THE RAVENS: The Men Who Flew in America's Secret War in Laos by Christopher Robbins

THE RAVENS: The Men Who Flew in America's Secret War in Laos

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Official histories of the unacknowledged war waged by American forces in Laos during the 1960's and early 1970's remain classified. Robbins has nonetheless compiled a remarkably detailed and gripping log on the US Air Force pilots who flew in defense of the small landlocked nation that borders on China as well as Vietnam. Known as Ravens, these officially nonexistent volunteers served six-month tours of duty in the so-called Steve Canyon Program. From remote outposts in Indochina's ""other theater,"" they flew hair. raising, low-level missions in lumbering prop-driven spotter planes to direct air strikes on North Vietnamese troops and supply columns moving south on the Ho Chi Minh trail or into Laos, whose neutrality had been guaranteed by the 1962 Geneva accords. The scruffy Ravens had few allies (notably, agents of the CIA and warlord Vang Pao who commanded Stone-Age mountain tribesmen known as Meo), but many enemies--e.g., corrupt Laotian regulars loath to do battle, confining roles of engagement, and long odds against escaping either antiaircraft fire or ""the golden BB,"" a random rifle round that proves fatal. With evidently wholehearted assistance from surviving Ravens, Robbins offers an unsparing account of a dirty, clandestine conflict with precious little glory, albeit valor to spare. Without ever overstating the case, he celebrates the maverick esprit developed by comrades in arms who soldiered on in the face of heavy losses and Catch-22 restrictions that cramped their freewheeling style. Robbins also rebuts Henry Kissinger's version of how the decision to use B-52 bombers on the Plain of Jars was made and otherwise sets the record straight on why Laos was left to its bitter fate. The heart and soul of his narrative, however, are the Ravens--as brave and engaging a band of brothers as ever flew hostile skies. A fine and fitting tribute to unsung heroes. The text has 24 pages of black-and-white photos and maps (not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Crown