JOURNEY TO MINISTRY
Flyer, POW looks back on path to priesthood
By Sig Christenson STAFF WRITER
CERTAIN, ROBERT GLENN
Name: Robert Glenn Certain
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force, NAV
Unit: 340th Bombardment Squadron, Anderson AFB Guam
Date of Birth: 04 December 1947 (Savannah GA)
Home City of Record: Silver Spring MD
Date of Loss: December 18 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 210000N 1055500E (WJ740473)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Other Personnel in Incident: Robert J. Thomas; Walter L. Ferguson; Donald L.
Rissi (both remains returned); Richard T. Simpson; Richard E. Johnson
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. Copyright 1991 Homecoming II Project. Updated 1999 by the
P.O.W. NETWORK with information provided by Robert G. Certain. Updated 2000
with information provided through St. Margaret's Episcopal Church and C.
REMARKS: RELSD 730329 BY DRV
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 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
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.
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977
Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor
P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602
Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and
UPDATE - 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO
ROBERT G. CERTAIN
Captain - United States Air Force
Shot Down: December 18, 1972
Released: March 29, 1973
It had been a bad day-nothing had gone right from the mission briefing on
Guam until we started our bomb run high over Hanoi just after dark on
December 18, 1972. Then the lights went out, and before I knew what had
happened, I was hurtling through the night sky over enemy territory with
little or no chance of rescue.
"O. K., God, it's you and me. If I'm going to die down there, don't even let
my 'chute open. Just take me now." But my parachute did open; I was all
right; and I would stay all right no matter how long the war lasted. The
Holy Spirit was with me that night and never left me throughout the next
hundred and one days I was to spend as a prisoner.
Before a week was out, there were seven of us in our cell-all members of
various B-52 crews that had gone down during the "Eleven-Day War." We never
doubted that we would be out soon and expected every day to hear about the
signing of the treaty which would end the longest war we had ever known. We
knew our people wanted the end; we knew the President wanted the end; and we
knew that God would answer our prayers. Before long we were holding regular
Sunday church services-Catholics, Baptists, Mormons-everybody joined in.
Then, it happened: PEACE. And the countdown started-only sixty days to go.
Always long, each day seemed like a week; but we made it, thanks to the
ever-present help of the Holy Spirit with us in answer to the prayers of
millions of our fellow Americans.
As a result of his active military service, Robert Certain was awarded the
Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, five Air Medals,
the Prisoner of War Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Commendation Medal,
Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and Vietnam
Campaign Medal. He returned to school, and has his BA, MDiv and DMin. He
left active duty in 1977. Colonel Certain served as a Chaplain, in the
United States Air Force Reserves at the USAF Academy until his retirement on
July 8, 1999.
He was the Associate for Pastoral Care, St Barnabas on the Desert Episcopal
Church in Arizona until Pentecost Sunday, 1998, when Father Certain began his
ministry as the Rector at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert
The Rev. Dr. Robert Certain and his wife Robbie have 2 grown children.
Remembering the missing
12:59 AM PST on Thursday, March 30, 2006
By JOE VARGO
The lives of Robert Certain and Don Goodin first intersected on March
29, 1973, when the pair boarded an Air Force cargo jet and left Vietnam
with the last batch of American prisoners held at the infamous Hanoi
Hilton and other camps....
Reach Joe Vargo at (951) 567-2407 or jvargo@PE.com
.....As a POW in Hanoi, North Vietnam, I lived in the squalor of prison, chained to the will of the enemy. When I was repatriated in 1973, I was physically free; but the “ghosts of Christmas past” periodically haunted my soul. In order to break the chains of combat and imprisonment, I wrote and published my spiritual autobiography as Unchained Eagle and made it available to others who are seeking to make sense out of combat life and their journey in faith.....
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