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Captain Brent Diefenbach (sort of long)
Matt - Are you still looking for information about Bob Hymel and Brent Diefenbach?
On Saturday, January 20, 2001 at 1:03:31 AM UTC-5, Mathew Hamer wrote:
Probably some of the long time RAM poster's know the story, but here is the
story below is the "official" version.
I believe I read that Captain Diefenbach was actually charged or
court-martialed for leaving U-Tapao to rescue Lt. Hymel, (incredible as it
seems) but the USAF withdrew the charges in the face of an uproar, and
later, begrudingly awarded the medal.
Can anyone posting to RAM shed any light on this? And what became of Capt.
Diefenbach & Lt. Hymel? And why didn't Captain Diefenbach get a Medal of
Honour for this?
Linebacker II, the 11-day bombing campaign of December 1972 that persuaded
North Vietnam to sign a cease-fire, had been halted on Christmas Day. Now it
was the night of Dec. 26 and the operation was on again. The B-52 with Lt.
Robert Hymel as copilot was assigned a target near Hanoi.
Everyone knew the North Vietnamese had used the bombing break to restock and
repair their Surface-to-Air missile sites. It was going to be a rough night.
As Hymel's B-52 dropped its bombs and turned off target, the rear gunner
called two SAMs coming up. Despite evasive action by the B-52, the missiles
exploded just to the right of the bomber, wounding the gunner, knocking out
two engines, and causing major fuel leaks and other undetermined damage. The
aircraft commander headed for an emergency landing at Da Nang, then decided
that, with several refuelings, they could make it back to their base at U
Tapao, in Thailand. The wounded gunner would have better medical treatment
Shortly after midnight, the BUFF started a straight-in approach to the Thai
base. Capt. Brent Diefenbach, a B-52 aircraft commander who had just
returned from a mission in the North, sat in a crew bus, waiting to cross
the end of the runway as Hymel's battle-damaged bomber neared the runway
lights. The approach didn't look or sound right. Suddenly, the aircraft
veered to the left and the engines roared as power was added for a
go-around. Diefenbach watched, horrified, as the big bomber pitched up,
plunged to earth about a mile beyond the runway, and exploded in a ball of
Diefenbach later remembered the compulsive thought that he had to get to the
crash site. "It appeared obvious to me that no one was alive, but something
kept drawing me to go." He knew he had to get there fast. Jumping off the
bus, he went out an entrance gate and climbed aboard a Thai bus that was
headed in the direction of the crash. When the driver refused to go farther,
Diefenbach ran down the road toward the burning B-52 until he spotted a path
in the tall grass that seemed to lead to the aircraft.
"For a second," Diefenbach recalled, "I thought, 'Why go on? No one is alive
in that inferno.' " But again he felt impelled, almost against his will. He
approached the wreckage, shouting to see if anyone was alive. To his
surprise, he heard a voice inside the bomber calling for help. Rolling down
the sleeves of his flight suit for protection against the heat, he entered
the burning plane amidst a fusillade of exploding ammunition and pressure
lines. There was no way of knowing if bombs were still aboard.
Diefenbach followed the cries-the only sign of life-through a pall of smoke
to find copilot Hymel, badly injured, crumpled in a position that prevented
him from unbuckling his seat harness and with one fractured leg trapped in
the wreckage. Diefenbach remembers accusing Hymel of not helping and of
falling asleep-"anything to keep him conscious." In desperation, Hymel told
his rescuer to cut off the leg if he had to. Finally, working together for
what seemed an eternity, they were able to free the injured man. "By that
time, the explosions [and] the heat were nearer than I care to think about."
Diefenbach dragged Hymel out of the fuselage and carried him away from the
blazing wreck just as a helicopter and fire trucks arrived. The rescue crew
was unable to approach the B-52, now engulfed in flames.
Hymel was air evacuated to Clark AB in the Philippines, then to a hospital
in the States where he eventually recovered from multiple fractures and
After Diefenbach had reported details of the rescue to the wing commander
and his staff, he was taken to the base hospital "for some minor repairs and
bandages." Some time later, he discovered there were "a lot of thank you's
in order for the Chief Pilot in the Sky." He had extricated the copilot from
an armed ejection seat. That it had not fired in the struggle to free Hymel
was a miracle within a miraculous and heroic rescue, for which the commander
in chief of Strategic Air Command, Gen. John C. Meyer, presented Diefenbach
the Airman's Medal.
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