The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail
I saw this book on Amazon some time ago and finally got around to ordering it a couple of weeks ago, intending to add it to my stack of books to be read here in the Lair. There are currently several on that stack already, but when I read this article about it by Anna over at Anna's Clue Tank, well I couldn't wait for it to get here. When it did, it got moved to the head of the stack and I just finished reading it last night.
Wow. It was definitely worth it.
I've always been a fan of the FAC (Forward Air Control) mission in Vietnam. Flying low and slow in old Cessnas looking for the enemy on the ground then bringing all sorts of jet bomber hell to bear on them when you find them (assuming that they don't shoot you down first) seemed like it would have been my cup of tea, and I've got several other books by Raven and Nail FAC pilots who have thoroughly made me feel like I missed my calling by about 35 years. Heck, I even considered buying an old O-2A that once saw service as a Vietnam FAC last year, but smarter people helped talk me out of it (Thanks, Brigid!).
Anyway, this book shines light on the next phase of the FAC program--fast FAC with jets. Now if there's anything cooler than flying a prop plane at treetop height all day, it's doing it with a supersonic jet, in this case, the North American F-100F "Super Sabre". And that's just what the men assigned to the Misty program did. They went out and flew low over North Vietnam every day, looking for signs of enemy material moving down the Ho Chi Minh trail on it's way to being used against our ground troops in the south. When they found it, they called down fighter bombers to destroy it. And when one of the fighter bombers--or a Misty FAC--got hit by enemy fire and the pilot wound up on the ground, the FAC stuck around to direct the rescue efforts because the policy was that no pilot was to be left behind on the ground. Of course the North Vietnamese knew this too and often used such downed pilots as bait to lure more aircraft into their gunsights. The action was fast and furious and deadly on both sides. Misty had 157 pilots flying in the program from 1967 to 1970. Of those, 34 were shot down, and two of them were shot down twice. Three were captured and tortured while imprisoned in Hanoi and seven others were declared missing when they didn't come back and no trace of them could be found. Eventually their status was changed to KIA: killed in action.
And this book goes further than the average war history book, in that it follows thew families of some of those missing pilots long after war's end, giving us a glimpse of what they went through, trying to rebuild their lives without knowing if their husbands and fathers were alive or dead. And the book doesn't spare the Air Force or Lyndon B. Johnson from well-deserved and articulated criticism either.
All in all, it is a great book that's easy to read and hard to put down, and it gives you a real sense of the frustrations felt by these motivated, dedicated pilots when they hung it all out to do their jobs only to have the rules changed to their detriment just when things were starting to work. But they accomplished a lot during their three years, despite missions so risky that they came back with shot-up planes more than any other unit, including ones much larger than theirs. You can't help but cheer for these guys and come away feeling good that we have such men in America.
So go here to the official book page, read more about it, and buy the book.
Heck, it makes me want go out and buy one of those F-100's that I wrote about here last week. Must...resist...
Anyway, here's an F-100F, photographed by me at Selfridge ANGB in Michigan, one of many historic aircraft on my Warbirds of Selfridge Field site. Innit beautiful?