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William Arcuri's Vietnam War Last B-52 Mission and POW Experience
by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Timothy Lawn - June 18, 2016

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The electronic warfare officer yells into the microphone, “SAM uplink -- 5 o'clock, SAM 6 o'clock, SAM 7 o'clock.”

Four Soviet made SAM-2 surface-to-air missiles, each armed with a 288-pound fragmentation warhead, are racing up at more than 2,600 miles an hour toward the third group of B-52s that had just bombed a railyard north of Hanoi.

A B-52G Stratofortress flying at 38,000 feet out of Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, code-named Quilt 3, is just beginning evasive maneuvers free of its deadly payload. The huge bomber, piloted by Capt. Terry Geloneck and co-piloted by Capt. William Youl Arcuri, along with the rest of the crew, can only hold their breaths as the first SAM races up and misses. Within 30 seconds three more SAMs, or “flying telephone poles,” as the aircrews call them, race toward the B-52 and begin exploding along the bomber's airframe.

“It was like, ‘Boom!,' someone hits us with a sledgehammer,” Arcuri said. As the plane rolls in its evasive maneuver another SAM explodes ...

All the windows in the cockpit shatter, and though the glass has not been dislodged you can't see out of them because they are completely smashed, Arcuri recalled.

This collage of Vietnam War veteran and POW U.S. Air Force Captain (Ret.) William Y. Arcuri, a Distinguished Flying Cross (top middle) recipient includes ... left - Arcuri in 2016; middle - Arcuri inside the Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton) just prior to he and his prisoners release on February 12, 1973; top right - part of a Vietnamese propaganda / celebration poster of B-52 being shot down; and, bottom right - Arcuri's bombing wing squadron patch. (Image created June 2016 by USA Patriotism! from photos provided by William Y. Arcuri through the U.S. Air Force)
This collage of Vietnam War veteran and POW U.S. Air Force Captain (Ret.) William Y. Arcuri, a Distinguished Flying Cross (top middle) recipient includes ... left - Arcuri in 2016; middle - Arcuri inside the Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton) just prior to he and his prisoners release on February 12, 1973; top right - part of a Vietnamese propaganda / celebration poster of B-52 being shot down; and, bottom right - Arcuri's bombing wing squadron patch. (Image created June 2016 by USA Patriotism! from photos provided by William Y. Arcuri through the U.S. Air Force)

Additionally, Craig Paul, the electronics warfare officer shouts, “Oh my god, I'm bleeding all over,” and gunner Roy Madden Jr. has a shattered leg. Fuel is leaking, the cabin is shredded from shrapnel and is quickly de-pressurizing, Arcuri and the crew of Quilt 3 run out of time. They have to bail out.

It is Dec. 20, 1972, the third day of Operation Linebacker II.

The Linebacker II missions are a final political and military decision employing America's strategic airpower as a key asset in a foreign policy solution to bring an end to the Vietnam War. For Arcuri and the rest of the crew of Quilt 3, Washington and North Vietnamese politics are far away. They are bombing selected targets in and around Hanoi and ducking SAM's over reputably the most heavily defended city in the world.

Defending Hanoi/Haiphong is a sophisticated and integrated air defense network consisting of anti-aircraft and SAM missile batteries, backed up by Soviet-made Mikoyan-I-Gurevich design bureau (MIG) fighters.

Some military planners and the general public are skeptical that even the most heavily escorted waves of B-52s will survive an attempt at penetrating the cities' air defense network.

President Richard Nixon and U.S. national security adviser Henry Kissinger's make the decision to launch Linebacker II. The campaign is aimed at bringing North Vietnam back to the peace process. America has been in a costly and unpopular war with Vietnam for more than seven years, and time and patience is running out.

Nixon and Kissinger, frustrated by the North Vietnamese walkout at the 1972 Paris peace talks and a virulent anti-war Congress preparing to re-convene in January, who will most likely end the war with the stroke of a budgetary pen, know this is exactly what the North Vietnamese are betting on. Both Nixon and Kissinger are determined not to give the Vietnamese hierarchy a potential propaganda victory.

