Carl's Letter

Bob Bogash

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Carl Carnethon was the Navigator on 2584 when she led the first day's bombing runs on Hanoi in Operation Linebacker II.  Turns out, he lives in the Seattle area, and was unaware of the presence of "his" airplane nearby.

Carl has since become an enthusiastic supporter of 2584's preservation and restoration.  He gave an emotional talk to the Museum Board which I wish I had on video.  In it, he described his feelings before departure on this dangerous mission, and a letter he wrote to his Mother, basically saying good-bye, as he didn't expect to return alive.  That talk causes watery eyes to this day.



Carl also penned the following letter in support, and asking support for, this effort.  His words speak for themselves.

17 April 2017

My Story of The Christmas Bombing of 1972
 

Once upon a time, long, long...  long ago, I had to face the fear of all combatants in war…  being the last man to die.  When you are within days of transferring out to a new assignment, going home on leave after six months for a much needed respite, or the war is ending, it is very hard to be motivated to go on that last patrol or fly that last mission.  But, duty calls and we do our duty.  Such is what happened to me and my crewmates back in December of 1972.  From the time rumors came out that something special was about to happen, to sitting in a mass briefing room looking at a giant map with colored tape showing the routes of the upcoming mission and target (12 O'Clock High), a target  which was reputed to be the most heavily defended city in the world at that  time, to standing out on the flight line in sweltering heat waiting for our turn to take off, and to the time we drop off the aerial tanker over the Phillipines after topping off our tanks, there is that little flicker of fear in the pit of your stomach.  This is for real…  finally we are getting serious about ending this war; but ominously, sadly, some of us will not come back from this mission.  But, being young, you always think your chances are good.  At that age, we are invincible.  It won't be me.   It was our lot to be assigned “MidnightExpress”, a B-52G model, serial number 2584, a plane that, for lack of money, had not been upgraded with the latest capabilities in electronic jamming.  When we disconnected  from the tanker late that night, the tanker pilot comes over the radio and says, mournfully, “good luck you guys”, as he knows some of us will not come back.  The tone of his voice says it all.  Now that flicker has blossomed into a raging flame of fear, and you sense you are the one not coming home. To get a grip on my fears, I tell myself,” I am already dead”, so don't worry about it.  Until it happens, I am “playing with house money”.  Magically, after that my fear is under control.



Our first mission is my first wedding anniversary, but my mind is on my mother.  My dear mother is going to lose her first born, and that is going to push her over the cliffs of insanity.  Why must she have to go through this?  If there ever was a poster child for the unfairness of life, it is my mother.  Personally, I feel life is neither fair or unfair; life just is.   Mother and I were very close and the best of friends. We used to take turns calling each other every Friday morning at 0900.  Nothing, to me, was more important than that call.  Is there a worse pain than losing a child?  Since having a child of my own, I now know the answer.  My dad comes to mind too… “I do not care”, “it does not matter”; “get it done!”  My dad's methods of teaching his children life's lessons can be thought of as very primitive.   Dad was not educated enough to state it as eloquently as I have, but you get the gist.  This lesson was infused in every cell of my body from a very early age... no matter your excuse,you must get the job done.   Not having the time, it is too cold, it is dark, it is storming outside, you are afraid, there is a snake in those bushes, it is impossible….  I may die.   “None of that matters”, my dad would say.  You have a job to do;  “get it done!”.

 Later in the mission, while hearing over the radio the maelstrom of action going on already by planes ahead of us and after seven hours of fretting enroute, we finally make our turn at the pre-initiation point, where  the radar navigator (RN/bombardier) and I are busy reconfiguring our navigation equipment for bombing.  Combat lighting is turned to red… there is an eerie  red glow over everything in our compartment.  Over the radio, I hear emergency beacons going off, multiple anti-aircraft missile calls by other bomber crews and pilots from the Air Force and Navy flying fighter cap to protect the bombers, and our own pilots.  I also hear  reports of planes being shot down, and I hear and feel the deafening noise and vibration in our workspace, due to the airflow over the wings and the roar of the engines… “it does not matter”, “I do not care”; “get it done!”.   Then, at the initiation point we turn onto the bomb run to our target. Just a precious few more minutes to go.  Just as we turn and roll out on our heading, our electronic warfare officer (EWO) calls over the radio that he has a missile lock.  This means  a missile has locked on to us and is on its way, and he does not have the jamming capability to break the lock. Then, he calls another missile lock.  “It does not matter”; “ I do not care”; “get it done!”.   The EWO and our gunner are doing their best to protect our aircraft, but there is little they can do even though they are the best.  The RN and I are extremely busy identifying and confirming our target, lining up our plane, and configuring for weapons release while hoping we get to our target before the missile or missiles get to its target… us.  “I do not care”; “it does not matter”; “get it done!”.  The countdown has started; we are almost there… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... we make our release and the RN and I immediately grab our ejection seat handle in anticipation of a missile strike.



