The Erawan War, Volume 3: The Royal Lao Armed Forces 1961-1974 by Ken Conboy

The Erawan War, Volume 3: The Royal Lao Armed Forces 1961-1974 (Helion, 68 pp. $25, paper) by Ken Conboy departs from the two volumes that preceded it, which concentrated on the CIA’s clandestine operations in Laos from 1961-74. In this volume we learn about the different units that collectively comprised the Royal Lao Armed Forces in that time period.  

It very quickly becomes apparent that many of the units were also tools of the political factions vying for control of the country or functioning as regional centers of power. As a result, chain-of-command was often driven by allegiances and personal loyalties. Reading about the convoluted politics will make readers cynical about the war and question why the United States invested so much in this remote country and its military. 

It’s difficult in hindsight to believe that President Eisenhower, concerned about what was then called the Domino Theory, warned incoming President Kennedy in January 1961 about Laos, advising him that events there—rather than in South Vietna,—should have his full attention. 

Maj. Kong Le, a well-known personality in Laos in the early sixties (he was the cover of Time in 1964), and who at one point promoted himself to general, is highlighted in this volume. He was an important player in Lao politics and the military, and a highly competent commander of one of the best Lao units in the war—the 2nd Parachute Battalion.  

When not leading coups against the government, the nominally neutralist leader would switch sides when it suited him. At one point he joined with the communist Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese and received military assitance from the Soviet Union. In the end, he became irrelevant and departed Laos.  

Kong Le was not alone in staging coups. Rightists were keen to overthrow Laos’ Geneva Accords-directed coalition government and pursued that end through repeated coups. Because political allegiances were the driving factor in the Lao military you have to pay close attention when reading this book to follow who was doing what to whom at any given time.

Only when the war ended in 1975 and the communists took total and vindictive control did it become clear how tragic it was that the Lao military failed to unify and focus its energies on defeating the true enemy.

The book’s title, Erawan, is a mythological three-headed elephant common in Thai, Lao, and Khmer culture. It prominently appeared in the center of the red Lao national flag that was used until the end of the war.

This concise book is rich in photographs and illustrations. Careful reading will reveal the tragedy that befell Laos despite all the aid that the United States provided. From that perspective it is an important read.

–John Cirafici

Operation Utah by Hubert Yoshida

The history of the Vietnam War grows more complete and accurate as veterans, journalists, and historians continue to research and write about the conflict. Today’s authors gain the advantage of supplementing their research by studying what other writers have learned and written about the war. Organizations that help veterans offer opportunities for prospective authors to share information and work on their craft. Improvements in access to after action reports and other documents continually expand the information base.

All of those factors significantly helped Hubert Yoshida in writing Operation Utah:The Die Is Cast (Luna Blue, 356 pp. $29.99, hardcover; $20.99, paper), which centers on a four-day March 1966 Vietnam War battle in which he participated. His extensive research has uncovered facts not previously published and identified errors made by other authors.

Lt. Yoshida commanded a rifle platoon in H Company, 2nd Battalion, of 7th Marine Regiment based at Chu Lai. As a child of Japanese American citizens, he and his family spent World War II interred in a prison camp. He earned a math degree from the University of California, then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was commissioned from Officer Candidate School. He survived the Vietnam War with no traumatic aftereffects but is physically disabled from exposure Agent Orange.

Operation Utah matched three undermanned 2/7 Marine battalions and one South Vietnamese Airborne battalion against the North Vietnamese Army’s 21st Regiment and local Viet Cong forces. The Marines prevailed, but only after paying a heavy price of 101 killed in action and 278 wounded. Enemy losses totaled 600 KIA and an estimated 1,200 to 2,000 WIA.

Yoshida’s account of the fighting includes a look at the buildup of the Marine battalions and questions the intel underlying the operation. He breaks the combat into three phases and describes maneuvers from the perspective of the combatants. In this thoroughly researched account, Yoshida highlights Marine helicopter crews and artillery and Navy corpsmen. He also includes a chapter based on the diary of a KIA North Vietnamese soldier. His account of how one American family coped with the death of a young son and brother is universally true.

Yoshida offers four “obvious” lessons learned from Operation Utah. He also attempts to “connect the dots” regarding the war’s influence on the lives of the surviving young men.

The crowning tribute of the book is a photo gallery with short biographies that pays fond farewell to the 101 men killed in action during Operation Utah. Hubert Yoshida’s heart and soul are intrinsic in the biographies, a tone similar to his story telling.