Additionally, to avoid an embarrassing withdrawal, Nixon and Kissinger ultimately determine extreme measures are needed to bring the North Vietnamese back to negotiate on U.S. terms.

Nixon has to prove the U.S. has the willpower and brute force to either bring the war immediately to an end or continue it indefinitely.

Nixon orders the Air Force to return to an extremely aggressive bombing campaign, primarily focusing on the Hanoi/Haiphong area. The Joint Chiefs of Staff send the following message forward to operational commanders.

“You are directed to commence at approximately 1200Z, 18 December 1972, three-day maximum effort, repeat maximum effort, of B52/TACAIR strikes in the Hanoi/Haiphong areas against the targets... (list)... “Object is maximum destruction of selected targets in the vicinity of Hanoi/Haiphong. Be prepared to extend operations past three days if directed,” Joint Chiefs of Staff message.

Ultimately, three days unfold to become a powerful multi-day bombing campaign consisting of waves of B-52 bombers dropping tons of high explosives on carefully selected targets. The missions begin Dec. 18 and run through Dec. 29, with a one-day Christmas lull. The operation is eventually earns the nickname the “the 11-Day War, or, the Christmas Bombing.”

The 11-Day War focuses primarily on military targets in and around Hanoi, though the intent is not to inflict massive civilian casualties as the World War air bombings on European cities did, but to destroy the enemy's capability to wage war. Specific strategic military targets are chosen such as railyards, storage areas, power plants and more.

Additionally, the aim of the bombing is to force Hanoi city residents to endure the psychological effect of bomb runs, quickly realizing there is no place safe to hide. In essence, Linebacker II's goal is to inflict as much material and psychological damage and discomfort as possible. The goal was to sap the will of the North Vietnamese people to fight.

To achieve this goal a massive demonstration of force, waves of up to or more than 100 B-52s bombers will simultaneously bomb military and industrial targets.

The B-52 becomes the cornerstone of U.S. foreign national policy.

The B-52 intercontinental strategic jet bomber, nicknamed the BUFF “Big Ugly Fat Fella (or other derogatory name, depending on who you talk too),” is designed in the early 1950s to act as a deterrent, countering Soviet nuclear expansion.

The BUFF is an all-weather strategic bomber that can deliver nuclear or conventional high explosives. It has the range and capacity to operate over long range without being dependent on forward airbases or foreign host-nation support.

In Vietnam, the B-52 operates in its conventional role, and early on it is identified to be an ideal weapons platform for counterinsurgency support.

The B-52's capabilities allow it loiter in inclement weather high above terrain thick with jungle growth laced with tunnels and bunkers, or to orbit over and zero in on targets in dense urban or city terrain. Ideal in supporting troops in enemy contact, the B-52 can deliver precision-guided smart munitions or lay a carpet of 30 tons of high explosives, obliterating enemy movements and clearing large swaths of enemy-held territory with a cacophonic and murderous barrage.

People who have witnessed or survived a B-52 strike describe it as akin to being in the throes of a terrible storm, assailed by deafening noise and the feeling of sheer terror.

That storm is described by a former POW whom witnessed a guard "trembling like a leaf, drop his rifle and wet his pants." Colonel John E. Flynn, a senior ranking POW, also has described his experiences: “When I heard the B-52 bombs go off, I sent a message to our people. I said, 'Pack: your bags - I don't know when we're going home -- but we're going home,” says Flynn.

Former POW's and survivors conclude there is no sound more frightening than the deafening roar of a B-52 dropping a steady stream of high explosives that roll toward the listener shaking the ground and nearby buildings as if in an violent earthquake.

Intelligence reports emanating out of North Vietnam provide guidance to troops in the field, encouraging them to evacuate positions as soon as they hear the roar of the bombers. Throughout the duration of the war, U.S. field commanders, soldiers and civilian observers alike note the physical and moral effects the B-52 bombing runs have on North Vietnamese logistic capabilities, facilities and enemy morale. (Notes)

According to national security adviser Henry Kissinger, it is the B-52's ability to “shake the mind and undermine the spirit” that eventually brings the North Vietnamese back to the peace negotiations... although that peace process is far from North Vietnamese minds on the night of Dec. 20.

