Plumb, J. Charles, CAPT

Line Officer
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Current Service Status
USNR Retired
Current/Last Rank
Current/Last Primary NEC
131X-Unrestricted Line Officer - Pilot
Current/Last Rating/NEC Group
Line Officer
Primary Unit
1973-1976, 131X, NAS Millington, TN
Service Years
1960 - 1992
Foreign Language(s)
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US Navy Retired 30

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Vietnam War/Vietnam Cease-fire Campaign (72-73)
From Month/Year
March / 1972
To Month/Year
January / 1973

This Campaign period was from 30 March 1972 to 28 January 1973. By 1973, both the logistic establishment and the combat arm of the Vietnamese Navy possessed the material resources to carry on the fight alone. The 42,000-man naval service marshalled a force of 1,500 ships and craft for warfare on the rivers and canals, in coastal waters, and far out to sea. The supply, training, and repair facilities were structured to man and support the operational navy for a long-term struggle.

Despite these advantages, the Vietnamese Navy still was burdened with the old problems of poor leadership, low morale, and lack of dedication on the part of many personnel. The departing Americans in the Naval Advisory Group concluded that the relatively young, recently expanded, and still developing Vietnamese Navy had the potential to add great strength to the defense of South Vietnam, but only if given the time to mature.

The nature of the campaign changed in May when President Nixon ordered the virtual isolation of North Vietnam from external Communist support. Aside from the obvious military rationale, the President sought by this action to end North Vietnamese intransigence at the stalled Paris negotiations. For the first time in the long Southeast Asian conflict, all of the Navy's conventional resources were brought to bear on the enemy. On 9 May, in Operation Pocket Money, Coral Sea's A-6 Intruders and A-7 Corsairs dropped magnetic-acoustic sea mines in the river approaches to Haiphong, North Vietnam's chief port. Shortly thereafter, the other major ports were mined as well. Over 85 percent of the country's military imports passed through these ports. Washington gave foreign ships three days to depart the country, after which the mines armed themselves. Despite this advance notice, 32 foreign, mostly Communist ships elected to remain trapped in North Vietnamese waters.

The fleet's surface combatants also helped deny the enemy unhindered use of the inland coastal areas. On 10 May the 8-inch guns of heavy cruiser Newport News bombarded targets near Hanoi from a position off Do Son while guided missile cruisers Oklahoma City and Providence and three destroyers suppressed the enemy's counterbattery fire from the peninsula. Normally three or four U.S. ships made up the surface action group that cruised along the coast ready to provide air-spotted or direct fire. From April through September, the cruiser destroyer group fired over 111,000 rounds at the enemy, destroying or damaging thousands of bunkers and buildings; knocking out tanks, trucks, and artillery sites; killing 2,000 troops; and sinking almost 200 coastal logistic craft and 4 motor torpedo boats. In August, Newport News, destroyer Rowan (DD 782), and naval air units sank two of the PT boats that attacked the American ships off Haiphong.

The North Vietnamese fought back hard. Earlier in the year Higbee (DD 806) became the first U.S. naval vessel attacked by enemy MiGs, one of which dropped a bomb on the destroyer's stern, wounding four sailors. In addition, while Communist coastal batteries hit 16 ships offshore in 1972, no ship was sunk then or at any time in the Southeast Asian conflict. In July, Warrington (DD 843) struck what was determined to be a wayward U.S. mine that caused extensive damage to the ship. Naval leaders later decided to scrap the already obsolete destroyer rather than spend money on her repair. These few human and material casualties suffered by the Seventh Fleet contrasted with the great punishment absorbed by the North Vietnamese.
From May through December 1972, no large merchant vessels entered or left North Vietnamese harbors. An attempt by the Communist to lighter cargo to shore from ships in international waters was foiled when fleet ships and aircraft, including Marine helicopter gunships, intercepted and destroyed the shuttling craft. The deployed American fleet even curtailed the enemy's intracoastal movement.

Complementing this effort at sea was the massive aerial offensive by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force named Linebacker. In contrast to the earlier Rolling Thunder campaign, in Linebacker Washington gave operational commanders authority to choose when, how, and in what order to strike and restrike targets. Commanders could adjust to changing weather and the enemy's defenses and concentrate their aerial firepower to best effect. As a result, American air squadrons interdicted the road and rail lines from China and devastated North Vietnamese warmaking resources, including munition stockpiles, fuel storage facilities, power plants, rail yards, and bridges.

