Rebecca Benson’s War by Patti Rudin Albaugh

Rebecca Benson’s War (Rudin Press, 300 pp. $10.95, paper; $5.99, Kindle) by Patti Rudin Albaugh is a beautifully written novel about a young woman dealing with the Vietnam War and patriotism, told through the prism of her husband’s death during the early years of that war.

The book’s opening paragraph is a stunner that takes us back to 1943. “On a blood-soaked French battlefield under a gun-metal gray sky, a forgotten arm with a magic tattoo lay in the mud. The tattoo would never again comfort a little girl back in Ohio, but it would haunt the woman she became,” Albaugh writes about her protagonist, Rebecca Benson, who grows up thinking that wars “put daddies to sleep.”

In July 1965 a mailman walks along Elm Street in an all-American town, a street that includes “the no-flag house.” It’s the house where Rebecca Benson lives with her husband, Adam, a police officer who served in the Korean War. He has a scar on his back that he won’t explain and refuses to go along with his wife’s desire to have children. A dutiful wife, the highlight of Rebecca Benson’s day is when her husband comes home from work.

One of those days Adam breaks the news that he is joining the Marine Corps to be an adviser to the South Vietnamese in what he tells Rebecca will be a one-year re-enlistment. Having lost her father in World War II, Rebecca hates the idea but can’t deny that he has “soldier eyes.” In addition to that, she’s beginning to question the American involvement in the Vietnam War.

After training at Ft. Bragg Adam goes directly to Vietnam while his wife sits at home, refusing to watch war movies on TV—and still not flying the flag. She’s marking off the days on a calendar when she learns that her husband has been killed.

Soon thereafter, Rebecca receives a footlocker containing all of Adam’s belongings, and only after months of struggling with her emotions decides to open it. She soon decides to sell her house and dabbles in antiwar activities.

Rebecca Benson’s War is the story of a woman coming to the realization that there’s not a lot she can do to control things in life, but that she can begin to make peace with the world by making peace with her own feelings. This heartfelt, well-researched and written novel helps remind us that during the Vietnam War there were hearts and minds in America that needed to be won over as much as those of the South Vietnamese people fighting communism.   

–Bill McCloud

LZ Sitting Duck by John Arsenault

Many Vietnam War veterans well remember what it was like to be thrown into battle in a remote corner of South Vietnam, fighting for their lives in combat that ultimately would made absolutely no sense. Fire Support Base Argonne on the Laotian border just below the DMZ in Quang Tri Province was one of those places.    

In defiance of common sense, the men of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines in the 3rd Marine Division were compelled to attack Argonne, a former U.S. fire support base. The North Vietnamese Army always prepared defenses on abandoned bases, including booby traps, in anticipation of returning American troops. What happened at FSB Argonne was no different.  

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. John Arsenault’s LZ Sitting Duck: The Fight for FSB Argonne (Liberty Hill Press, 272 pp. ($32.49, hardcover; $17.40, paper; $8.99; Kindle) is a collection of vignettes taken from nearly two dozen Marines who went through hell just trying to survive as they fought tenaciously against a determined foe.    

From the moment the Marines assaulted the LZ they named Sitting Duck, they came under intense fire and began taking heavy casualties. That situation would not change much for the entire time they conducted operations. Snipers picked them off, mortar rounds rained down on them, and just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse, an artillery round intended for the North Vietnamese fell short, leaving no one unscathed.     

The highly regarded battalion CO, seemly invincible as he stood up to lead his men, became just one more KIA. That was one of many scary moments for a lieutenant who describes watching his CO take a direct hit to the head.

The Marines performed feats of pure heroism. Again and again, as one reads their accounts at Argonne there is a real feeling of being there amid the incoming fire, the chaos, and the confusion. The Marines fought in rugged terrain with little water to combat their dehydration from the overwhelming heat, all while attacking the enemy troops ensconced in well-prepared fighting positions.

Many of the book’s twenty-four vignettes describe the same battle scenes; but each one offers something new from a different Marine’s perspective. Their individual accounts are almost like reading a murder mystery in which different witnesses describe a crime scene with each one seeing things differently.

Collectively, this book adds up to an astounding account of perseverance, hardship, heroism, and endurance. One can’t help but coming away from reading these battle stories with admiration for the Marines who fought at Argonne.   

This is a sobering account of combat that should be read.

–John Cirafici

Ghostriders 1976-1995 by William Walter

Retired USAF Chief Master Sgt. William Walter’s second book on the 16th Special Operations Squadron’s AC-130 Spectre gunship operations describes a masterpiece on American military intervention—for good and bad. Ghostriders 1976-1995: “Invictus” Combat History of the AC-130 Spectre Gunship: Iran, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia (Knox Press, 491 pp. $36.62, hardcover; $14.99 Kindle) covers two decades of the squadron’s involvement in worldwide military operations in the post-Vietnam War years. It picks up where Walter’s previous volume, Ghostriders 1968-1975, left off.

