|Name:||Louis Edward LeBlanc, Jr.|
|Rank/Branch:||Master Sergeant/US Air Force|
Bomber Wing, March AFB, CA;
TDY to 307th Strategic Wing,
Utapao Airfield, Thailand
|Date of Birth:||15 Oct 1939|
|Home of Record:||Providence RI.|
|Date of Loss:||22 December 1972|
|Country of Loss:||North Vietnam|
|Loss Coordinates:||212500N 1062500E (WJ866264)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Returned Prisoner of War|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||Gerald W. Alley and Joseph B. Copack (remains returned); Thomas W. Bennett, Jr. (missing); Peter J. Giroux and Peter P. Camerota (returned POWs in 1973)|
SYNOPSIS: From the American viewpoint, the Vietnam War lasted 16 years; but there were those who argued that all the issues were settled during the 'Eleven-day War' - period between 18 and 29 December 1972 when Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses pounded North Vietnam and forced an agreement to end the war. The venerable BUFF - an acronym for Big Ugly Fat Fellow - conducted most of the war's heavy bombing throughout Southeast Asia and at great altitude, could string a corridor of bombs across a target. Communist prisoners frequently complained that they rarely knew an attack was in progress until the bombs began exploding around them. The first B-52s began flying tactical air strikes against Viet Cong strongholds in South Vietnam on 18 June 1965, carried up to 108 bombs depending on the model.
It was well known by later 1972 that the war was drawing to a close, and that the North Vietnamese were offering huge bonuses to anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) gunners who could shoot down American aircraft and capture the aircrews alive. At this stage in the war our enemy knew the more men they could capture, the better their chances were at the negotiating table to secure peace on their terms. Everyone knew the prisoners were worth much more alive than dead to both sides. In December 1972 frustrated by problems in negotiating a peace settlement, and pressured by both Congress and the nation wanting a conclusion to the war, President Nixon ordered the most concentrated air offensive, known as Linebacker II. During the offensive, referred to as the "Christmas bombings," some 40,000 tons of bombs were dropped on North Vietnam.
On 22 December 1972, Capt. Peter J. Giroux, pilot, Capt. Thomas W. Bennett, co-pilot, Lt. Col. Gerald W. Alley, navigator, Capt. Peter P. Camerota, bombardier, 1st Lt. Joseph B. Copack, Jr., navigator, and MSgt. Louis E. LeBlanc, tail gunner, comprised the crew of a B52D, call sign "Scarlet 03," that departed Utapao Airbase, Thailand on an arc light night strike mission over Hanoi.
When the B52D was approximately 50 miles northwest of Hanoi and 2 minutes from its bomb release point, the Stratofortress was hit by a Surface to Air Missile (SAM). Capt. Giroux reported they had been hit and he had numerous fire warning lights. Capt. Bennett sent the mayday call shortly after they completed the bomb run. At 0345 hours, approximately 3 minutes after bombs away and roughly 45 miles after target, the aircraft's condition rapidly deteriorated and Capt. Giroux determined it would not remain in the air much longer. His interphone was inoperative so he turned on the abandon light thereby issuing the bail out order to his crew. Likewise, he immediately heard ejection seats fire.
In the darkness, none of the other aircraft crews saw the Scarlet 03 aircrew bail out of their damaged Stratofortress. However, shortly thereafter other aircraft monitored several emergency beeper signals emanating from the location of the down crew. Over the next 4 days other aircraft overflying the area heard calls on guard frequency, and later were able to establish voice contact with Peter Camerota. Because of the location of loss, no search and rescue (SAR) operation was possible. And at this same time all 6 crewmen were listed Missing in Action. Later when it was determined that Peter Giroux, Peter Camerota and Louis LeBlanc had in fact been captured by communist forces, their status was upgraded to Prisoner of War. All 3 men returned to US control during Operation Homecoming in 1973.
Peter Giroux's reported in his debriefing after Operation Homecoming that his oxygen system was damaged by shrapnel and he was rendered unconscious when the aircraft decompressed. After the B-52D descended substantially, Capt. Giroux regained consciousness long enough to realize he was hanging upside down in his seat harness, then reached down to pull his emergency ejection seat handle. He next awoke in the morning to find himself surrounded by North Vietnamese civilians while getting a rough haircut with a pair of garden shears. The pilot also discovered he had a broken arm and dislocated elbow to contend with.
Capt. Peter Camerota stated in his debriefing that he landed in a rice paddy. After hearing loud voices nearby, he took only his emergency radio with him when be began to run along the levees. He stopped a couple times while he attempted to establish contact with other members of his crew or with any other aircraft operating in the area, but to no avail. In the predawn hours, the navigator continued moving toward a thick group of trees, but as he approached them, he saw that it was actually a hill some 700 to 800 feet high.
Upon reaching the base of the hill, Peter Camerota found a cave at ground level that he hid in for the next three days. He ventured out only at night to attempt to establish radio contact. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in these attempts so he decided to climb higher up the hill. He found another cave about halfway up along with a trickle of water to drink from where he remained for the next four days. Again he tried to make contact with other Americans at night, but still had no luck in doing so. He then decided his only chance was to go to the top of the hill.
On the morning of 30 December, Capt. Camerota finally established two-way communication with a pilot from the crest of the hill who marked his position before departing the area. About 3 hours later he made contact with another pilot, however, because the downed navigator was in a heavily populated and fortified area, he could do nothing more than the first pilot did.
On the afternoon of 3 January 1973 - and after successfully evading capture deep in enemy held territory - Peter Camerota determined that due to extreme exhaustion, his only chance for continued survival was to turn himself over to the North Vietnamese. He signaled to some of the villagers who were returning from their work in the fields. They, in turn, turned him over to North Vietnamese regulars who took him to the infamous Hoa Lo prison camp that was better known to American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton.
Louis E. LeBlanc was also captured by civilians a short time after reaching the ground and was immediately turned over to the military. During his debriefing, he reported that he believed he was one of the last of the crew to bail out of the damaged Stratofortress because as he descended in his parachute, he observed the fully deployed parachutes of the other 5 crewmen.
On 15 December 1988 the North Vietnamese returned remains purported to be those of Lt. Col. Alley and 1st Lt. Joseph Copack without comment. Both men's remains were positively identified on 23 June 1989. For Capt. Bennett who remains unaccounted for, his fate could be quite different.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military personnel in Vietnam were called upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.