Using Boeing B-52 bombers and new, more accurate ordnance, such as laser guided bombs and advanced Walleye bombs, the Air Force and the Navy hit targets with great precision and destructiveness. For instance, the U.S. air forces destroyed the Thanh Hoa and Paul Doumer bridges, long impervious to American bombing, and the Hanoi power plant deep in the heart of the populated capital city. They also knocked out targets as close as 10 miles to the center of Hanoi and 5 miles from Haiphong harbor. Between 9 May and the end of September, the Navy flew an average of 4,000 day-and-night attack sorties each month, reaching a peak of 4,746 in August. This represented over 60 percent of the American combat support sorties during the same five-month period.

The North Vietnamese attempted to counter the American onslaught. Employing thousands of antiaircraft weapons and firing almost 2,000 surface-to-air missiles in this period, the enemy shot down 28 American aircraft. In one day alone, the Communist air force challenged U.S. aerial supremacy by sending up 41 interceptor aircraft. On that day, 10 May, Navy pilot Lieutenant Randy Cunningham and his radar intercept officer Lieutenant (jg) William Driscoll became the war's only Navy "aces," adding three kills to the two already credited to them. American air units destroyed a total of 11 North Vietnamese aircraft that day, but lost 6 of their own. The Navy's ratio of kills to losses had improved by the end of air operations on 15 January 1973, when the total stood at 25 MiGs destroyed in air-to-air combat for the loss of 5 naval aircraft. During the Linebacker campaigns, the fleet's SAR units rescued 30 naval air crewmen downed for various reasons in the North Vietnamese theater of operations.

By the end of September 1972, the North Vietnamese diplomats in Paris were much more amenable to serious negotiation than they were at the end of March. Allied air, naval, and ground forces had repulsed the Communist offensive in South Vietnam and in I Corps even regained much lost ground. After drastically reducing the enemy's reinforcements and munitions infiltrated into the South, the U.S. air and naval campaign in the North gradually destroyed Hanoi's ability to prosecute the war.

Believing that a negotiated settlement of the Southeast Asian conflict was within reach in Paris, on 11 October the Nixon administration ordered U.S. Pacific forces to cease bombing in the vicinity of Hanoi. Then on the twenty-third, Washington restricted allied strikes to targets below the 20th parallel. Nevertheless, negotiations with the North Vietnamese again bogged down in Paris while the enemy strengthened the air defenses of the capital and Haiphong and restored the rail lines to China. The Communist once more stockpiled war reserves.

In response to these developments, President Nixon ordered a massive air assault by Air Force B-52 bombers, tactical aircraft, and the Navy's carrier attack units against military targets deep within Hanoi and Haiphong. On 18 December the joint attack, designated Linebacker II, fell on the enemy capital. That night and on succeeding nights of the operation, wave after wave of B-52 bombers and supporting aircraft struck Hanoi, hitting command and communication facilities, power plants, rail yards, bridges, storage buildings, open stockpiles, truck parks, and ship repair complexes. Because of the precision of the air crews and their weapons, there was minimal damage to nonmilitary property. The North Vietnamese met the Linebacker II attack with 1,250 surface-to-air missiles, which brought down 15 of the big American bombers and 3 supporting aircraft; antiaircraft defenses and MiG interceptors destroyed another 4 carrier planes.

The loss of six B-52s on 20 December alone, however, called for a change in tactics and more reliance on technologically superior equipment. Thereafter, the American air forces employed the most advanced precision-guided weapons and electronic countermeasure, target finding, and other equipment. They also concentrated on the destruction of the enemy's missile defense network, including command and control facilities, missile assembly and transportation points, and the missile batteries themselves. To spread thin Communist defenses, the American command broadened the operational arena to include not only Hanoi, but Haiphong, Thai Nguyen, Long Dun Kep, and Lang Dang. This redirection of effort succeeded. By 29 December, the last day of Linebacker II, U.S. forces had neutralized the enemy's surface-to-air missile system while reducing friendly losses to a minimum. Not surprisingly, at year's end the North Vietnamese resumed serious discussions in Paris. On 15 January 1973, both sides ceased combat operations in the North.
Withdrawal from the War

On 27 January 1973, U.S., South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, and Viet Cong representatives finally signed the long-sought cease- fire agreement at Paris. Under its provisions, the Communist agreed to release all American prisoners of war within a space of two months in exchange for U.S. military withdrawal from South Vietnam and the U.S. Navy's clearance of mines from North Vietnamese waters.

