THOMAS, ROBERT JAMES Remains Returned 780823
Name: Robert James Thomas Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force, co-pilot Unit: 340th Bombardment Squadron, Anderson AFB Guam Date of Birth: 19 December 1948 Home City of Record: Miami FL Date of Loss: December 18 1972 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 21138N 1054247E (WJ740473) Status (in 1973): Missing in Action Category: 2 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: B52G
Other Personnel in Incident: Walter L. Ferguson; Donald L. Rissi (both remains returned); Richard E. Johnson; Richard T. Simpson; Robert G. Certain (all released POWs)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1991 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources including "Linebacker" by Karl J. Eschmann. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK.
REMARKS: REMS RET MONTG HANOI 780823
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.
On the first day of Linebacker II, December 18, 129 B52s arrived over Hanoi in three waves, four to five hours apart. They attacked the airfields at Hoa Lac, Kep and Phuc Yen, the Kinh No complex and the Yen Vien railyards. The aircraft flew in tight cells of three to maximize the mutual support benefits of their ECM equipment and flew straight and level to stabilize the bombing computers and ensure that all bombs fell on the military targets and not in civilian areas.
The pilots of the early missions reported that "wall-to-wall SAMS" surrounded Hanoi as they neared its outskirts. The first night of bombing, December 18, saw the operation's first casualties.
Charcoal 01, a B52G, flown by LtCol. Donald L. Rissi. The crew, attached to the 340th Bombardment Squadron at Anderson AFB Guam, had been scheduled to return home to Blytheville AFB, Arkansas, two weeks earlier. But due to a snowstorm, their replacement crew from Loring AFB, Maine, was too late in arriving to transition to a combat-ready status. So, instead of being at home, the Charcoal 01 crew met its tragic fate over North Vietnam.
The crew of the aircraft included its pilot and commander, LTCOL Donald L. Rissi and crewmen Maj. Richard E. Johnson, the radar navigator; Capt. Richard T. Simpson, electronics warfare officer; Capt. Robert G. Certain, the navigator; 1Lt. Robert J. Thomas, the co-pilot; and Sgt. Walter L. Ferguson, the gunner.
Just seconds to reaching the bomb-release point over the Yen Vien rail yards, B52G Charcoal 01 was hit simultaneously by two SAMs. Less than a minute later the aircraft nosed down, crashed and exploded ten miles northwest of Hanoi. It was the first casualty of the LINEBACKER II operation, and its fate would be shared by fourteen other crews in the next eleven nights of combat.
Certain, Simpson and Johnson were captured and shown the bodies of the other crew members. Certain, Simpson and Johnson were held prisoner in Hanoi until March 29, 1973, when they were released in Operation Homecoming. Six years later, the bodies of Rissi, Thomas and Ferguson were returned to U.S. control by the Vietnamese.
The Christmas Bombings, despite press accounts to the contrary, were of the most precise the world had seen. Pilots involved in the immense series of strikes generally agree that the strikes against anti-aircraft and strategic targets was so successful that the U.S. "could have taken the entire country of Vietnam by inserting an average Boy Scout troop in Hanoi and marching it southward."
To achieve this precision bombing, the Pentagon deemed it necessary to maintain a regular flight path. For many missions, the predictable B52 strikes were anticipated and prepared for by the North Vietnamese. Later, however, flight paths were altered and attrition all but eliminated any hostile threat from the ground.
The survival rate of the B52 crews downed was surprisingly high, and many were released in 1973. Many others were known to survive the crash of the aircraft, only to disappear. Reports mount that have convinced many authorities that Americans are still held captive in Southeast Asia. Although the crew of Charcoal 01 is accounted for, many others involved in the LINEBACKER operations are not. There is every reason to believe some of them could be among those still alive today. It's time we found them and brought them home.
Robert Thomas was the father of Kansas City Chief's Derrick Thomas. Derrick passed away February 8, 2000. He was involved in an snow-related automobile accident January 23 outside Kansas City. As the car lrolled, Thomas was thrown from the vehicle, a fellow passenger was killed instantly. Thomas paralyzed from the chest down, flown to Florida for back surgery, and had been in rehab just prior to his death.