US Air Force commemorates 50 years since Vietnam War Operation Rolling Thunder

It is 50 years since the US Air Force launched its Operation Rolling Thunder campaign during the Vietnam War and the Air Force is holding a special commemoration event to honor those who flew, fought and died during the campaign.

Operation Rolling Thunder lasted for three years, when F-105 and other aircraft from the US Air Force, US Marines and US Navy conducted a heavy bombing campaign across North Vietnam. Off the coast of Vietnam US and Australian warships and aircraft carriers supported the bombing with coastal attacks.

The operation was put in place to prevent the US having to put troops on the ground in North Vietnam.  It was the most severe battle during the Cold War as the Communist North Vietnam fought back with air and ground-to-air weapons, the U.S. Air Force reports.

The US Air Force is holding a commemoration event with veterans and their families at a wreath-laying at the Air Force Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The US Military has already established a 50th Vietnam War Commemorative Partner Program that is spanning the corresponding 50 years since the Vietnam War, which lasted from 1955 to 1975. The wreath-laying ceremony is the first Vietnam commemoration for the US Air Force.

The Air Force says that the troops in Vietnam supported the country through one of its most challenging eras.

On 2nd March 1965 Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Hayden Lockhart was shot down in his aircraft over Vietnam and was the US Air Force’s first prisoner of war.  The 2nd of March is also the day that the Operation Rolling Thunder began and so the date has become poignant for the Air Force’s commemoration of the Vietnam War.

During the campaign, the US Air Force destroyed over half of North Vietnam’s bridges, disrupting the Viet Minh’s transport network, as well as most of its fuel facilities and power plants. Over the three years, the US also lost over 1000 aircraft.

The US Air Force is eager to honor those men who fought during the campaign.

In 1973, all parties in the war signed a peace agreement and all prisoners of war were to be freed within two months of the agreement being signed. Almost 600 US troops were released during that time.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE