CUSIMANO, SAMUEL BOLDEN
|Name: Samuel Bolden Cusimano
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force, co-pilot
Unit: 72nd Strat Wing, Guam
Date of Birth: 21 October 1946
Home City of Record: Birmingham AL
Date of Loss: 28 December 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 210700N 1055600E (WJ980330)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Other Personnel in Incident: Bennie L. Fryer; Allen L. Johnson (remains returned); James W. Gough; James C. Condon; Frank D. Lewis (all released POWs)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 October 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.
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.
On December 28, 1972, twelve aircraft were assigned to strike the Trung Quang
rail yards near Hanoi. One three-ship cell was code-named Cobalt. The second
B52D in the flight, Cobalt 01, assumed lead in the cell because the other two
were experiencing problems with their electronic warfare equipment. At about
2330 hours, the cell turned inbound on Hanoi and went to independent bombing
mode, meaning each aircraft used its own radar to locate and attack the target.
The cell saw medium to heavy antiaircraft fire ahead and soon began receiving
SAM signals and saw SAM launches beginning. A total of 45 SAMs were fired at the
cells. When Cobalt 01 was within sixty seconds of bomb release, two SAMS locked
on and began tracking the aircraft. Lewis was able to evade these two, but
received a near-direct hit by another while still in a violent evasive turn.
Every crew member onboard received injuries from the impacting SAM fragments.
The crew consisted of Capt. Frank D. Lewis, pilot and aircraft commander; Capt.
Sam Cusimano, co-pilot; Maj. Allen Johnson, Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO);
Lt.Col. Jim Condon, radar navigator; 1Lt. Bennie Fryer, navigator; and SMSgt.
Jim Gough, gunner.
Capt. Frank D. Lewis, the pilot, attempted to maintain control of the aircraft
as it headed west, but he knew the aircraft had taken a fatal hit and was going
down. The wings were on fire and the ruptured fuel tanks fed the rapidly
spreading fire. All electrical systems were out, as well as the crew interphone
system. The pilot verbally gave the order to bail out only forty seconds after
the SAM impact. Lewis ejected, and the crew followed.
The gunner, MSgt. James A. Gough, could not hear the ejection order, but knew
that he would soon have to bail out. The flames from the burning aircraft
extended back on both sides of the B52 to the gunner's turret, and he decided to
wait for a better chance as long as the aircraft was still in level flight.
By then, the other crew members who were able to eject had departed the plane.
When the gunner saw that the aircraft was descending into the low undercast, he
knew he had to leave then or lose his chance. When he jumped, he went through
burning debris of the disintegrating engines and wings and had numerous pieces
of wiring and metal fragments embedded in his body. Luckily, Gough was able to
deploy his parachute. He was captured soon after he landed on the ground.
The pilot, Capt. Lewis, was lucky to be captured alive after he landed in a rice
paddy. A North Vietnamese peasant took Lewis' revolver and would have killed him
on the spot if the gun had been loaded. As the click, click of the empty pistol
sounded, NVA troops approached and captured Lewis alive, taking him from the
custody of the peasant.
Meanwhile, the other crew members had also landed and were being captured by NVN
troops. All had ejected except for the navigator, 1Lt. Ben L. Fryer, who was
apparently killed by the SAM explosion. Lewis and Condon were reunited soon
after they were captured. After having been taken to Hanoi, Lewis believes he
heard his EWO, Major Johnson scream not too far away. The thought that Johnson
was also encouraged him -- he worried about his crew.
Lewis was subjected to the same harassment and torture by his captors that many
returned POWs have described. After a month in solitary, he was moved to the
"Zoo" where he was reunited with Gough, Condon, and Cusimano. Together,
they reconstructed the shootdown. Notably, LtCol. Condon, the radar navigator,
remembers hearing three ejection seats going above him before he ejected. These
three would have been the EWO (Johnson), pilot (Lewis) and co-pilot (Cusimano).
Lt.Col. Condon said that Lt. Bennie Fryer was apparently killed in the SAM
explosion, as he collapsed forward on the nav table and was bleeding profusely.
His seat was the closest of any crew member to the point of impact of the SAM.
Condon himself was wounded in the leg by shrapnel, and tried shaking Fryer and
yelling at him to arouse him, but got no response.
The fate of Maj. Allen Johnson is still a mystery. The surviving crew members
believe that he ejected from the aircraft, and Lewis believes he was alive and
in the hands of the North Vietnamese, because he heard what he believed to be
Johnson screaming. Further, Lewis' interrogator told him that Johnson was a
black man, a fact not revealed by any of the crew in interrogation.
Then on September 30, 1977, the Vietnamese "discovered" and returned the remains
of Bennie L. Fryer. It was not until December 4, 1985 that the Vietnamese
returned the remains of Allen L. Johnson. The positive identification of these
remains was announced publicly in June 1986. The Vietnamese denied knowledge of
either man until their remains were returned.
Reports mount that have convinced many authorities that Americans are still held
captive in Southeast Asia. Were Johnson and Fryer among them? Did they survive
to know the country they love has abandoned them? Isn't it time we brought our
Samuel Cusimano left the Air Force after his release. He and his wife Donna
reside in Alabama.