During February and March, U.S. aircraft touched down at Gia Lam Airfield in Hanoi to repatriate 138 naval aviators, some of whom had been prisoners in North Vietnam since 1964. The men were flown to reception centers in the Pacific and the United States, where they received a joyous welcome from families and friends. The repatriation program, appropriately named Operation Homecoming, ensured that the men received extensive medical, psychological, and emotional support for the transition from captivity to freedom. Another five men captured in the war were released earlier by the North Vietnamese while two escaped. Thirty-six naval aviators died while in the hands of the Communist, whose treatment of American prisoners was always harsh and often bestial. The Navy listed over 600 naval flight crew personnel missing and presumed dead at the end of the conflict.

In these same two months, the Navy closed down all remaining base facilities, offices, and commands in South Vietnam. Advisors, the first naval personnel to deploy to Vietnam in 1950, were also the last to leave. The men gathered in Saigon for flights home. On 11 February, the Coast Guard disestablished the office of the Senior Coast Guard Officer, Vietnam, and airlifted out all of its personnel. Soon afterward, the fleet air reconnaissance and communications detachments at Danang relocated to Cubi Point in the Philippines. Finally, on 29 March 1973, the Naval Advisory Group and Naval Forces, Vietnam, were formally disestablished. Thereafter, only 9 Navy and Marine Corps officers assigned to the U.S. Embassy's Defense Attache Office and 156 Marine embassy guards remained in South Vietnam.

The last provision of the cease-fire agreement that directly related to the Navy entailed removal of the U.S. sea mines laid along the North Vietnamese coast and the Mark 36 Destructors dropped into inland waterways. On 28 January, following months of extensive preparation and training, the Seventh Fleet's Mine Countermeasures Force (Task Force 78), led by Rear Admiral Brian McCauley, sailed from Subic Bay and shaped course for a staging area off Haiphong. On 6 February, one day after Commander Task Force 78 met in the city to coordinate actions with his North Vietnamese opposite, Colonel Hoang Huu Thai, Operation End Sweep got underway. Ocean minesweepers Engage (MSO 433), Force (MSO) 445), Fortify (MSO 446), and Impervious (MSO 449) swept areas off the coast near Haiphong while being escorted by guided missile frigate Worden (DLG 18) and destroyer Epperson (DD 719). By the end of the month, amphibious ships New Orleans (LPH 11), Dubuque (LPD 8), Ogdon (LPD 5), Cleveland (LPD 7), and Inchon (LPH 12) had joined the force off North Vietnam. These ships carried 31 CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters from the Navy's Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 12 and from Marine helicopter squadrons HMM-165 and HMH-463. These aircraft towed minesweeping sleds and other devices to carry out aerial mine countermeasures along the inland waterways and the shallow port areas. A total of 10 ocean minesweepers, 9 amphibious ships, 6 fleet tugs, 3 salvage ships, and 19 destroyer types served with Task Force 78 during the six months of Operation End Sweep.

The Americans began airborne minesweeping in the primary shipping channel to Haiphong on 27 February and in the ports of Hon Gai and Cam Pha on 17 March. During the early part of April, MSS 2, an old, decommissioned LST, filled with foam and other buffers and crewed by a few daring volunteers, made eight check runs up the Haiphong channel to ensure that no mines threatened the vital waterway. Meanwhile, U.S. naval instructors trained 50 North Vietnamese personnel to conduct minesweeping operations on rivers and inland waterways. Further, U.S. C-130 transport aircraft flew into Cat Bi Airfield to transfer minesweeping gear to the North Vietnamese. Airborne and ocean sweeping operations continued in the Haiphong and northern areas until 17 April, when U.S. leaders temporarily withdrew the task force to persuade the North Vietnamese to adhere to the terms of the Paris agreement. Convinced that Hanoi had received the intended message, on 18 June Washington restarted Operation End Sweep. The task force returned to the anchorage off Haiphong. In little more than a week, Admiral McCauley declared the water approaches to Haiphong and the harbors of Hon Gai and Cam Pha free of danger from mines. Afterward, the American flotilla worked the coastal areas off Vinh in southern North Vietnam. Finally, on 18 July 1973, with Operation End Sweep completed, the Seventh Fleet departed North Vietnamese territorial waters. Thus ended the U.S. Navy's long, arduous, and costly deployment off the Communist mainland.
My Participation in This Battle or Operation
From Month/Year
March / 1972
To Month/Year
January / 1973
Last Updated:
Mar 16, 2020
Personal Memories

