ALLEY, GERALD WILLIAM
Remains Returned 15 December 1988
ID Announced 23 June 1989
Name: Gerald William Alley
Rank/Branch: O5/US Air Force, RAD/NAV
Unit: 22nd Bomber Wing, Utapao Airfield, Thailand
Date of Birth: 28 July 1934
Home City of Record: Pocatello ID
Loss Date: 22 December 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 212500N 1062500E (WJ866264)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: Thomas W. Bennett; (missing); Peter Camerota,
Peter Giroux; Louis E. LeBlanc (all three returned POWs in 1973); Joseph B.
Copack Jr. (remains returned)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 31 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.
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
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 (electronic
warfare officer); 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. This aircraft, "Scarlet One," was the lead in a
three-aircraft cell on a strike against storage facilities located near Bac
When the crew boarded the aircraft, they noted that the ship's radar system
had failed on a previous flight. Maintenance had been unable to duplicate the
problem, thus could not correct it before the aircraft was needed again.
All went well during the flight over Thailand and Laos, but as Scarlet One
approached the initial point, the radar began to deteriorate. Giroux
instructed Scarlet Two to take the lead and began to drop back to take up
position three in the cell. In this position they could take their bomb
release instructions from the tail gunner in the number two aircraft.
As Scarlet One rolled out into its new position, the radar failed completely
and, at about the same time, LeBlanc (the tail gunner) called for the TTR
maneuver. This was designed to counter enemy radar, but when the gunner called
for it, it meant MiGs had been sighted. Giroux began the maneuver, realizing
it would back the bomber out of the cell slightly and affect the protective
ECM shield. A second or two later the gunner called for flares and began
shooting at the attacking MiGs. The flares were designed to lure the incoming
infrared missiles away from the heat signature of the eight aircraft engines,
and the ploy worked. Two of the missiles passed under the aircraft as Giroux
continued the maneuver. The gunner continued to fire until the attackers broke
The reason for the MiGs' departure soon became evident. Directly below were
two surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and they were headed right for Scarlet
One. Giroux turned the ship hard back to the right, but one of the missiles
hit the aircraft somewhere near the centerline and towards the front of the
aircraft. Another SAM went by the tail but failed to explode.
Giroux had been hit in the legs and wrists by shrapnel, but was not seriously
injured. The left wing was on fire, engines five and six were burning, and the
flames were reaching past the tail of the aircraft. Giroux blacked out
(probably from the depressurization) and regained consciousness as the
aircraft was plummeting towards the ground.
Air Force records indicate that Bennett called the mayday and manually ejected
Giroux, who had blacked out and then bailed out himself. The tailgunner
(LeBlanc) later reported in his debrief that he observed in the bright
moonlight that the entire crew of six had deployed parachutes. Giroux had been
partially unconscious during his descent to the ground. Camerota, who landed
some 25 miles from Giroux and LeBlanc, had seen three other parachutes. The
occupant of one, he believed, was unconscious. Camerota evaded capture until
January 3. LeBlanc and Giroux were captured immediately and taken to the
Camerota, Giroux and LeBlanc were released from 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 several more have been returned over the years, and the rest are
still missing. At least 10 of those missing survived to eject safely. Where
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
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 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.