SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- The sunshine reflecting off the black marble of The Wall That Heals in Camden, South Carolina, served as a backdrop for the Air Force ending a 45 year wait for retired Capt. Johnny Blye.
Blye received the Distinguished Flying Cross May 5, for his participation in Operation Linebacker II during the bombardment of Hanoi.
"I flew 150 combat missions in B-52s," said Blye. "I flew in North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. At the end of the war I flew in the 'big one' into Hanoi, the most heavily defended city in the world at that time."
Linebacker II was the final major operation the U.S. Air Force launched during the Vietnam War. The joint airborne operation consisted of approximately 200 B-52 Stratofortresses and approximately 2,000 supporting tactical aircraft including: F-4 Phantom II fighter escorts, EA-6A Prowler and EB-66 Destroyer radar-jamming aircraft, F-105 Thunderchief Wild Weasel surface-to-air missile suppression aircraft and KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft.
"I am very grateful that I was one of the fortunate ones that made it back," said Blye. "A lot of my B-52 friends got shot down. We had 15 B-52s shot down in 11 days. I was fortunate to have been one of the survivors, but I appreciate the sacrifice of all of those people that weren't."
Upon returning home from Vietnam, veterans did not always receive a warm welcome from a nation divided on the validity and purpose of the Vietnam War.
"I would like to thank the Vietnam vets, their family members and all the Americans who have helped turn it around to show the right way to welcome home service members and their families who have made sacrifices," said Maj. Gen. Scott J. Zobrist, 9th Air Force commander. "Whenever I find a young Airman, I tell them to seek out Vietnam veterans and say 'thank you' to them. Military members today get treated amazingly well, and it's a great time to serve now. A lot of Vietnam veterans did not have that"
The 13-year Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War and the nationwide tour of The Wall That Heals are ways America is honoring, remembering and paying back service members who sacrificed for their nation and are still dealing with the effects of the war.
Blye's Distinguished Flying Cross is an honor being rendered late, but with full honors.
Blye said, it's been 45 years since he should have gotten the decoration, but waiting made it that much sweeter.