State Senator Wayne Wallingford (R-Cape Girardeau) has a vivid memory of his Air Force crew surviving a near-death experience during a Vietnam War flight mission. Imagine the most extraordinary Fourth of July fireworks show you’ve ever seen and multiply it by one million. Wallingford says he’s not exaggerating when he says that’s what the air strikes looked like. He flew more than 300 combat operations in Vietnam from about 1970 to 1973.
During an 11-day mission in 1972 called the Linebacker 2 operation, 15 of the U.S.’s B-52’s were shot down. Nine others were able to make it back to base. Wallingford says the closest call he’s ever had during his 25 years in the Air Force was during that mission when a surface-to-air missile continued to come straight at his B-52 bomber.
Wallingford describes the missile as a 35-feet long telephone-looking pole with a 500 pound warhead that travels 1,800 feet per second. He says a B-52 getting hit by such missile is like cracking open an egg.
“I knew that was my last mission I was going to be flying because I wasn’t going to live beyond that mission. It (a missile) had honed in on us,” says Wallingford. “Miraculously, under the hand of God, it exploded prematurely. The missile itself didn’t directly hit us. The fragments from the missile did. The fragments went through the aircraft, missed the crew members, the fuel tanks, the bombs in the bomb bay and went through the aircraft and out the other side. Only God could do that. It was phenomenal.”
That mission lasted from December 18-29. It ended the conflict in Vietnam, releasing America’s 591 prisoners of war.
A ground crew later counting how many holes were in Wallingford’s plane stopped counting after 680.
“The plane got the Purple Heart. The crew members didn’t. I like it that way,” he says.
Wallingford has had a decorative Air Force career. He’s received 47 medals for his service, including the Silver Star – the third highest honor given by the U.S. military.