Walter served for 30 years in the U.S. Air Force—28 of them as an aerial gunner with Spectre. He deployed on every operation in the nations listed in the title.

The accounts in Ghostriders 1976-1995 refreshed a wealth of memories for me and filled gaps in my knowledge of foreign affairs. The book is thought provoking. It awed and angered me as I read about the use and misuse of gunships, as well as other special operation forces. Readers will find material here that can help them learn more about U.S. interventions in other nations during the closing years of the twentieth century. My pulse vacillated between, “Thank God for that,” and “What an enlightening nightmare!”

His book goes beyond the front-line actions of the men of Spectre. Through the eyes of AC-130 crewmembers and their commanders, Walker provides insights into secret political and military maneuverings that led to these post-Vietnam-War foreign involvements. Spectre filled a Big Brother role in most of the operations. The planes primarily operated under the principle of restrained aggression.

The normal pattern of gunship operations involved secrecy. Planners worked in isolation. Crewmen learned nothing about their tasks until arriving near the site of an operation. They worked under rules far beyond the norm: For the 1980 rescue of 53 hostages held in Iran, for example, a gunship crew was designated to stay on site until reaching fuel minimums; it then landed, destroyed the aircraft, and exited the area on another aircraft. After the rescue in Iran failed, commanders ordered those involved to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Likewise, America’s 1983 response to fears of a Fidel Castro-inspired communist takeover of El Salvador prompted gunship surveillance of the rebels—an operation that our government denied existed. The survey missions lasted for nearly seven years without firing a shot, Walter says.

During the first Persian Gulf War Spectre crews had to rely on “nothing but their wits, training, and luck to prevent them from being blown out of the sky.”

Political compromises turned Spectre into a police vehicle mostly for show in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Following its initial intervention in a trouble spot, Spectre’s duty devolved into surveillance that tracked the bad guys without the authority to confront them. This exclusion from combat resulted in otherwise avoidable losses due to lack of firepower support.

Walter has his stuff together. I hope he would write a third volume about AC-130s. The A-models that flew in Vietnam have evolved into H, U, W, and J-models. Each improvement increased firepower and broadened search ability—and perhaps other secret changes—to make the plane a perfect close support aircraft.

Walter ends the book with this line: “The story of Spectre continues to build under a cloak of darkness, even today.”

—Henry Zeybel

Ghostriders 1968-1975 by William Walter

Retired Chief Master Sgt. William Walter has written the book that many of us have been waiting for since the last century: Ghostriders 1968-1975: “Mors de Caelis” Combat History of the AC-130 Spectre Gunship, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (Knox Press, 352 pp. $35, hardcover; $14.99, Kindle). In it, Walter describes a six-year battle matching the U.S. Air Force’s 16th Special Operations Squadron against the North Vietnamese Army’s 591st Anti-Aircraft Regiment. The two units clashed in Laos above the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Comprised of AC-130 Spectre gunships, the 16th SOS destroyed trucks and other vehicles along the Trail, while the 591st tried to shoot down the gunships. The 16th dominated the arena, but in the end, the 591st deployed a sufficient array of weapons to drive the gunships from the theater.

After crewing as a Spectre gunner from 1978-2005, Walter spent more than a decade researching this book. He recreates the multi-year battle based on information from USAF records, archives, and 16th post-strike combat reports; as well as interviews with former 16th crewmembers; and NVA commanders’ writings and other publications. In portraying turning points of combat, Walter provides nearly night-by-night accounts of the ploys and counter ploys employed by the gunships and by the NVA defenses. Anti-aircraft fire intensified in proportion to the number of trucks destroyed or damaged.

Walter tells his stories from crewmen’s viewpoints, and they overflow with authenticity. His narrative grows more off-beat and captivating as firepower and accuracy balanced out between the two sides. He shows us why and how Spectre crews performed over the Trail and shows how the enemy truck drivers reacted on the ground. He compares the responses of American and North Vietnamese combatants to the thinking of their higher-level decision makers.

Encounters over the Trail often became a take-your-best-shot situation. For the first five years of the battle, gunships took frequent survivable hits, but trucks suffered large numbers of fatalities. Drivers became demoralized and frightened by the gunships’ ability to locate them, a mentality that enemy leaders found difficult to deal with. Often, the mere presence of a gunship overhead caused drivers to stop, shut down their engines, abandon their vehicles, or do whatever else might save them from discovery.  Consequently, transportation of men and materiel ceased for the duration of a gunship’s overfly.

