LEWIS, FRANK DOUGLAS Name: Frank Douglas Lewis Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force, pilot Unit: 72nd Strat Wing, Guam Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Ft. Wayne IN Date of Loss: 28 December 1972 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 210700N 1055600E (WJ980330) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: B52D Other Personnel in Incident: Bennie L. Fryer; Allen L. Johnson (remains returned); James W. Gough; James C. Condon; Samuel B. Cusimano (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. NETWORK. 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 men home? ====== Frank Lewis retired from the United States Air Force as a Lt. Colonel. He and his wife Linda reside in Virginia.