Overall, Yoshida expresses sadness for the losses of young lives in this battle and the Vietnam War in general. Operation Utah easily could be retitled Tragedy in Victory.  

—Henry Zeybel

Warrior Spirit by Herman J. Viola

Herman J. Viola’s Warrior Spirit: The Story of Native American Heroism and Patriotism (University of Oklahoma Press, 168 pp. $19.95, paperback) is a unique and informative book. Aimed at young adults, the book is a quick-and-easy but fact-filled read. Viola, Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution and his four contributors—Debra Kay Mooney, Ellen Baumler, Cheryl Hughes, and Michelle Pearson—present a well-researched and illustrated history of the positive contributions Native Americans have made in all of the major U.S. military conflicts since the Revolutionary War.  

When many people think of Native Americans efforts during wartime, they tend to focus on the Code Talkers during World War II. In Warrior Spirit, we learn that that that unique communications effort was first used during in Europe during the First World War,

There is a lot of other revealing information in this book, including stories of Medal of Honor recipients and little-known contributions made by Native Americans in the heat of battle.

Viola and company explain the warrior ethos of Native Americans, as well as their deeply held religious beliefs, and their respect for warriors and for other war fighters around them.

Warrior Spirit is a well-written and edited book from an author who has devoted much of his career to studying, teaching and writing about American Indian history and culture.

–Tom Werzyn

SOG Kontum by Joe Parnar and Robert Dumont

Joe Parnar and Robert Dumont’s SOG Kontum: Top Secret Missions in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, 1968–1969  (Casemate, 304 pp. $37.95, hardcover; $15.99, Kindle), as its subtitle indicates, tells the story of MACV Studies and Observation Group covert missions operating out of a Special Forces Forward Operating Fire Support Base near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. 

Those SOG teams made their way into Laos and Cambodia to conduct reconnaissance, rescue downed pilots, carry out psychological operations, and reduce the flow of arms and personnel down the winding trail. 

The MACV/SOG program was the largest covert operation undertaken by the American military since World War II. It was disbanded in 1972 and most of its records destroyed. 

One of the first books about the program was John Plaster’s SOG: The Secret Wars of American Commandos in Vietnam, which came out in 1997. Parner and Dumont’s book is something of a sequel to Plaster’s book. The two books do a good job of replacing the lost records and serving as tributes to the SOG operatives, their allies, and their helicopter crews.

SOG units usually consisted of three grunts and a group of indigenous warriors, mostly Montagnards. The authors interviewed many veterans and the book is filled with their eyewitness accounts.

The book concentrates on missions launched from FOB Kontum, which was near the tri-border area. Former Vietnam War Green Beret Parnar and researcher/writer Dumont cover weapons, uniforms (with no insignia), and gear in the irintroduction.

Then they go on to describe the missions. A typical one started with insertion by helicopter. Most of the missions involved scouting the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Many resulted in problems that required emergency evacuations. These problems often were unplanned encounters with larger enemy units.

The format of the book works well. The move from one eyewitness account to the next is seamless. There are many pictures of the SOG members and maps. What stands out is that many of the missions went wrong and triggered enormous efforts to rescue the Americans and their Montagnards.

Joe Parnar in-country

The book is a tribute to the SOG personnel and to the helicopter crews who risked their lives picking up endangered units. Medics also come off as heroes. The indigenous soldiers are given their due. The enemy is depicted as a worthy adversary.

My main takeaway is how U.S. military leaders were willing to lose more lives to rescue small numbers of Americans or even a dead American.

Also, I could not help but wonder whether the missions were worth the deaths. I cannot believe they had much of an impact on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Twelve SOG teams disappeared when radio contact ceased; 407 team members were killed in action and 49 are missing in action. Eight SOG men received Medals of Honor and, in 2001, SOG received a Presidential Unit Citation.    

–Kevin Hardy

Sign Here for Sacrifice by Ian Gardner

Writing in a reportorial style, Ian Gardner pays tribute to the guts and glory of 800 U.S. Army infantrymen in Sign Here for Sacrifice: The Untold Story of the Third Battalion, 506th Airborne, Vietnam 1968 (Osprey, 304 pp. $30, hardcover; $14.95, Kindle). The 3/506, which was part of the 101st Airborne Division, was activated in January 1967. In his book Gardner presents a nearly day-by-day account of encounters between the men of 3/506 and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops.

