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July/August 2019

B-52 Project Welcome Home Dedication in Seattle

There probably is no more recognizable Vietnam War symbol than the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. It has been immortalized in movies, war stories, newscasts, and documentaries over the past fifty-plus years, flying through the skies with dozens of bombs falling from its bay doors to the terrain below. Rolling Thunder, Arc Light, Operation Linebacker, and many other events are parts of the B-52’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Photo: Skip NelsonIt also can be said that there is, most likely, no more potent symbol to both sides who fought the war—as well as to people living in North Vietnam who experienced its mayhem directly and to citizens living in the United States who experienced its actions watching the nightly news.

During the ten years of the war, B-52s dropped an unimaginable number of bombs on military and civilian targets. B-52s flew thousands of missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Cambodia, and North Vietnam.

These huge, eight-engine bombers flew at nearly invisible heights of 40,000 feet and dropped indiscriminate and uncontrolled death and destruction on both military targets and civilian neighborhoods staging from B-52 bases far away in Okinawa, Guam, and Thailand.

I remember, as a child living in Seattle in the early 1950s, seeing a newly manufactured gigantic B-52 land at Boeing Field. I remembering thinking how incredibly huge and intimidating it looked.

Photo: Skip Nelson

A fully and beautifully restored B-52G, with a 180-foot wingspan and a 170-foot fuselage, painted with colors from the Vietnam War, named “Midnight Express,” is the centerpiece of the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park at Boeing Field’s Museum of Flight in Seattle. The giant aircraft sits on a pedestal of earth, with one side serving as a wall containing plaques honoring those who served.

Under cloudy skies, thousands gathered on May 25 at the outdoor Air Park to dedicate the new memorial to honor Vietnam War veterans. Among those attending were hundreds of Vietnam veterans, some walking upright, some with walkers, some in motorized wheelchairs. Veterans arrived via motorcycles in groups, Mustang car groups, and in family cars. Patriot Guard Riders provided a civilian honor guard salute.

Photo: Skip NelsonThere were a lot of handshakes and hugs. And a few tears. Memories and emotions of the war were exchanged broadly and proudly by veterans who found great comfort being in the presence of former brothers-in-arms.

Several members of the original crew of the B-52 Stratofortress #92584 who flew in Operations Bullet Shot and Linebacker II-G, crew E-12, also were on hand. Those members and former B-52 pilot Jim Farmer were instrumental in spearheading the restoration of the old warbird and inspired Project Welcome Home.

Photo: Skip NelsonThe keynote speech was given by Gen. James Mattis, the former Secretary of Defense, who was warmly greeted by the large crowd. Gen. Mattis, whose brother Tom served in Vietnam, gave a stirring speech honoring the service of Vietnam veterans. He acknowledged the value and diversity of the dedicated men and women of the U.S. military.

There were several aircraft flyovers. They included a Missing Man formation by the Cascade Warbirds organization, a formation of EA-18 Growler Black Ravens from nearby Whidbey Island NAS, and a group of Hueys and Cobra helicopters provided by Northwest Helicopters.

Photo: Skip NelsonAfter the ceremonies, Vietnam veterans received 50th anniversary commemoration lapel pins from active-duty members of the military.

The restoration and creation of the “Midnight Express” started in June of 2017 when a B-52G was moved to Paine Field, in Everett, Washington, after it had sat neglected for twenty-eight years. The restoration continued until March of 2018, when the plane was disassembled for the move to the Museum of Flight Air Park’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park.

The restoration took almost twenty-seven years and roughly $3 million to complete.

The plane will be joined by a statue depicting a returning aviator and five military branch flags to honor veterans who served from 1955-75.

Photo: Skip Nelson





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