 The turn off our target is so steep that I can barely move my arms, but we roll out on our planned heading and I quickly reconfigure my equipment for open navigation and get a position fix.  But, wait a minute... there is no missile!  Where are the damn missiles?  What happened to the missile(s) that had our names written all over the warheads and were  locked onto us?  We surely should have been hit on the turn, because whatever jamming capability availabe to us, our antennas were now pointed out into space.   No missiles and I remember my reaction being, “well, that was not so bad, lets do it again”.  Then our mission commander comes over the radio, asking the bomber stream for a roll call.  This is when I find out that it really is so bad after all.  Every plane that does not call in means that a minimum of six crewmen, and possibly up to eight  will not be coming home.  Oh, how I feel.  We now have seven more hours to think about that on the way back to our base.  But, our plane, Midnight Express, took us into harms way and brought us back safely, even though handicapped by having less than up-to-date equipment. Midnight Express took other crews into harms way during that 11 day campaign, and she brought them home.   You may think I am off my rocker, have lost my mind for even saying this, but I consider myself the most fortunate and luckiest man in the world to have been in the right place, at the right time, with the right skill set, to answer my nation’s call, to lay it all on the line for a mission I felt so strongly about.  End this war and get our husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, and nephews home.  And I think, me...  me, that poor little bare chested, bare footed Black boy, running through the backwoods of Alabama, would one day grow up to be a part of something very important… bringing our POWs home.   Tears come to my eyes, when I see old film clips of the release of the prisoners walking out of the gate with that “deer in the headlight” look and saluting the greeting officer, riding the bus out onto the tarmac with that “please let this be true” look, and  then shouting with joy and smiles a mile wide as their plane climbs out on the way home. You cannot image how good it  feels to not feel forsaken.  The macho man in me buckles.  I cannot help it; I cry with joy because I was lucky enough to be a part of making that happen.

The Museum of Flight, and Vietnam Veterans are working to restore and put aircraft #2584 on display in a Memorial Park at Boeing Field,  to honor all air crew members, from all our services, lost during that war.  Midnight Express is sitting up at Paine Field.  It is remarkable that after 45 years, the very plane our crew flew that first night of Linebacker II in December 1972 has beem sitting up there for 24 years, and is about 30 miles from where I live.  What is remarkable still is that if it had not been for Bob Gee, our EWO,  who organized a crew reunion five years ago, I would not be writing this story.  Our crew had not talked to each other in 40 years. That reunion is the memory of a lifetime.

We need your help in raising funds necessary to complete the project.  I know many people have very strong feelings about the Vietnam War, so giving or not giving to this project is a personal decision by you and no one else. This park is not to celebrate the Vietnam War, or any war; it is to give to those who paid the ultimate price, their due, respect, and honor in fulfilling their duty.  It is American citizens like these you can rely on, who will step forward without hesitation to protect our way of life. Lets not let them be forgotten, forsaken, or so invisible that we can look right through them as though they were never there.  I do not think it is too much to ask, but only you can make that decision.   Please read the enclosed material, and know that we Vietnam veterans are most appreciative of your consideration.   

 
Carl A Hanson-Carnethon, Navigator
Crew E-12
James Gabriel, Pilot; Walt Weggeser, Co-Pilot; Alan Kirby, RN; Carl, Nav; Bob Gee, EWO; Ray Culver, Guns
 
 
“May the work I do, the service I give, and the life I live speak well of me”





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