The idea for this year’s Salute to Service (S2S) patch originated in the mind of Cale Kirby, the Assistant Chiefs Equipment Manager. Kirby knew that 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of Operation Linebacker I & II, the 1972 US strategic bombing campaign designed to bring the North Vietnamese government to the negotiating table.
As an equipment manager, Kirby also knew the connection between operations and a former Chiefs player and Hall of Fame inductee, Derrick Thomas. USAF Captain Robert J. Thomas, father of Derrick Thomas, was killed in action during Operation Linebacker II.
Cale Kirby suggested the theme for the patch to Chuck Castellano, Chiefs Director of Community Outreach. Castellano agreed and hired an active duty Army officer doing a career transition internship with the Chiefs to do some research.
There followed several weeks of meticulous research and effort by the Chiefs team who scoured official records and primary sources to confirm details regarding Operation Linebacker, and specifically the details surrounding the captain’s death. Robert Thomas in 1972.
A breakthrough came when the leaders were contacted by Colonel Ret. Robert Certain, former Air Force navigator and Vietnam POW who served with Captain Robert Thomas aboard call sign B52G Stratofortress Coal 1. Coal 1 was shot down on December 18, 1972, after the aircraft was hit by two surface-to-air missiles. Two crew members were killed instantly by the missile attack. The rest of the crew parachuted from the burning plane. Three would survive.