral decision” was made as a result of his “assessment of the negotiations as they stand right now”, according to a report in the Guardian at the time.

It sparked quiet hope that the dispute between the US and Vietnam could finally be ended, with Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield saying his “hopes have been raised that an agreement is in hand”, while Republican leader Hugh Scott added: “I am immensely relieved and thankful to God.”

With the end in sight — although still two years away — it didn’t finish the horror experienced by those who faced their Vietnam enemy in combat, and in the decades since the war officially ended in 1975, many have shared what they witnessed during those brutal 20 years of battle.

Among those who shared their accounts included the likes of Wayne Wallingford, an electronic warfare officer, who was among a group based in Thailand’s U Tapao, and flew on seven of the 11 B-52s’ raids over Hanoi.

In a CNN report last year, which detailed the golden anniversary of the ‘Christmas Bombings’, Mr Wallingford described the terrifying atmosphere of that day.

Many of the missions he undertook happened in the thick of night, meaning that crews would not know who had perished in action until breakfast the following morning.

He said: “You’d see the trailer next to yours with doors open on both ends and airmen loading (the occupant’s) personal belongings into a trunk to be shipped back to their families, so you knew that crew didn’t make it.

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“It was pretty sobering to see that.”

Another account of the chaos which engulfed the country was from Duong Van Mai Elliott, a Pulitzer Prize finalist who charted her and her family’s experience in, Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family.

She recounted how “buildings shook” and many “thought they were going to die” during those festive bombings, adding: “Those who survived told me when they went out to look, they found dead bodies lying around.

“To this day, they can still smell the rotting bodies.”

Witness reports from the time were published across the globe, including by journalist Jean Leclerc du Sablon, who wrote a dispatch for the New York Times.

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He outlined the drama after 287 people were killed in a single night in the Kham Thien area of Hanoi, a figure made up mainly of women, children and elderly residents. A report claimed around 2,000 buildings also succumbed to US bombing.

Mr Leclerc du Sablon wrote: “On Kham Thien some houses still stand, but many of these are without roofs or windows. Dozens of craters, some 12 yards in diameter and three yards deep, pockmark the area.

“On a pile of ruins, an old woman held her hands to her face and chanted hauntingly, in near religious tone: ‘Oh, my son, where are you now? May I find you to bury you. Americans, how savage you are.’”

Eventually, the war would finish, bringing with it the end of a bloody moment in US history which for those who endured it would stay with them forever.



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