Gardner, a British military historian, is the author of a trilogy published by Osprey between 2010 and 2014 on the exploits of the Curahee, the 3rd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry in Europe during World War II. Similarly in Sign Here for Sacrifice, he recreates the actions and attitudes of thirty of the 3/506 Vietnam War veterans he interviewed. Many told him their war stories for the first time.

The 3/506 partially fulfilled Gen. William Westmoreland’s desire for American forces to search out VC and NVA in South Vietnam. Assigned as Third Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. John Geraci (call sign “Mal Hombre”) chose Maj. Robert Mairs (call sign “Fat Cat”) as his S-3, and the two men had carte blanche manning their organization of 800 hand-picked soldiers. Many of them had volunteered for the duty.

When the unit arrived in Vietnam’s Central Highlands late in 1967, they humped valleys between 1,000-meter tall mountains and disrupted an entrenched enemy. Initially, Westermoreland’s search-and-destroy tactic was a learning experience that cost more casualties than expected. Soon, though, each platoon began to stage its own ambush operations. Gardner plays no favorites in spelling out the bad and good outcomes.

Men he interviewed recollect the feats of themselves and other unforgettable warriors. Gardner recreates the personalities of men of all ranks in the battalion, some at great length and others with a single sentence. Men with nicknames such as Paladin, Snake, Hardcore, Pineapple, Bull, and Turtle. He perfectly interlaces their actions and words, often imbued with humor at crucial moments.

The most fascinating part of the book deals with 3/506’s defense of the coastal city of Phan Thiet against VC/NVA ground assaults that began with the 1968 Tet Offensive. Little has been written about those battles.

Fighting in the arena continued far into 1968, including a second Tet mini-offensive in May. American losses resulting from skirmishes, ambushes, snipers, booby-traps, accidents, and simple mistakes occurred repeatedly throughout the time.

Garner’s accounts show the punishment of war as pronouncedly as anything I have read. Time and again, 3/506 soldiers continued to fight despite suffering serious wounds, stopping only when blown into unconsciousness or killed.

Gardner has earned my gratitude for digging out eye-opening stories of service and duty, which he says was the “first and foremost” purpose of his writing Sign Here for Sacrifice.

While preparing this review, I read much of the book a second time and enjoyed it even more than the first reading.

—Henry Zeybel

The Air War in Vietnam Michael E. Weaver

Many people have written about their combat flying experiences in the Vietnam War. Some have also have gone as far as evaluating the successes and failures of the overall activities of American air power in that war.

One of the most recent analysts is Michael E. Weaver, an Associate Professor of History in the Department of Airpower at the United States Air Force Command and Staff College. In his new book The Air War in Vietnam (Texas Tech University Press, 612 pp. $49.95, hardcover; $22.49, Kindle), Weaver reaches conclusions similar to those of other historians, and solidly supports his arguments with new evidence from little-known archival sources—primarily documentation from the Air Force with support from Navy and Marine Corps records.

In my estimation, Weaver’s book is nothing less than the final word in regard to the application of air power in the Vietnam War.

In 411 pages of tightly-packed text (some 265,000 words) and 158 pages of notes (3,000 citations), Weaver dissects the efficacy of American airpower in the war by weaving history and theory to the application of that power. He concentrates on air superiority, national policy, air support, coercion, and interdiction. The depth of his research makes his arguments, old and new, irrefutable.

Weaver blames Vietnam War air campaign problems on poor strategic choices made by American presidents and their generals. As he puts it in his concluding chapter:

“American air power was about as successful as it could have been given the character of the war. The main deficiency was the absence of a single manager for air operations. Most aircrews discovered from the start that their training had not prepared them for combat [of the type demanded].

“The North Vietnamese considered the war their highest national priority. The Americans did not really want to fight the war in the first place. The nature of the United States’ purpose for involvement placed a cap on American commitment and endurance that was below that of their enemy. The most fundamental failure of the war was not the misuse of air power but the lack of a competent understanding of statecraft on the part of the American executive branch.”       

Weaver emphasizes that military and political actions should complement each other by having a common purpose, which was not a policy adopted by self-serving presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, as well as Nixon’s National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Conversely, American generals too often unilaterally fought their own wars. For example, unrestrained bombing of an enemy’s homeland gains no meaningful outcome unless the destruction creates political repercussions favorable to the side doing the bombing.

In essence, Weaver says, the highest-level American decisionmakers relied on the myth of limited war that holds that a great power can easily defeat a small, backward country with a minimum of commitment, material, violence, and time.

