Taut, well-written account of an unknown chapter in the Vietnam War: the perilous work of forward aerial observers along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Many brave Air Force flyers populate the pages of this collaboration by U.S. News and World Report writer Newman and Misty pilot Shepperd (Misty pilots, whose name comes, improbably, from a Johnny Mathis song, flew 247 Vietnam combat missions), but few braver than Howard Keith Williams, the Top Gun who graduated from flying transport planes to jockeying fighters up and down the most dangerous skies in Vietnam. Recruited by Dick Rutan (who in 1986 completed a nonstop solo flight around the world in a plane called Voyager) to join the unit called Commando Sabre, Williams and his comrades performed the equivalent of a ground tracker’s cutting for sign, flying just above the treetops to look for telltale dust kicked up by tanks and trucks, for tire tracks that ended abruptly (indicating a transport park) and for people and vehicles moving supplies from North to South Vietnam. The Misty pilots were the secret eyes and ears of the war, though they had to deal with generally unhelpful brass (of one superior officer, a Misty pilot protested, “The guy doesn’t give a shit about our war up north”) and had as well to contend with a crippling lack of coordination with other intelligence agencies, especially the CIA. Still, the Misty pilots provided invaluable information to American ground forces on enemy movements, suffering terrible losses in the bargain; some pilots ended up in the Hanoi Hilton, while others—including Williams, who had come in the meanwhile to regard the war as a “farce”—were killed in action. Indeed, Williams’s remains would not be recovered for 25 years, though they were not buried upside down—“So the world can kiss our ass,” as the pilots’ bawdy theme song put it.
A welcome addition to the military history of Vietnam.