McELVAIN, JAMES RICHARD
Name: James Richard McElvain
Rank/Branch: O4/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 23 March 1939
Home City of Record: LaVerne CA
Date of Loss: 18 December 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 201700N 1063600E (XH635434)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: Ronald J. Ward (missing)
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, including
"Linebacker" by Karl J. Eschmann. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2020.
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. Protecting their flight were fighter jets, both
serving as SAM suppression, ECM protection, and laying a chaff corridor for
The pilots of the early missions reported that "wall-to-wall SAMS"
surrounded Hanoi as they neared its outskirts. On the first night of
bombing, December 18, only one TACAIR aircraft was lost.
The F111 flown by LtCol. Ronald J. Ward and co-pilot Maj. James R. McElvain
was scheduled to strike the Hanoi International Radio Communication (RADCOM)
Transmitter at 0853 hours, Hanoi time. The last radio call contact was
received by an orbiting Moonbeam C130 command and control aircraft at 0854
hours after bomb release on the target. No trace was ever found of the
aircraft, and both Ward and McElvain were declared Missing in Action.
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 during the Christmas bombings was
surprisingly high, and many were released in 1973. Many others were known to
survive the crash of the aircraft, only to disappear. The fate of Ward and
McElvain is uncertain.
Reports mount that have convinced many authorities that Americans are still
held captive in Southeast Asia. There is every reason to believe some of the
men lost during the December 1972 bombings could be among those still alive
today. It's time we found them and brought them home.