If you’ve read Frag Order or Hamfist Over the Trail, you may recall the scene where the bomb dumps at DaNang exploded. The event actually occurred in April 1969, and here is actual footage of the explosion.
It’s been a while since I recommended some books for readers in the Hamfist genre, and I’ve been remiss for not mentioning these sooner. When it comes to Vietnam air war action books, they don’t get better than the Wings of War series! The author, Mark Berent, writes from an extensive background in Vietnam combat. (Turns out, he was a Wolf fast-FAC with Brad Sharp, the piot who became my squadron commander when I was at Ubon a few years later. You can read about Brad’s last mission here.) During his three tours in Vietnam, Mark did lots of remarkable things, like going out on a field mission with the grunts, and even jumping on combat missions with Cambodian paratroopers!
Reading Mark’s books launched me on a long trip down memory lane, culminating with me writing my Hamfist series of novels. I guess my recollections from Vietnam had been percolating inside me for some time, just waiting for the right time to come out.
Wings of War is a five-part series that follows pilot Court Bannister, pilot Toby Parker, and Special Forces officer Wolf Lochert through their successive combat tours in Vietnam. Along the way, we see real events like Johnson and McNamara micro-managing the war, the outrageous abuse of American Pilots held at the Hoa Lo prison, and the claim of an attack on the Russian ship Turkmenestan.
Along the way, we see powerful scenes, such as Toby Parker’s metamorphosis, a scene highly reminiscent of an event in Berent’s life, recounted here, where he had a life-changing interaction with future Medal-of-Honor winner George “Bud” Day.
You really should read the Wings of War series in order, starting with Rolling Thunder. You can find the books on Amazon by clicking on the covers below, or by visiting Mark’s website.
Operation Overlord saved the world 71 years ago.
World War II vets are leaving us at the rate of 492 a day. If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a vet!
I lost two friends on the same day, June 2nd, 1969. Both were O-2A Forward Air Controllers (FACs), both in the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron.
Jim Gilmore and I were classmates at the Air Force Academy, and went through FAC training at Hurlburt Air Force Base and Holly Field in late 1968. We celebrated New Year’s Eve together at a party in the nearby town of Mary Esther, and deployed together to Vietnam. We both ended up in the 20th TASS at DaNang, in sister units. My AO (Area of Operations) was the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos, Jim’s was I Corps in Vietnam, supporting American troops. Our unit Operations buildings were next door to each other, and the pilots of both units usually gathered at the DOOM Club (DaNang Officers’ Open Mess) to decompress after the day’s flying. Jim and I were friends.
Ken Svanoe was also my classmate at the Academy. I didn’t know him very well there, becuase we were in different squadrons, and hadn’t shared any classes together. But we knew each other by sight, and I bumped into him at the DOOM Club the night of June 1st. He had ferried an O-2A into DaNang for maintenance that couldn’t be performed at his base at Phu Bai, one of the 20th TASS units north of DaNang. We got together over dinner and I learned that Ken didn’t have a room at the VOQ (Visiting Oficers’ Quarters). I told him my room-mate was on R&R, and he could bunk in my 2-man room. After dinner, we went back to my hootch, and stayed up well into the night, talking and getting to know each other better. The next morning, he cranked up his airplane to fly back to Phu Bai, with both of us looking forward to meeting again.
Jim and Ken were killed on combat missions within an hour of each other. It happened on June 2nd, 1969.
ALL proceeds from sales of all Hamfist series books (Kindle and paperback) sold between May 22-29 will be donated to the Air Warrior Courage Foundation (minimum donation of $100).
Please pass the word!
I buried a friend yesterday. At this age, that’s not terribly unusual. What made this different is that Rick Chorlins was killed 45 years ago, and his remains have finally been brought home.
Rick and I were close when we were cadets at the Air Force Academy. Then, in 1967, graduation sent us in different directions, and we didn’t meet up again until late 1969. I was stationed at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, and had wangled a good-deal trip to Thailand for a few days. I was going to go for an orientation ride on a C-130 Airborne Command and Control Center (ABCCC), call-sign Moonbeam. It was a chance to get away from the unrelenting nightly rocket attacks, and see locals who were not burdened by war and who knew how to smile.
I arrived at Nakon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, called NKP, and headed to the Officers Club. And there, standing at the bar, was Rick, along with another classmate I hadn’t seen in over two years, Bob Moore. Meeting up with old friends after a long time is always fun. Running into them unexpectedly on the other side of the world is really special. We hung around together the entire night. After a few drinks, we had dinner, then went back to their hootch and caught up with what had been happening in our lives. We had all gotten married since we last saw each other. Rick had gotten a Master’s Degree. Bob had become a father. We swapped war stories. I told them what it was like to be a Forward Air Controller, and they told me what it was like to fly the A-1 in combat.
Truth be told, I felt like I was the kid and they were the grown-ups. I was flying a dinky little O-2A Skymaster, while they were flying the Skyraider, a gigantic, fire-breathing tail-dragger with a round engine that carried thousands of pounds of bombs under its wings and dueled with enemy gunners for a living. They were real fighter pilots. After hours of shooting down our watches with our hands, we said our good-byes and vowed to get together again, at some unknown time in the future. Great guys.
If you’ve read Hamfist Over The Trail, this story might sound familiar. Chapter 28 is the fictionalized account of my meeting up with Bob and Rick. Dave and Dick in the book are the fictional characters representing the real-life Rick and Bob.
Until now. After 45 years, Rick came home. His remains had been discovered in Laos in 2003 and sent to Hawaii, where DNA testing finally confirmed it was Rick.
Rick was buried at the Air Force Academy cemetery with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute, a missing-man fly-by, and the solemn playing of Taps. Generals presented flags to his two surviving relatives, his sisters, Cheryl and Toby.
Then we all gathered together at a restaurant to tell Rick stories. And we all had a really great time, reminiscing about Rick’s great sense of humor, his intelligence, and his dedication to duty. It was a great Celebration of Life.
And it was also a solemn reminder of the sacrifices the families of servicemen faced, and continue to face, when they send their loved ones off to war. They wait at home, never knowing if the sound of the closing car door in the street is a neighbor coming home or a military staff car with a Colonel and a Chaplain coming to bring news that will change their lives forever. That happened 58,286 times during the Vietnam War.
Here’s a great interview with Captain Jerry Yellin, the P-51 pilot who flew the last combat mission of World War II.
With 10 percent of the country’s population serving on active duty, it truly was the greatest generation!
This week, most likely to coincide with Vietnam Veteran Welcome Home Day, the History Channel has some really excellent high-definition videos of the Vietnam War. Today they featured Hell Over Hanoi, chronicling the aerial victories of the Air Force’s first – and only -pilot ace in Vietnam, Steve Ritchie.
In case you missed it, here it is. Cinch your lap belt tight and get ready for a great ride!
The new film Ride The Thunder opens in the Los Angeles area on March 27, 2015.