The B-52s under Strategic Air Command guidance already have two days of successful bomb runs on targets in and around Hanoi.

Flying in three-plane protective wedge formations, called cells, for electronic countermeasure protection, casualties in the first two days are minimal, but this is where things begin to go wrong.

A number of tactical blunders are made that embolden North Vietnamese gunners and forever change Arcuri's flying career.

Arcuri doing the Elephant Walk and going solo in a B-52

Arcuri was born into the Air Force, his father was a veteran of World War II and a career Army Air Force Officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He commanded an all-Black Transportation Company for the 8th Air Force in England delivering bombs to all the airfields.

As a young man growing up in Satellite Beach, Florida, Arcuri dreams of flying. He volunteers for the Air Force prep school and receives an appointment to West Point in July 1966. While in the academy Arcuri meets his wife, Andrea, and they marry in 1970. After tying the knot, Arcuri heads to flight school, and he boards his first B-52 for training in 1971.

In 1972, the conflict in Southeast Asia is in decline, there is little popular support for the war and the Paris peace agreement is being negotiated. The needs of the Air Force propel Arcuri to Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, where he flies missions in South Vietnam. Arcuri takes 28 days of leave and heads home, and his return becomes a life-altering event.

After completing more than 44 missions safely, Arcuri discovers his one-time “Elephant Walk” into Hanoi an altogether different experience.

B-52s en route to bomb Hanoi depart each night from Guam or Thailand and fly the “Elephant Walk.” It's a 70-mile arduous and predictable corridor that allows Vietnamese SAM radar operators easy tracking of the lumbering bombers. Additionally, if cells break integrity in any way, safety and bombing accuracy can become compromised and can lead to potential civilian casualties. Aircrews are even threatened with court-martial if they knowingly compromise their cells. This human complacency and error in tactical judgment makes the waves of BUFFs big, fat and predictable targets.

For the first two days of Linebacker Vietnamese gunners have mixed success but they have a morale booster because they manage to shoot down two B-52s and capture alive seven aircrew.

On Dec. 20, co-pilot William Arcuri and the crew of Quilt 3 get to experience the wrath of the frustrated North Vietnamese gunners of the 93d Battalion.

The 93rd falls under the responsibility of the 361st Air Defense Division, which is tasked with defending the city. They have been harshly rebuked for failing in downing any enemy aircraft the previous two nights. Though exhausted, on Dec. 20 they have the trainer cadre spend the day and rehearse gunnery tactics and procedures, and their efforts would soon pay off.

Mistakes begin at the briefing room. Arcuri recalls his lead pilot exiting the room saying, “flying same route, same altitude, time-on-target, etc.” The group has foreboding feelings of their upcoming mission.

“Coming in we are the first wave, first cell, and number three in the cell... The worst place to be in a three cell,” Arcuri says.

Quilt 3's cell placement makes them the last of three planes to expend their munitions. They have just finished dropping more than twenty-seven M117 750-pound bombs on the railroad marshalling yard just north of Hanoi and are banking in a directed post-target turn when the lead B-52 sounds the alarm, “SAM sight 6 o'clock!”

“You can see them launch, it is night, you can see the burst,” says Arcuri as he describes the SAMs heading toward them.

Two SAM missiles explode, shredding Quilt 3's frame with shrapnel. For a brief moment Quilt 3 maintains a straight-and-level flight speed with eight good engines, but Arcuri realizes they are leaking fuel fast and he attempts to move the fuel to the undamaged tanks.

“All of a sudden, all of the red lights come on,” Arcuri says. Quilt 3 has lost all hydraulics and there is no more human control of the massive B-52.

“We were in a 3,000 feet-per-minute decent,” Arcuri says. Fortunately for him and the crew, the aircraft's elevators freeze in a position that allow the B-52 to briefly glide.

Arcuri remembers his pilot Geloneck looking at him and saying, “This is it!”

Together they agree to order the crew to bail out; in trained order they initiate the sequences.