My Vietnam War experience stretched from 1967-73, navigating 772 support sorties in C-130s during Tet ‘68 and 158 interdiction missions in AC-130s (including Lam Son 719), and undergoing two months-long assignments as a Special Operations adviser throughout the Easter Offensive and Operation Linebacker II in 1972.

On the flight line and in staff meetings I kept my eyes and ears open. Everything Weaver says about operations in which I participated parallels what I saw. That includes the repercussions of tactics based on erroneous planning. Additionally, I have read and reviewed more than 340 books about the war, many written by airmen; their opinions invariably coincide with Weaver’s. With that understanding in mind, I cede to his conclusions about operations less familiar to me.

America’s final major operation of the war—Linebacker II—perfectly exemplified the disassociation between high-level thinking and on-scene performance. On the first two nights of the bombing of North Vietnam, I saw how betrayed the B-52 crewmen felt after being ordered to perform questionable tactics dictated from SAC headquarters half a world away.

The B-52 flyers felt as dispossessed as American fighter pilots who, for years under similar misdirected guidance, had met the challenge of on-again, off-again missions as strategic bombers against North Vietnam. In both cases among the crews, dedication to duty too often became a fatal flaw.                       

The thirty photographs of airplanes and six maps in The Air War in Vietnam provide excellent memory jogs to those of us who were part of that aspect of the conflict more than a half century ago.

—Henry Zeybel

Target Saigon 1973-75: Volume 4: The Final Collapse, April-May 1975 by Albert Grandolini

Albert Grandolini’s Target Saigon 1973-75, Volume 4: The Final Collapse, April May 1975 (Helion/Casemate, 80 pp. $29.95, paperback), the fourth and final volume of the Target Saigon series, covers the final days of the Vietnam War as the South Vietnamese Army tried to fight off the North Vietnamese Army (PAVN) on its march to Saigon.

This volume opens with preliminary operations led by PAVN Gen. Tran Van Tra to surround and cut off Saigon. The main fighting up to that point had been in the Central Highlands and the northern portion of South Vietnam. By the beginning of April, that entire area had been taken over by the North Vietnamese military and the main offensive moved on to areas to the north and west (Tay Ninh) and east (Xuan Loc) of Saigon and in the Mekong Delta. The ARVN forces were led by the highly competent Gen. Nguyen Van Toan.  

The opposing generals’ forces engaged in intense fighting. The North Vietnamese paid heavily for each of its successes as the ARVN made strategic withdrawals closer and closer to Saigon. In the Delta, attacking PAVN units were exposed to withering fire by entrenched troops, airstrikes, and naval gunboats.

The battle for Xuan Loc was the fiercest of the 1975 campaign and stopped the North Vietnamese advance in its tracks. Another highly competent ARVN general, Le Minh Dao, who commanded the defense of Xuan Loc, inflicted heavy losses on the enemy before yielding the city.

For eleven days the ARVN, reinforced by Airborne and Ranger units and supported by airstrikes, threw back attacking troops and T-54 tanks from six PAVN divisions augmented with armor brigades. The South Vietnamese Air Force flying from Bien Hoa Air Base dropped 15,000-pound Daisy Cutter bombs on North Vietnamese troops. A-37 and F-5 attack aircraft, flying sortie after sortie, inflicted large losses on advancing armor units.      

Only when the PAVN corps commander shifted artillery within range of the air base was he able to bring munitions and aircraft on the ground under fire. The day Xuan Loc fell it became evident that the end of South Vietnam was in sight. That evening South Vietnamese President Thieu resigned and fled to Taiwan. Within days, a new government formed under former Gen. Duong Van Minh, the leader of the neutralist Third Force.  

Minh imagined that he could form a coalition government with the Viet Cong, but was mistaken as the VC was focused on total victory and not on negotiating. For the final assault on Saigon the PAVN used more than 250,000 troops, 320 tanks, 500 artillery pieces, and 180,000 support troops. In its final effort to stop the advance on Saigon the ARVN, with support of its Air Force, fought tenaciously.  

But it all for nothing. On April 30 the North Vietnamese took Saigon and, despite continued fighting in the Delta, the war was over.

The tragedy is that many of the South Vietnamese troops who fought the hardest to defend their country spent years in reeducation camps where some of the most dedicated officers were executed.  

Reading this book, I could not help but reflect on the 18th ARVN Division. I was briefly sent to Xuan Loc in October 1967 where I heard Americans make disparaging comments about the 18th ARVN. Yet, it was the 18th that put up heroic resistance eight years later, right up to the end. Gen. Le Minh Dao, its commander, enduring eighteen years of imprisonment after the war ended.

