As a high school and college student during most of the Vietnam War, I was consumed by the drill team, dating and studying—not the nightly news. It’s only since I’ve known my Vietnam veteran husband that I’ve learned more about the war and the toll it took on our troops and the fabric of our country.
I was blissfully ignorant of the military and political battles waged back then, though I’ve since learned lots about both via movies, documentaries and books. “Pac 6: A General’s Decision” is a documentary about Linebacker II, the Christmas 1972 mission credited with bringing the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table after talks had stalled earlier that year.
Linebacker I was the U.S. response to the Vietnamese army’s 1972 Easter Offensive. That response brought the enemy to the negotiating table, but by December, President Nixon, frustrated and determined to get them to negotiate in good faith, ordered his Joint Chiefs of Staff to initiate three days of B-52/Tacair strikes on December 18, 1972, with the objective: “maximum destruction of selected targets.” They were told to be prepared to go longer.
The mission was ultimately successful in restarting the peace talks which led to the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and the release of our POWs — some of whom had been held in inhumane and torturous conditions for more than seven years — but it started out disastrously for our B-52s and our airmen. Fifteen B-52s were shot down by over 1,000 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Of the 92 B-52 crew members who went down, 33 died, 34 were captured, and 26 were rescued. For details on the tactics that led to those losses, you can view the film at https://vimeo.com/195186849 and read the story on https://www.historynet.com/the-11-day-war.htm and http://www.linebacker2.com/-.php.
This film, though, is about much more than military tactics and bravery in battle. It’s the story of one man’s integrity — one man making a difference, one man standing up to do the right thing. It’s the story of Brig. Gen. Glenn R. Sullivan’s fateful decision to jump the chain of command, a decision that saved the lives of untold crew members and enabled the mission to be successful and to accomplish its overarching objective — get the talks going in earnest.
That decision cost Gen. Sullivan his career, an outcome he would have been well aware of even as he took action to alter the dismal trajectory of the original tactics. Despite his leadership and his role in turning things around, he was denied a second star and retired two years later.
Like me, the general’s son was a typical self-absorbed college student during the war, with little understanding of his father’s involvement. This film, then, is also the story of that son and his search for an understanding of his father’s role. The general died in 1998, and now 20 years later, this film honors not only those who gave their all but also one man who sacrificed the career he loved to do the right thing.
When Barry Dycus approached G. Ray Sullivan, the general’s son, about making this film, Ray was reluctant because he knew his father wouldn’t want his story to be the focus. Though it speaks to the respect the men had for Gen. Sullivan, It’s a well-balanced piece that allows those who fought and survived to express their perspectives on what B-52 aircrews came to call the “11-Day War.”
The film was produced by Barry and Ray with the help of donations from veterans and civic groups. Their goal is to have it shown on a broadcast channel like the American Heroes Channel. Ray, who lives in LaGrange, has presented to civic and veterans groups around the country and would be happy to visit your group to do the same. Contact him at email@example.com.
Stories like this serve to remind me of the true meaning of Memorial Day — a day to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Wherever you may be on May 27, pausing at 3 PM local time for a National Moment of Remembrance is one small way to remember their sacrifice.
Kathy is a Sandy Springs resident. Find her books, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch” and “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” at the Enchanted Forest and on Amazon. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook, www.facebook.com/KathyManosPennAuthor/, and/or read her blogs at https://theinkpenn.blogspot.com/.