“I remember turning my head as his (Geloneck's) hatch blew. One minute he's sitting there (Arcuri snaps his fingers), then he's gone... like David Copperfield,” Arcuri chuckles. He describes the ejection process as being equivalent to sitting in a ballistic seat on a case of dynamite as it detonates.

“It's all in slow motion, it's true, and it seemed like this was forever,” Arcuri says. He describes his last few moments alone in the plane. As far as he knew, everyone has bailed out.

He pulls back the throttles.

“I was the last person on her, I had about 20-30 seconds of flying the B-52 before I bailed,” Arcuri says with a laugh. In essence, he believes he is one of the few if not only person who can claim to have flown a B-52 solo, even if it's just for a couple of seconds.

“At that moment there is a big explosion on the right wing,” Arcuri says. A missile or anti-aircraft round jolts the aircraft. “I look up to make sure the hatch has popped,” Arcuri said.

He believes his altitude is around 28,000 feet and estimates the bomber must be moving about 500 miles an hour, not a safe bailout speed. Arcuri realizes he has to get out. He reaches up, squeezes the trigger and with a loud brief explosion he is out of the plane and tumbling toward earth.

Arcuri is safely strapped in the ejection seat but his arms and legs are not. His back arches and his extremities are flailing in the wind, causing his arms and legs to painfully hyper-extend.

Arcuri does not remember how far or fast he fell. He also knows he doesn't want to get wrapped up in the parachute. He grabs the rip cord and pulls.

The chute snaps opens at around 20,000 feet with such force it tears his glove off. Some of Arcuri's parachute panels are ripped and he is descending faster than expected.

Even with a couple of torn panels he describes his descent as a nice long ride down.

At his side he also has an emergency bottle of oxygen with three minutes of oxygen. Jokingly, Arcuri says that when he lands he still has the three minutes of oxygen in his bottle.

“Its cold up there,” Arcuri quips.

Curiously, Arcuri finds himself looking around in amazement. “I could see the triple-A anti-aircraft fire and missiles coming up; it was kind of pretty,” he says.

Arcuri gets captured

Arcuri's prisoner-of-war experience is about to begin.

“I can hear chatter on the ground, yelling and talking,” he says. The North Vietnamese knew they scored a hit.

Arcuri knows they are looking for him and his crew. He recalls his training at West Point, where they make the cadet trainees get in foxholes and hunker down as regular soldier instructors shoot live rounds over their heads. The intent is for the trainee to focus on the thud of the round impacting in the dirt berm above them, allowing them to pinpoint which direction the enemy may be approaching from.

Arcuri knew they were getting close, and he can hear the zip of bullets passing by.

As if to add insult to injury, Arcuri describes his newly issued bright orange and white Air Force survival suit and parachute as not being the most ideal equipment for evasion and escape.

On the way down, pain starts to set in, and his legs ache from the hyperextension as he pulls them together to prepare for landing. He thinks to himself, this is going to be a rough.

“And nothing, so I relax for a second,” Arcuri says. “Where's the ground? Then smack!!!”

“I hit the top of a bamboo strand,” he says. He slides down the needle-like bamboo shoots, with some slivers shredding and impaling into his head and arms. Slamming into the ground, he dislocates his right knee and hyper-extends his left knee.

Lying on the ground, Arcuri knows he is hurt, yet he finds he isn't in much pain. The adrenaline must be blocking it.

He glances up and guesses that about 18 to 20 feet in the air and dangling in the trees is his bright orange and white parachute.

“I remember very calmly laying there,” Arcuri says.

Born and raised a Catholic, he says his act of contrition.

Arcuri's calm demeanor ends quickly as he hears the North Vietnamese closing in on him, bushes rustling and weapons firing into the ground as the searchers get closer.

“Then I got scared,” he says.

Trying to make himself more comfortable, he removes his helmet. A piece of bamboo has gone up through it.

He grabs his radio and makes his last call.

Arcuri then un-holsters his .38 revolver, looks at it, and sees he has five rounds. He always has the hammer on the empty cylinder. Feeling it isn't going to offer much help, he dumps the bullets.

After removing the battery from his radio he uses the pistol to destroy it. Arcuri tosses the radio's remains and bullets into the brush.

