In 2012, The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, WA launched Project Welcome Home.
“This project is for Vietnam veterans and the sacrifices they made,” said David Cable, a former Navy A-6 pilot who flew 100 missions over North Vietnam.
The effort raised about $3 million, and it restored and relocated a B-52G Stratofortress to a newly constructed 2-acre memorial park adjacent to the museum.
“It was important the park represent all branches that served,” explained Air Force veteran James Farmer, a Vietnam veteran and former B-52 pilot.
With the objective met, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park will open and be dedicated on Saturday, May 25, 2019 at 11:00 am at The Museum of Flight.
A B-52 Named Midnight Express
Between 1954 and 1964, The Boeing Company built 744 B-52 bombers. Of that number, 193 were G Models.
One of those models – tail number 59-2584 and nicknamed Midnight Express – rolled off the assembly line in 1960. Assigned to the Strategic Air Command, she flew for 31 years.
An imposing presence, she could deliver 30 tons of ordinance with pinpoint accuracy from 30,000 feet in any kind of weather, day or night.
During her service, Midnight Express accumulated 15,305 hours of flight time, some of which occurred in combat during the Vietnam War.
The War in Vietnam
Since March 1965, the United States had waged combat operations against North Vietnam in defense of South Vietnam.
In October 1972, negotiations between American and North Vietnamese diplomats looked promising; however, by the middle of December the North Vietnamese ended the talks.
President Richard Nixon proposed they return to the negotiating table within 72 hours or face the consequences.
The North Vietnamese government ignored the request.
The Consequences: Operation Linebacker II
On December 18, 1972, the consequences came in the form of Operation Linebacker II. It was a full-scale air campaign against North Vietnam’s two major cities, Hanoi and Haiphong.
Air Force B-52s and fighter-bombers launched from Guam and Thailand; Navy and Marine fighter-bombers launched from carriers in the South China Sea.
“We felt like we were really doing something important, and as it turned out it really was,” continued Farmer.
When the bombing missions ended on December 29, all military and industrial targets had been leveled in and around Hanoi and Haiphong.
More important, the North Vietnamese government agreed to President Nixon’s request to resume negotiations and to release 591 American prisoners-of-war.
Midnight Express flew several missions during Linebacker II.
“If it had not been for President Nixon and the sheer courage of the B-52 and tactical aircrews, the POWs would never have returned,” Joe Crecca, a former Air Force F-4 pilot and POW for six years, said.
Project Welcome Home
In 1991 Midnight Express was retired to The Museum of Flight and stored in the open in various locations at nearby Paine Field in Everett, Washington.
Due to the Strategic Arms Limit Talks, or SALT in the 1970s, B-52s could not be stored under cover.
That meant Midnight Express would remain at the mercy of the Pacific Northwest’s weather for decades.
During that time, however, Bob Bogash, a volunteer at The Museum of Flight since 1965, led a crusade to save Midnight Express.
“Airplanes are not inanimate objects … they are living, breathing things,” he wrote in a blog. “I can’t save them all, but I can save some.”
That attitude caught the attention of Air Force Crew E-12, who had flown Midnight Express during Vietnam.
In 2012, along with Farmer and Crecca, they began Project Welcome Home to save the aircraft and to construct a memorial park.
“This was all about teamwork; you’ve got Army, Navy and Air Force veterans here,” commented Mike Brown, a Vietnam veteran and former AH-1 Cobra helicopter pilot.
“The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park is a reality.”
The Bronze Statue
Standing in front of and to the port side of Midnight Express is an 8-foot, 6-inch-tall bronze statue cradling a folded American flag in his right hand.
Created by James Nance, a Vietnam veteran and former Air Force pilot, the statue represents those who returned; the flag represents those who were lost.
“I am grateful for what has been done here,” Vietnam veteran and retired Army Lt. Col. David Waggoner said quietly as he stood by the sculpture.
“This B-52, this park, this statue and this museum honors the 3.4 million Americans who served in Southeast Asia.”