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Vietnam vet shares story of capture

Weatherford Democrat, Texas — MAGGIE FRASER Weatherford Democrat, Texas

July 14--Retired Lieutenant Colonel John H. Yuill told a harrowing tale of his time as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam's notorious "Hanoi Hilton" during an East Parker County Chamber of Commerce event honoring service members this week.

A United States Air Force B-52 Stratofortress pilot, Yuill was shot down with his crew on December 22, 1972 during the "Christmas Bombings" the U.S. conducted in Hanoi and across North Vietnam.

After completing one tour of duty in Vietnam in the early 70s, Yuill -- who now lives in Benbrook with his wife, Rose -- thought he would never again fly over the jungles of Southeast Asia.

"I got back here in July of '71 after my first tour. We got back to Carswell, and I thought that was it. 'I'll never see that place again.' Nine months later, I coasted in on a B-52 and thought, 'So much for that,'" Yuill said.

In Dec. 1972, Operation Linebacker II began. Operation Linebacker II was an extensive aerial bombing campaign that targeted major cities like Hanoi and Haiphong with B-52 bombers, the only aircraft suited to the task.

"There's a saying -- particularly in military circles -- that no goal can be achieved militarily strictly through air power, that you have to have boots on the ground," Yuill said. "But that was proven false with Linebacker II. The goals were twofold: the first was to end the war, and the other was to bring home the 560 or so POWs.

"Of course, I had no idea I was going to be one of them at that time."

On December 18, 1972, Yuill and his crew returned to U-Tapao Air Base in Thailand after taking R&R at a nearby beach to find the atmosphere on base had grown tense.

"We returned and everything had changed on base. It was a totally different atmosphere," Yuill said. "We found out there was going to be a big briefing... Our briefing officer could have briefed that entire mission without a microphone and everyone there would have heard every word."

Yuill found out that he and his crew would be part of the second wave of B-52s to take off that night and launch an air assault on Hanoi.

"I looked around at this room full of crew members and thought, 'There's a very good chance that in a few hours, some of us are going to die.' It was something I'd never experienced before. It was very sobering," Yuill said.

"And unfortunately, I was correct."

After three nights of successful bombing runs over Hanoi, the "magic night" came for Yuill and his crew.

"On the fourth night, the 22nd, that was the magic night for my crew," he said. "I was taking one last look around for surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and preparing to hit our target when I saw a SAM right under our nose... next thing I know, our airplane is at a 30 degree bank, our wind screens are totally shattered, and red lights are flashing in the cockpit at 35,000 feet."

Multiple fires broke out before another SAM hit the B-52, knocking out the aircraft's electrical power.

The time had come to make a decision -- to try and continue to the Gulf of Tonkin, or to eject over enemy territory.

"There's a saying that flying is hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror," he said. "The hardest thing to do was to calm down... we weren't far from Hanoi. I've never bailed out of an airplane before, and I'm not fond of stepping out of this one over enemy territory. But I decided to bail the crew out."

Yuill and his crew were quickly captured by the North Vietnamese army and taken to the infamous H?a Lò Prison, referred to by service members as the "Hanoi Hilton."

"I was captured and put in solitary confinement for a week. They put me in another cell after a week... and eventually I found out my entire crew had survived. That was something to feel good about."

Four months later, Yuill and his crew were freed during Operation Homecoming on March 29, 1973.

"In those days, there were 10 B-52s shot down over Hanoi, which was the most heavily-defended city on the planet at that time. Of the 10 that were shot down... there were 60 crew members. 32 of us survived, were captured, and became POWs. That's a 50 percent rate. Of the 32 that survived, mine was the only crew to survive intact," Yuill said.

"I could just have easily been in that other 50 percent. I've had 44 bonus years. That's the way I look at it."

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(c)2017 Weatherford Democrat (Weatherford, Texas)

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