U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo., Dec. 27, 2010 – If the landmarks here could speak, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber sitting near the academy’s north gate would have quite a Vietnam War story to tell.
The crew of the “Diamond Lil,” a B-52D, tail number 55-083, took off from Utapao Royal Thai Naval Airfield on Christmas Eve in 1972. The crew’s mission was to bomb the North Vietnamese railroad yards at Thai Nguyen as part of Operation Linebacker II, which took place Dec. 18 to 29, 1972.
However, the Diamond Lil's crew faced enemy air power. A North Vietnamese MiG-21 raced to intercept the B-52. The bomber’s tail gunner, Airman 1st Class Albert Moore, noticed the MiG's approach.
"I observed a target in my radar scope 8:30 o'clock, low at eight miles," Moore wrote six days later in his statement of claim for enemy aircraft destroyed. "I immediately notified the crew, and the ‘bogie’ started closing rapidly. It stabilized at 4,000 yards, 6:30 o'clock. I called the pilot for evasive action and the [electronic warfare officer] for chaff and flares.
"When the target got to 2,000 yards, I notified the crew that I was firing. I fired at the bandit until it ballooned to three times in intensity then suddenly disappeared from my radar scope at approximately 1,200 yards, 6:30 low. I expended 800 rounds in three bursts."
Another gunner aboard the B-52, Tech. Sgt. Clarence Chute, verified Moore’s kill in his report.
"I went visual and saw the ‘bandit’ on fire and falling away," Chute wrote. "Several pieces of the aircraft exploded, and the fireball disappeared in the under-cast at my 6:30 position."
Moore's kill is one of only two confirmed kills by a B-52D in the Vietnam War and the last confirmed kill by a tail gunner in wartime using machine guns.
Following the MiG kill, Moore wrote, "On the way home I wasn't sure whether I should be happy or sad. You know, there was a guy in that MiG. I'm sure he would have wanted to fly home too. But it was a case of him or my crew. I'm glad it turned out the way it did. Yes, I'd go again. Do I want another MiG? No, but given the same set of circumstances, yes, I'd go for another one." Moore died in 2009 at age 55.
Linebacker II brought the North Vietnamese government back to the negotiating table after earlier talks had broken down. A month after the campaign, North Vietnam and the United States signed a ceasefire agreement.
Diamond Lil continued serving long after the end of the Vietnam War. In all, the aircraft flew more than 15,000 hours and more than 200 combat missions between its commissioning in 1957 and its decommissioning in 1983. It came to the Air Force academy shortly after it was decommissioned.