My memories of the years 1966-1973 include the 2,103 days I was held as a POW in Viet Nam are included in my autobiography, I'm No Hero. Any shipmate who is interested, I'll send an autographed copy to you, no charge, as thanks for your service to our great nation.

My Photos From This Battle or Operation
No Available Photos

  549 Also There at This Battle:
  • Adams, Michael, PO3, (1968-1972)
  • Adams, Thomas, PO2, (1970-1978)
  • Adkins, Edsel, PO2, (1970-1977)
  • Allen, Barry, CDR, (1969-1989)
  • Alvarez, Raul, PO3, (1971-1975)
  • Amsdill, Charles, SCPO, (1971-1991)
  • Anderson, Larry, PO1, (1967-1977)
  • Andrus, Kenn, PO3, (1971-1977)
  • Arnold, Marty, CPO, (1960-1981)
  • Atwood, John, PO2, (1968-1974)
  • Avery, Jerome, PO1, (1972-1993)
  • Babcock, Mark, CPO, (1968-1994)
  • Bailey, John T, PO2, (1970-1976)
  • Bailey, Ricky B., CPO, (1968-1979)
  • Baker, Russ, PO2, (1969-1973)
  • Ballard, Joe, PO3, (1971-1975)
  • Barrows, Lee, PO3, (1972-1978)
  • Beakley, James, LCDR, (1968-1988)
  • Bedrosian, Dennis, SN, (1969-1973)
  • Beecher, Mark, PO3, (1970-1976)
  • Behnke, Jon, PO1, (1969-1990)
  • Bell, John, PO2, (1971-1975)
  • BELL, RICHARD(RICH), PO2, (1971-1976)
  • Bentley, Edward, CPO, (1951-1975)
  • Bilak, David, PO1, (1968-1974)
  • Bjur, Daryle, PO1, (1969-1990)
  • Bland, James, PO2, (1970-1979)
  • Blankenship, William, PO2, (1969-1977)
  • Bonner, Merle, PO1, (1970-1981)
  • Bracken, Mark, SR, (1972-1973)
  • Bradshaw, Larry, PO2, (1968-1972)
  • Bragg, Larry, SCPO, (1959-1989)
  • Brand, Charlie, PO3, (1969-1973)
  • Brewster, Timothy, PO2, (1969-1975)
  • Brodbeck, Bob, PO3, (1971-1974)
  • Brouwer, John, PO2, (1972-1976)
  • Broward, Charles, PO2, (1968-1974)
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  • Brown, Robert, LCDR, (1966-1986)
  • Bunch, Jerry, PO2, (1972-1978)
  • Burrell, William, PO2, (1968-1974)
  • Burrows, Thomas, SCPO, (1971-2004)
  • Burrows, Tom, SCPO, (1971-2004)
  • Burton, Chris, PO2, (1969-1975)
  • Carmean, James, PO2, (1970-1978)
  • Carmichael, Richard, SCPO, (1960-1981)
  • Carpenter, Tim, AA, (1972-1975)
  • Carter, George, PO1, (1968-1974)
  • Cecil, Donald, PO3, (1968-1972)
  • Chandler, Richard, LT, (1972-1977)
  • Chapin, Charles (Chip), PO2, (1970-1976)
  • Chiasson, Richard, LCDR, (1968-1980)
  • Christopher, Ron, CDR, (1965-1998)
  • Clark, Charles, LCDR, (1970-1996)
  • Clark, Ray, LCDR, (1966-1991)
  • Clausen, James, PO2, (1971-1975)
  • Clements, Barry, SCPO, (1969-1992)
  • Coleman, Robert, SCPO, (1970-1990)
  • Collier, Bob, PO3, (1971-1975)
  • Cone, Douglas, PO2, (1970-1979)
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