2008 Reunion - Branson

 A copy of the Press Release for
The ARC-Light and Young Tiger Reunion
18-22 September in Branson

In mid-September, crews that flew the Air Forces “biggest and baddest airplanes” during the Vietnam Era will be in town.   Having flown  B-52 bombers under code name “ARC-Light” and KC-135 airborne tankers missions designated “Young Tiger,” the crewmembers will once again hook up at the Radisson for another reunion to remember.  Co-chairman, Brig Gen (ret) Paul Maye said “What better place to bring these air warriors together than Branson—we love the warm welcome, great hospitality and patriotic fervor that help us honor those who have served”.


The B-52s and KC-135s formed the backbone of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) nuclear deterrent force recognized as key to the Cold War victory over the world-wide threat of the Soviet Union.  Under the SAC motto “Peace Is our Profession,” these forces were continuously on nuclear alert during the 50s, 60s and 70s, proving that peace could be won from a position of strength.  But it was the deployment into a “Hot War” that brings this particular group together.


From 1965 through 1972, thousands of SAC crewmembers and skilled support personnel deployed to the Pacific Theater and provided a potent strike force for Southeast Asia operations.  The initial ARC-Light missions out of Andersen AFB, Guam were typically 30 bombers launching with 30 tankers for critical air-refueling enroute to Vietnam.  Penetrating into the war zone, wave after wave of B-52s hit known enemy positions with devastating blanket bombing runs.  As more flexible response times and tactics were developed, ground forces could essentially “dial up” sorties for specific target strikes by B-52 out of U-Tapao Air Base in Thailand as well as Andersen AFB.


After proving effective against specific supply routes and enemy concentrations, the SAC team was drawn into new roles, such as close air support of US and South Vietnam troops.  One outstanding example was helping the US Marines 26th Regiment at Khe Sahn, with a force of about 6,000 hold off an all-out assault of several North Vietnamese (NVA) divisions estimated between 20,000 and 30,000 troops.  During Operation NIAGARA, B-52 crews flew round-the-clock sorties bombing the camp perimeter, eventually striking  NVA positions within 290 yards of friendly troops.  After four months, the incessant pounding was credited by General Westmoreland with “breaking the back of the demoralized assault force.”  One NVA POW stated that a single B-52 strike had killed 75% of his 1,800 man regiment.


While supporting the B-52s, the Young Tiger tanker crews also provided critical refueling for fighter aircraft throughout the theater.  Tanker crew actions “saved” many fuel short and often battle-damaged tactical fighters and crews from meeting an untimely end. Never denying a call for help, there were many examples of historic saves such as the refueling of a flight of four F105s that were all running out of fuel.  Swiftly descending and moving from one to the other in sharp turns, they pumped precious fuel to each fighter aircraft just before they flamed out.  Saving valuable pilots and aircraft became routine for these dedicated KC-135 crews.


In 1972, hundreds of Arc-Light and Young Tiger crews were put to the ultimate test—finally flying North into the teeth of vicious defensive threats around strategic targets in the Hanoi and Haiphong area.  Faced with a flagging resolve at home and a Congress ready to cut of war funding, President Nixon was desperate to resolve the withdrawal of US troops and somehow obtain the release of over 500 American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam.


He decided that a “maximum effort” was needed to bring the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table in Paris.  The Hanoi envoy was using every stalling tactic in the book to gain more concessions, so the application of full strategic power was finally unleashed.  The operation labeled Linebacker II, but best remembered by crew members as the “Christmas Bombing”, began on December 18, 1972.  For 11 days 1,300 sorties, including 729 by B-52s, pounded North Vietnam strategic targets day and night.  With critical air-refueling by the Young Tiger Task Force, the massive power of the B-52s was the key element of the campaign.  British analyst Sir Robert Thompson in his book The Lessons of Vietnam stated:  In my view, on December 30. 1972, after eleven days of those B-52 attacks on the Hanoi area, you had won the war.  It was over!


The Christmas Bombing Campaign did indeed bring the North Vietnamese military to their knees—their leaders hiding out at night in the POW prisons to avoid the bombing.  Their diplomats scurried back to the negotiating table in Paris, quickly signing a Peace Accord that agreed to a total release of all American POWs.  Who can forget the wondrous homecoming of the POWs starting on Valentines Day of 1973.


Neither should we forget the brave crewmen, who flew through a deadly barrage of over 1,200 Surface-to-Air (SAM) missiles,  AAA, and against Russian built MIGs.  This victory was not without a heavy price as 15 B-52s were lost to enemy defenses with a total of 92 airmen aboard.  Twenty-six were rescued,  33 were taken prisoner, 4 died in a crash landing, 25 were reported as killed in action and 4 listed as missing in action.

General Maye told me, “We’ll leave it to the politicians and historians to argue over the results of this very political war.  But we will be in Branson to honor and pay tribute to our brave ARC-Light and Young Tiger Airman. Our 2008 reunion motto is “All Gave Some: Some Gave All.”

At our Opening Ceremony, we will recognize each individual who flew ARC-Light and Young Tiger missions.  In addition, we’ll pay special tribute to those that gave their all and those that came home only when they were released with all of their fellow POWs.  How great is it that one of the 591 brave warriors released is now able to run for President—Senator John McCain.”


“Looking back with pride on a job well done, we will also celebrate in the best of Branson style.  From a Thursday welcome by Reunion Sweetheart, Darl’in Dalena Ditto, to our Farewell Brunch on Monday, we’ll enjoy the many shows, Branson Landings and Old Town, a golf tournament, the Branson Belle, a Memorial Service, and a Sunday evening reception and banquet.  Most of all, we look forward to once again enjoying the warm hospitality and shared patriotism of our many friends in Branson.”