That decision most likely saves his life.

As he's finished disposing of the radio, Arcuri notices movement out of the peripheral vision of his right eye.

“Here comes this little lady, she's coming and swinging this hoe and wham, catching me right across the side of my head, I drop my gun,” Arcuri says.

At the same time, a Vietnamese man runs up and grabs his .38 revolver. Pointing it right at Arcuri he pulls the trigger again and again until he realizes the cylinder is empty.

In a fit of angry frustration he throws the gun at him and begins ripping Arcuri's equipment off.

“That was the most terrified I have ever been,” Arcuri says.

As the North Vietnamese villagers rip at Arcuri's equipment and clothes, he has a fleeting moment of humor.

In their fit of frustration and rage they are focusing on removing anything of danger and value. They struggle with removing his flight suit, but they can't locate the zipper.

Arcuri has one of the newest flight suits, fresh off the line, and it's made of Nomex and has no zipper. The suit is affixed with Velcro fasteners. They can't rip it off so another man walks up and pulls out a machete. He's getting ready to cut it off, Arcuri decides its time to help them out.

“I reach up, grab, and pull it apart,” he says.

“They are stunned, their eyes were wide,” Arcuri said with a laugh. The villagers have never seen such clothes.

The humor ends and the villagers begin beating Arcuri again with sticks as he lay helpless on the ground, stripped-down to bare skin and to underclothes.

Four militiamen come running. Yelling and shouting with AK-47 assault rifles un-slung, the militiamen clear the villagers away from Arcuri. Two of the militiamen take positions at Arcuri's head, and two at his feet. One of the men in front turns and motions for him to get up and follow.

Arcuri shakes his head and points at his injured right knee.

The front militiaman shoulders his weapon and grabs Arcuri's ankle, puts his foot in his crotch and pulls, and the knee pops back into place.

Though in pain, Arcuri is amazed, “I don't know how he knew to do that, but it worked,” Arcuri says. “But it hurt, it hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.”

The militiamen grab Arcuri under the armpits and drag him down into the village, sitting him down. Arcuri recalls the last bomber passing.

“It's inadvisable to bail out over the area you just bombed. It violates old Air Force wisdom,” Arcuri says. Local villagers start filtering out to see their war trophy, and they begin to get pretty rowdy, he recalls.

Interestingly, Arcuri is asked a couple times if he is Russian, because apparently they have mistakenly shot down a couple of Russian advisers or aircrew by mistake.

After they realize Arcuri is not Russian, the villagers start getting a little too excited, The guards escort him safely into a little hut. Arcuri gets a brief respite, allowing him the opportunity to experience his captors as fellow humans.

Arcuri is shocked when a little old lady flits in and washes his wounds. After she finishes, an older man comes in with a little boy, and they bring Arcuri some food and soup.

The old man offers Arcuri a cigarette, but he declines. The man looks surprised, Arcuri recalls. Feeling a little guilty and thinking he has hurt the old man's feelings, Arcuri points to his mouth and motions that he doesn't smoke. The old man lights up and smiles.

He could have been 80 or 90 years old, but probably no more than 60 Arcuri recalls as he notices how weathered and aged the man appeared.

Later that night, a couple of villagers take Arcuri out of the hut and splint his damaged leg with bamboo. They blindfold him and cart him in a wheelbarrow to another part of the village, then to a waiting bus. When Arcuri boards the bus he is shocked, because there sits his fellow pilot and friend Geloneck.

Guarding them is man dressed pristine, all in white. “Spotless,” Arcuri recalls. Here he was, Arcuri in the war zone all muddy and beat and here is this guy dressed immaculately in white linen and holding a machete. Arcuri surmises he must be a village official.

“I grew up watching Charlie Chan detective movies,” he says. The Charlie Chan imposter has stepped right out of one of his childhood movies.

The well-heeled guard strides up and down the bus aisle, machete in hand.

“First thing I think of is Charlie Chan is going to kill me with a machete. I started to laugh but bit my lip,” Arcuri says. He doesn't want to provoke the guard.

Remarkably, Arcuri is allowed to talk to Geloneck, discovering that other than a dislocated shoulder his friend is OK. The bus travels a little further, then they stop and rest for the night.