Halion, the British military history publisher of the Target Saigon series, always produces a quality product. Besides being very informative, this volume is well supported by many maps, illustrations, and photographs.

–John Cirafici

Target Saigon 1973-75: Disaster at Da Nang 1975 by Albert Grandolini

Military historian Albert Grandolini’s Target Saigon 1973-75: Disaster at Da Nang (Helion/Casemate, 80 pp., $29.95, paper), the third in a four-volume series, captures the final days of the Vietnam War in the northern provinces.

In March 1975 North Vietnamese forces began a major offensive to take the two biggest cities in northern South Vietnam. Within weeks they overran their objectives and began the final thrust to Saigon. The disaster at Da Nang was tragic for the South Vietnamese and, coming so soon after a rout in the Central Highlands, presaged the end of South Vietnam.  

The tragedy is that the finest generals of South Vietnam’s army, fighting in the northernmost provinces with forces stretched thin and with limited munitions, put up a stout defense as they went up against the equally skilled North Vietnamese generals.  

The Politburo, led by Communist Party General Secretary Le Duan, had devised a cautious plan for the final phases of the war that would not be completed until 1976. Instead, their rapid successes would end the war in April 1975. This short, heavily illustrated book captures what went wrong for the South Vietnamese in the northern provinces.   

With hindsight, the major events leading to the final defeat would start with the decision by South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to abruptly order the evacuation of ARVN forces from the Central Highlands—a nearly impossible task conducted on poor roads. Remembering the North Vietnamese massacre of thousands in Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, countless thousands of South Vietnamese civilians flooded those same roads.  

The book describes the same chaos that followed in the northern provinces as ARVN Gen. Ngo Quang Truong—a highly competent leader—tried to consolidate his forces into defendable enclaves, first at Hue and then Da Nang. Confusing orders from Thieu insisting on the defense of too much territory exasperated Truong and undermined his efforts. Belatedly authorizing the repositioning of forces resulted in a hastily ordered withdrawal compounded by countless thousands of fleeing civilians.  

The upshot: 120,000 ARVN troops were captured or killed while only 16,000 made it out to go south and defend Saigon. What’s more, the South Vietnamese Air Force lost 268 aircraft, which were either captured or destroyed as their air bases in the North were overrun. Within days, Cam Ranh Bay would fall.    

For those of us who had seen combat in the northern provinces of South Vietnam, it is tough to read about the rapid fall of Quang Tri, Dong Ha, Hue, Da Nang, and other places where American forces had fought and died years earlier. You get the feeling that it was all for naught.   

That said, we should respect the South Vietnamese troops who put up a good fight until everything collapsed around them. This book tells their story.

–John Cirafici

A Day in Hell on the DMZ by Lou Pepi

Lou Pepi served in the Vietnam War in 1969 with Alpha Company of the 1st Battalion of the 61st Infantry Regiment in the Army’s 5th Infantry Division. He displays life-long allegiance to that group with A Day in Hell on the DMZ: The Rocket Attack on Firebase Charlie 2 in Vietnam, May 21, 1971 (McFarland, 213 pp. $33.94, paper; $13.49, Kindle).

The book is based Pepi’s interviews with 20 men from Alpha Company. He recreates their actions prior to and following the May 21, 1971, event that killed 30 and wounded 33 when a 122-mm rocket caved in the roof of a recreational bunker. Eighteen of the dead came from Alpha Company. Firebase Charlie 2 was in Northern I Corps close to the Demilitarized Zone and easily within range of North Vietnamese Army artillery.

As a reporter, Pepi flawlessly did his homework. He follows the overall course of Alpha’s actions and includes interviewees’ comments at appropriate moments for each event, rather than record their recollections separately. Pepi shows the men in combat and the ways they developed as warriors. His account of an Alpha patrol trapped in an unmapped Con Thien minefield illuminates a nightmare of misguided intentions and disastrous results.       

Even though it was late in the war, Alpha and the 5th Infantry Division endured height-of-the-war demands. Alpha spent 70 consecutive days in the field shortly before the events at Firebase Charlie 2. The Company played a major role in Operation Dewey Canyon II that literally paved the way (constructing 80 kilometers of new roads) for Operation Lam Son 719, the move into Laos that began in February 1971. Alpha’s job was to keep the road open throughout both operations.

