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Constrained by the peculiar restrictions of Lyndon Johnson's and Robert McNamara's rules of engagement, U.S. Air Force fighter pilots try to wage successful war in Vietnam in the middle of the 1960's--in this first novel from a combat veteran. In those days, just after Barry Goldwater had been laughed offstage for advocating large-scale bombing, President Johnson and his Secretary of Defense were attempting to cow Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese Army, and the Viet Cong with steadily advancing but highly restricted bombing raids. So involved was the President in the battle tactics that the bombing targets were designated by the Oval Office, having been selected one by one for political reasons. Here, the characters coping with this botched-up strategy are Courtland Bannister, a fighter pilot carving out a role for himself in the shadow of a very famous father; Toby Parker, something of a young Dan Quayle who stumbles on a passionate love for flying; and Wolf Lochert of the Special Forces, tough as nails and a superb soldier. Bannister has the political connections to shoot to the top, but he has postponed the glamour stuff for a tour of duty flying fighter missions out of Bien Hoa Air Base. The wealthy Parker could also have slipped out of any unpleasant duty, but curiosity has brought him to the front--where he attaches himself to the men flying forward air-control missions, guiding the fighters in on their combat runs from fragile little spotter planes. Lochert, a pure warrior with no Rambo excess, carries on his ground-level war, unaware that he is stalked by a fanatically devoted Viet Cong officer whose son Lochert executed without trial. There is a bit of romance when a charter flight is forced to spend the night at Bien Hoa, but it's believable enough; otherwise, this is all action. A fine effort. There is much detail, but the limited time (the book covers a single year of duty) and scope keep everything in sharp focus. With any luck this will be the first of a series.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1989
ISBN: 399-13439-5
Publisher: Putnam
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