BENNETT, THOMAS WARING, JR.
Name: Thomas Waring "Buddy" Bennett, Jr.
Rank/Branch: O3/USAF, co-pilot
Unit: 22nd Bomber Wing, Utapao Airfield, Thailand
Date of Birth: 22 December 1942
Home City of Record: Natchez MS
Date of Loss: 22 December 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 212500N 1062500E (WJ866264)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: Joseph B. Copack; Gerald W. Alley (remains
returned); Peter Camerota, Peter Giroux; Louis E. LeBlanc (all three returned
POWs in 1973)
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 force.
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; 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.
When the B52D was about 50 miles northwest of Hanoi, it was hit by Surface
to Air Missiles (SAM). Bennett called the mayday and manually ejected the
pilot, who had blacked out and then bailed out himself. The tailgunner later
reported that he observed in the bright moonlight that the entire crew of
six had deployed parachutes. Three of them, Camerota, Giroux and LeBlanc
were released from prisoner of war camps in 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 about a dozen more have been returned over the years, and the
rest are still missing. At least 10 of those missing survived to eject
safely. Where are they?
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 their men.
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 prisoners 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.
January 4, 1993
Dear Heart of Illinois POW/MIA Association,
I am sending you this copy of an article about my brother, Major Thomas
Waring "Buddy" Bennett, Jr. and myself which appeared in the St. Louis
Post- Dispatch on December 21, 1992. The article was written because the
22nd of December 1992 marked the 20th anniversary of Buddy's shoot
down/missing date and his 50th birthday. Moreover I wanted to put a face
and personal story to another mans name, another cross on the WALL,
another one of the 2,263 still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. To
make this issue more personal to the American people so they will help
to bring our missing men home.
I would appreciate it if you would reprint the article in your
newsletter or magazine. I have obtained permission from the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch as long as you print under the article "reprinted with
permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch". If you do choose to have
the article appear in your periodical, would you please send me a copy.
Thank you so very much for working for and caring about our POWs and
Mrs. Bowen Bennett Johnson
P.S. I want to extend this special "Thank you" to your association. I
find your newsletters to be a wealth of information and support. If the
Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs doesn't get an extended
mandate I will be almost completely dependent on your newsletter to stay
abreast of everything happening. So once again let me thank all the fine
people of your organization for all their help and devotion. If I could
ever be of service to you, please just ask.
A. Bowen Johnson
715 Gingerwood Ct.
Ballwin, MO 63021
Article reprinted from St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Monday, Dec. 21, 1992
Christmas Calling For Brother's Keeper
by Harry Levins
Twenty Christmases ago, Bowen Bennett was a high school sophomore in
Natchez, Miss. One night just before the holiday, she heard her parents
talking at the door. She crept down the stairs and saw two men in Air
The men bore bad tidings. Her big brother, Air Force Capt. Thomas Waring
"Buddy" Bennett, Jr., was missing in action, shot down near Hanoi. A
missile had hit his B-52 in the early morning darkness of Dec. 22, 1972
--his 30th birthday.
Now, that high school sophomore is Bowen Johnson of Ballwin -- 35, a
wife, a dental hygienist. But the passage of two decades hasn't made
Christmas any easier. Next to the Christmas any easier. Next to the
Christmas wreath on her door in Ballwin rests a stained-glass POW/MIA
plaque. Beneath its silhouette of a POW's bowed head are the words "You
are not forgotten."
Be assured that Buddy Bennett is not forgotten, at least not in one sub-
division tract house in Ballwin.
His sister wears a POW/MIA sweat shirt. She wears three POW/MIA
bracelets; sharing her right wrist with the bracelets is a symoblic loop
of barbed wire, made from plastic.
The gospels for the Advent season speak of a voice crying in the
wilderness, and that's how Johnson hears herself and a few thousand
other American families. In their case, the wilderness bristles with
forgetfulnes, apathy and bureaucratic maneuvering.
Johnson entered that wilderness on Oct. 9, 1980, when the Air Force
changed her brother's status. Instead, he was KIA/BNR - killed in
action, body not recovered. That infuriated Johnson. It still does.
"They have no proof whatsoever," she says. Over a kitchen table teeming
with documents, letters and maps, she makes a case that her brother
ejected alive from the burning B-52.
The bomber carried six crewmen. Three came home from POW camps in 1973.
Fifteen years later, Vietnam returned the remains of two more. That
leaves her brother unaccounted for, just like 2,263 other American
Washington eventually classified almost all of them as killed in action,
just like Buddy Bennett. Johnson isn't buying it. She's not sure her
brother is alive. But until she gets hard evidence to the contrary,
she's holding out hope. Meanwhile, she's angry at the Vietnamese, and
she's REALLY angry at her own government.
Bowen Johnson is not a woman you want to have angry at you.
She writes letters, she makes phone calls, she buttonholes people. She's
determined to make sure that her brother Buddy is remembered -- and
that in some future war, other American families aren't left with a hole
in their hearts at Christmas.
At the very least, she wants to keep alive the Senate Select Committee
on POW/ MIA Affairs, now due to go out of business shortly after
Christmas. "We need every voice we can get," she says. "The government
won't listen to you if you're just a whisper."
Johnson doesn't whisper. She speaks in exclamation points and at length.
"It can consume a family member," she says, and it would be easy to
write her off as consumed, even obsessed.
Until her voice breaks, just once, as she talks about what a gentle bear
of a man her brother Buddy was.
"At Christmas, I feel good and bad," she says. "Good that it's Christ's
birthday. But the Christmas season has been tainted. It's not the same
as it was before." This one, at her brother's 50th birthday, will be
Even so, Merry Christmas, Bowen Johnson.
And hang in there.