Pepi does an excellent job incorporating expert opinions about the planning mistakes of Lam Son that doomed the South Vietnamese Army mission practically before it began.

A Day in Hell on the DMZ pays tribute to all of the men in Alpha Company, with special recognition for those killed in the rocket strike. As Pepi shows, their courage and dedication went above and beyond.

Company Commander Capt. Robert Dean was the driving force in Alpha until he suffered a horrendous injury and was shipped stateside for eight months of hospital care. Unhappily, multiple wounds shortened his first Vietnam War tour as well. His combat career totaled 20 months that resulted in 22 months in hospitals.

5th Infantry soldier on patrol with an M60 machine gun

Dean’s feats in battle, as reported by Pepi, set a standard that his men admired: He asked nothing of them beyond doing what he would do himself. Dean’s pragmatic approach and success in desperate situations overwhelmed me. Pepi gives him the final word in nearly every situation, which he earned and deserves. Robert Dean died in 2018. He deserved to live to 100. I came to idolize the guy.

The book contains many pages of communication logs, plus 14 pages of after action reports dealing with the events of May 21, 1971. Their hour-by-hour accounts provide material for hard-core history buffs.

This book is Pepi’s second about the Vietnam War. He previously wrote My Brothers Have My Back, which centers on a three-day engagement known as the “November Battle,” in which he participated in 1969. During his time with Alpha Company Pepi served as a machine gunner, APC driver, and squad leader.

Episodes of counterinsurgency warfare fill A Day in Hell on the DMZ and give readers a treasure trove of facts over which to speculate what might have been, if only….

—Henry Zeybel

Fly By Knights Edited By Roger D. Graham

In Fly By Knights: Air Force A/B/RB-26 Air Commando Missions in the Vietnam War (McFarland, 290 pp. $39.95, paper; $17.99, Kindle) retired USAF Col. Roger Graham, with help from fellow Air Force flyers, has constructed a roller-coaster ride of stories about daring feats, successes and screw-ups, unimaginable events, close calls, and losses.

The book’s stories come from 35 Air Commandos (and three family members) in parallel with Graham’s account of the aircraft’s evolution from B-26B to A-26A. He interviewed pilots, navigator/copilots, maintenance and armament personnel, and civilian contractors. The men all expressed positive attitudes about the war and their role in it.

The Air Commandos took part in three Vietnam War operations: Farm Gate at Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam from 1961-64, and Big Eagle and Nimrod (Hunter) at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, 1966-1969. From 1964-66 Operation Farm Gate’s B-26s proved to be too old for their task.

The B-26 had excelled in World War II and Korea, and its availability led planners to use those light bombers for close air support and interdiction missions for the “Secret War” in Laos. After 1963-64 incidents in which three B-26Bs lost a wing during low-level pull-ups, headquarters grounded the plane.

Long before that happened, the aircraft had problems. It lacked up-to-date instrumentation. Systems frequently failed. Repairs depended on cannibalization because spare parts seldom were available.

The ancient war plane’s unpredictability grew almost humorous. As an old armorer put it: “The B Model was a maintenance nightmare. It would be just sitting on the ramp with no one around and suddenly decide to start dropping bombs on the ramp.”

Many Air Force units had flown the planes in many different roles and no two planes were alike. Some, for example, had been flown in support of the French at Dien Bien Phu. Despite those handicaps, B-26 crewmen rightfully exuded pride in flying them.

Convinced it was still the best machine for the task, the Air Force corrected the aircraft’s wing spar failures by having On Mark Engineering Company convert 40 B-26s to B-26Ks. Innovative technical and aerodynamic designs brought the airplane up to modern standards. 

With the new B-26Ks, the Commandos eagerly deployed to Nakhon Phanom in 1966. Focused on interdicting the Ho Chi Minh Trail, they destroyed or damaged more trucks than anyone else. They operated under the Nimrod call sign, but the plane’s designation was changed to A-26 for political purposes. Those flyers, too, found exceptional satisfaction in their mission and unit camaraderie. Increasingly intense and accurate North Vietnamese Army antiaircraft artillery eventually drove the A-26s from Laos.

Fly By Knights contains unit rosters, squadron history documents, and heart-touching reflections on war by members of flyers’ families. The well-written history documents provide insights on truck interdiction tactics.

Roger D. Graham is a 1963 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, and served on active duty as a navigator-bombardier and a judge advocate. As an editor, he definitely gets the most from other people’s stories.

—Henry Zeybel