The next morning the two aviators are awakened and given a shot of medicine.

“They used a Bunsen burner and heat whatever was in the needle. Luckily, I was not allergic to whatever it was, penicillin?” Arcuri says.

He is placed in a stretcher, then they blindfold and raise him up, dumping him unceremoniously into the back of a truck. He lands on something soft that lets out a soft “umph!” Arcuri knows it's another airman.

“I whisper, ‘Who's there?'”

Arcuri is delighted because he has landed right on top of his gunner, Roy Madden. Brief joy turns to sadness when he learns of the possible death of his electronics warfare officer, Craig Paul. Madden sat next to Craig but did not see him eject.

Arcuri and Madden lie blindfolded and guarded in the back of the truck, pondering their fate.

In village after village they stop, and their guards make them sit up and stand or parade alongside the trucks so the villagers can see the odd war trophies. When the villagers get a little too excited, they move on to the next village.

Arcuri grew up on the water and realizes they have crossed by ferry or raft over a body of water. Most likely he believes it's the Red River.

“The whole time I'm thinking, hoping there is not a hotshot pilot up there looking down on a barge with a truck,” Arcuri says.

Checking into the Hilton

The truck rumbles up the road, then passes through a gate with big iron doors.

“I knew the best thing that could happen was to get into a prison,” Arcuri says.

He is separated from his crewmates and dumped onto the floor of a pitch-black room. Arcuri sits for a moment in the dark, then removes his blindfold to find it's still pitch dark. He's in a cell.

In a moment he hears the sounds of an approaching person, keys rattle and his door opens. A blanket and mosquito net are thrown at him. Arcuri is grateful. Though it's December in North Vietnam, he is in his underwear, broken and bruised, and the blanket will help keep him alive.

For the next three days they interrogate him. Before he began his mission pilots and crew are always briefed, but he never saw the battle order. The North Vietnamese never get much from him.

Something changes. The bomb runs begin again but this time they keep coming. For more than 11 days B-52s drop tons of lethal high explosives, blasting targets in and around Hanoi. Arcuri knows they have changed tactics.

The North Vietnamese keep interrogating him.

“I was beaten physically and deprived of sleep, but I never really felt they tortured me,” Arcuri says. “If sleep deprivation is considered torture, then my whole Plebe Year at West Point was torture.”

Placed in a cell with several other wounded airmen, Arcuri enjoys the company of his fellow prisoners, and they are even allowed to communicate without being punished. Being the newest POW in the group, the North Vietnamese do not allow Arcuri to leave his cell for 35 days.

They receive no more medical treatment and their food changes. Every morning they receive black tea and bread for breakfast; at noon they are given soup; dinner is the same.

“I lost 55 pounds in 55 days,” Arcuri says. Racked with dysentery, he attributes his physical deterioration to his living conditions and diet.

Discussions are plentiful and they all come to the conclusion that the war is over. It's just a matter of when.

Arcuri and his fellow prisoners establish a daily routine. After breakfast, the North Vietnamese usually allow him and his fellow POWs out of their cells. A horse trough sits in the center of the compound filled with dingy water, and they wash their clothes in the fetid water.

Part of the POWs' routine is resistance. “They (fellow POWs) gave me the names of 250 guys, some up on the border of China,” Arcuri says. “I memorized every one of the names.”

They have pens and cigarettes, and use cigarette paper to write notes and communicate with each other.

“I had good friends with me in there. Three of us had gone to Air Force prep school together. Some of them had been there for eight years,” Arcuri says. Because he is the newest POW he knew a number of the men in the Hilton and they look to him for information about the war, home and their families.

Back home, Arcuri's wife Andrea has a hunch he has been shot down from the news. She knew he is flying the missions. On Dec. 20, his wing takes the most losses. The next day a car pulls up, and the base commander and squadron commander hand her the telegram.

Andrea and Arcuri had been married two years when he was shot down. Though the Vietnamese begin releasing POWs, she assumes he would be one of the last out, being one of the last in.

