LaBEAU, MICHAEL HAROLD Name: Michael Harold LaBeau Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force, RAD/NAV Unit: 307th Bomb Wing Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Lincoln Park MI Date of Loss: 26 December 1972 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 210200N 1055000E (WJ918166) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: B52D Other Personnel in Incident: Robert M. Hudson; James R. Cook; Duane P. Vavroch (all released POWs); Robert J. Morris Jr.; Nutter J. Wimbrow III (both remains returned) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 June 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. REMARKS: 730329 RELSD 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. 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 predictible 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. However, the bombings were not conducted without exceedingly high loss of aircraft and personnel. During the month of December 1972, 62 crewmembers of B52 aircraft were shot down and captured or went missing. Of these 62, 33 men were released in 1973. The others remained missing at the end of the war. Over half of these survived to eject safely. What happened to them? One B52D aircraft flown by Capt. Robert J. Morris, Jr. was shot down near Hanoi on December 26, 1972. The crew onboard included Capt. Michael H. LaBeau; Capt. Nutter J. Wimbrow III; 1LT Robert M. Hudson; 1LT Duane P. Vavroch; and SGT James R. Cook. The pilot gave the bail-out order and the crew of the aircraft parachuted to safety. LaBeau, Vavroch, Hudson and Cook were captured by the North Vietnamese almost immediately. Cook had been badly injured. These four spent the next six weeks as "guests" in the Hanoi prison system. Ultimately, they were released in Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973 -- four very lucky airmen. Hanoi denied any knowledge of the pilot, Robert J. Morris or his crew member, Nutter J. Wimbrow III. Then, in late September 1977, the Vietnamese "discovered" the remains of Morris and Wimbrow and returned them to U.S. control. For four years, the Vietnamese denied knowledge of the fate of Morris and Wimbrow, even though the U.S. believed there was a good possibility the two were captured. Disturbing testimony was given to Congress in 1980 that the Vietnamese "stockpiled" the remains of Americans to return at politically advantageous times. Were Morris and Wimbrow waiting in a casket for just such a moment? Even more disturbing are the nearly 10,000 reports received by the U.S. relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia. Many authorities who have examined this information (largely classified), have reluctantly come to the conclusion that many Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia. Were Morris and Wimbrow among these? Perhaps the most compelling questions when remains are returned are, "Is it really who they say it is?", and "How -- and when -- did he die?" As long as reports continue to be received which indicate Americans are still alive in Indochina, we can only regard the return of remains as a politically expedient way to show "progress" on accounting for American POW/MIAs. As long as reports continue to be received, we must wonder how many are alive. As long as even one American remains alive, held against his will, we must do everything possible to bring him home -- alive. =============
Michael LaBeau retired from the United States Air Force as a Colonel. He and his wife Linda reside in Texas.