CONLEE, WILLIAM WALTER Name: William Walter Conlee Rank/Branch: O5/US Air Force, EWO Unit: 307th Strat Wing Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Lemon Grove CA Date of Loss: 22 December 1972 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 210125N 1055100E (WJ880210) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: B52 Refno: Other Personnel in Incident: Gary L. Morgan; William T. Mayall; David I. Drummond; John H. Yuill; Louis H. Bernasconi (all released POWs) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 July 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. NETWORK 2011. 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. Linebacker II flights generally arrived over Hanoi in tight cells of three aircraft 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 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., had it desired, "could have taken the entire country of Vietnam by inserting an average Boy Scout troop in Hanoi and marching them southward." To achieve this precision bombing, the Pentagon deemed it necessary to stick to 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. Still, aircraft were shot down near the end of the campaign. On December 22, 1972, a B52 was shot down near Hanoi. Its crew included LTCOL John H. Yuill, LTCOL Louis H. Bernasconi, LTCOL William W. Conlee, CAPT David I. Drummond, 1LT William T. Mayall, and TSGT Gary L. Morgan. This crew was exceptionally fortunate--they were all were captured by the North Vietnamese. The captured crew was held in Hanoi until March 29, 1973, at which time they were released in Operation Homecoming. The U.S. did not know all of them had been captured. Linebacker II involved 155 Boeing B52 Stratofortress bombers stationed at Anderson AFB, Guam (72nd Strat Wing) and another 50 B52s stationed at Utapoa Airbase, Thailand (307th Strat Wing), an enormous number of bombers with over one thousand men flying the missions. However, the bombings were not conducted without high loss of aircraft and personnel. During the month of December 1972, 61 crewmembers onboard ten B52 aircraft were shot down and were captured or declared missing. (The B52 carried a crew of six men; however, one B52 lost carried an extra crewman.) Of these 61, 33 men were released in 1973. The others remained missing at the end of the war. Over half of these survived to eject safely. Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports have been received relating to Americans missing, prisoner or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. The crew of the B52 shot down on December 22 was lucky to have survived and only have a few weeks imprisonment. Many authorities are now convinced that many Americans are still held captive in Southeast Asia. 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 spelling errors). WILLIAM W. CONLEE Lieutenant Colonel - United States Air Force Shot down: December 22, 1972 Released: March 29, 1973 Many people have asked me "Why do all POW speeches sound alike?" At first I was taken aback by this but perhaps they are right. One comes to cherish freedom when it is taken away and I guess we all realize how lucky we are to be Americans and live in a country where each citizen has basic rights. It was wonderful to feel the warmth of our welcome home and to realize how much everyone did care. The bravery and courage displayed by my wife and family while I was MIA and POW will always be an inspiration to me. The courage and fortitude of the other POWs surely strengthened me and made my relatively short period of confinement much more bearable The United States is truly the land of the free and the home of the brave. -------------------------
William Conlee retired from the United States Air Force as a Colonel. He and his wife Mary Beth reside in California.