Back in North Vietnam, the POWs In the Hilton receive hopeful words that they may be going home. The most severely injured and ill would leave first.

Arcuri is lucky in that regard, because he is to be in one of the first groups to leave.

On Jan. 27, 1973, the U.S. and North Vietnam sign a peace accord. Arcuri recalls that the next day the camp commander rounded up him and his fellow POWs into formation, and announced that they may all go home if the U.S. lives up to the agreement.

The day before they depart for home, Arcuri and his cellmates each receive a little bag with a change of clothes.

While he's standing on the runway, a C-141 lands.

“Being the sick guy, I was released,” Arcuri says. He can stand and limp, with no crutches needed. Aircrew run-up and escort him to the waiting plane, assisting him up the ramp. Two female nurses run down to him.

“I want to sit right here, last row, right by the ramp,” Arcuri says. The nurses look at him incredulously. Why would he want to sit by the ramp?

“I want to see the faces of the older guys,” Arcuri says.

He is keen to see the faces of freedom. Some of his buddies have spent more than eight years in those very conditions where he spent a couple of months, and their faces say it all.

The ramp closes and the C-141 takes off. It is Arcuri's last mission. The pilot calls over the intercom that they are feet wet, meaning out of Vietnam.

On Valentine's Day 1973, Arcuri, Geloneck and Al Brunstrom -- “an eight year” guest of the Hanoi Hilton are the first to get off the plane in the U.S.

Arcuri does not regret his experiences. He has been asked many times why he did it, and why did he go.

“It was my job.” (Back then) “I felt we needed to get out of Vietnam but my feelings were if there were Americans on the ground, and if what I did saved one soldier, then I did my job,” Arcuri says.

Arcuri's Southeast Asia and Linebacker II experiences are with him even today. He is a member of Rolling Thunder, Chapter 6, and within their presence he celebrates the camaraderie of fellow POWs, armed forces veterans and the company of citizens whose focus is to hold the government accountable and bring home all living survivors and the deceased of wars both present and past.

The past never leaves Arcuri. He and his pilot and friend Geloneck, along with two other crewmates, are lucky they came home alive. Two others made the ultimate sacrifice and their remains were returned from Vietnam in 1977.

Linebacker II, Arcuri's final mission, was born of tactical and political necessity, The concept is to restart a failed peace process and bring an end to an unpopular war. Arcuri and his fellow airmen and crewmates are just small pieces caught up in a bigger puzzle, and managed to survive a harrowing ordeal.

In survival they learned some valuable lessons. Keep faith in family, friends, the mission and the reasons one carries out a mission and, finally, never give up.


William Youl Arcuri, Status: POW - William Arcuri graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Class of 1970. He was interned as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam after he was shot down on December 20, 1972 and was held until his release on February 12, 1973.

  • Distinguished Flying Cross, Awarded for actions during the Vietnam War
    The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to First Lieutenant William Youl Arcuri (AFSN: 0-1764469), United States Air Force, for heroism while participating in aerial flight as a B-52 Co-pilot near Hanoi, North Vietnam, on 20 December 1972. On that date, while engaged in one of the largest conventional bombing raids ever amassed in the recent history of aerial warfare, Lieutenant Arcuri was forced to bail out over hostile territory due to significant battle damage to his aircraft as the result of extremely heavy hostile fire. Lieutenant Arcuri and his crew were in quest of massed supplies, communications equipment, and transportation lines in order to eliminate the aggressor's capacity to initiate an offensive, and, despite receiving heavy battle damage and incurring grave personal danger, Lieutenant Arcuri and his crew were able to destroy the target before being forced to abandon their aircraft. The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Lieutenant Arcuri reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force. Action Date: December 20, 1972, Service: Air Force, Rank: First Lieutenant

  • Prisoner of War Medal, Awarded for actions during the Vietnam War
    First Lieutenant William Youl Arcuri (AFSN: 0-1764469), United States Air Force, was held as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam from December 20, 1972 until his release on February 12, 1973. Action Date: December 20, 1972 - February 12, 1973, Service: Air Force, Rank: First Lieutenant, Division: Prisoner of War (North Vietnam)

By U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Timothy Lawn
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