During the final year of battle, Trail defenses grew more prolific and powerful with the introduction of  85- and 100-mm guns, along with SA-2 and SA-7 missiles. The improved defensive structure forced gunships to fly higher and higher, thereby reducing the effectiveness and accuracy of their weapons. The NVA shot down four gunships, causing tactical changes that curtailed truck hunting. Spectre’s main task then became night protection of Saigon and, after the war ended in 1973, close air support for Cambodians fighting the Khmer Rouge.  

At length, Walter sorts out a controversy regarding the lethality of a gunship’s weapons. Studies showed that AC-130 practices for close air support, interdiction, command and control, and search and rescue developed through on-the-job training—meaning in combat.

Ghostriders‘ short final chapter records the 16th SOS’s role in the recovery of the U.S.S. Mayaguez in 1975. On that mission, Spectre flew 15 support missions during three days of utter confusion, its final combat role in Southeast Asia.

An AC-130 Spectre Gunship in action in Vietnam

The book is user friendly. In a brief Forward, Walter clearly explains the birth and evolution of the AC-130 structure, manning, and basic maneuvers. He tailored the book to ensure that a reader understands exactly what is taking place at all times by adding an event chronology, glossary, references, and index.

“Either by design or by chance,” Walter says, “the AC-130 earned a unique position in military history.” 

I operated sensors for Spectre during 1970-71 and found Walter’s accounts to be complete in every way. I believe a person unfamiliar with the aircraft will be spellbound by the facts Walter has accumulated. The book took me back to familiar places and taught me things I had not known.

Knox Press recently published Ghostriders 1976-1995: “Invictus” Combat History of the AC-130 Spectre Gunship, Iran, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia,”  Walter’s sequel to Ghostriders 1968-1975. The second book covers U.S. actions in areas less familiar to the public than those in the highly reported war in Vietnam.

—Henry Zeybel

Charlie Owns the Night by Ilse Cullen

Charlie Owns the Night (294 pp., $12.99, paper: $4.99, Kindle) is the debut novel by the Irish writer Ilse Cullen. Set in Vietnam in 1968, the books has a multi-arc story of several individuals whose lives are effected by the war. Love comes to odd couples in the midst of the Tet Offensive and its aftermath.

The novel interweaves several main characters. Each gets their own chapter. Chau is the daughter of a decorated North Vietnamese general. The general wants her to deliver a secret message to Viet Cong command in Saigon. She ends up in the tunnel complex at Cu Chi. 

On the way back home via the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Chau bonds with her driver, Trang. Her brother Chinh is a VC operative working in Saigon. He works in a bar where he picks up intelligence information from drunk Americans. He ends up in a forbidden relationship with Marie-Louise, a French journalist. 

Tom is an American doctor. He and his wife are involved in the antiwar movement, so you can imagine her reaction when he volunteers to serve in Vietnam because he thinks the experience of combat surgery will be valuable to his career.

Charlie Owns the Night is not a Vietnam War novel even though it is set in Vietnam during the war. This is a welcome change from the other Vietnam War novels I have read, though I would not recommend it as a reader’s first taste of the war. 

Cullen does throw in some tidbits that show she has knowledge of the war. The journalist, for example, takes in the “5 O’Clock Follies,” the derisive nickname war correspondents used for fabrication-laden military press briefings. She gives herself a gold star for specifying that the VC wore black-and-white checked neckerchiefs with a red band at each end. 

Cullen is more interested in generalizing the war. The communists will win because they want it more and the Americans are doomed to fail because most of them don’t care about what they are fighting for. She implies that nearly all American troops were on heroin. The American military she portrays is closer to the way it was in 1972 than 1968.

Of the three main stories, Chau’s is the most compelling. The delivery of the secret message is without suspense, but her long journey home on the Ho Chi Minh Trail gives the book a core that is intriguing.

Chinh’s arc starts slowly and then improves with the introduction of Marie-Louise. The romance seems rushed, but the novel takes off after she visits the American base at Tay Ninh and reports on the attitudes of American troops. 

Tom’s story is the most pedestrian. His wife caves in too easily and their relationship is mostly developed via letters that tend to be redundant.

Cullen can be trite (“Thank you for helping me love again”), but she is sincere in her effort to personalize the North Vietnamese side of the war. She manages to do that through Chau and Chinh and to be fair she adds Tom into the mix.

The novel is definitely pro-VC/NVA, but Cullen does not demonize Americans. Tom represents the benevolent side of America—a nation that poked its nose in business that was not its own.

If you are familiar with the American grunt experience in the Vietnam War through novels and nonfiction books, this novel will give you a different perspective. Apparently, they lived and loved, too.

–Kevin Hardy

There Was a Time by George H. Wittman

There Was A Time (Casemate, 312 pp. $24.95, paper; $11.49, Kindle) by George H. Wittman is a work of historical fiction dealing with the last few weeks of World War II in Southeast Asia. The hook is that we follow the exploits of a handful of Americans working closely with communist Vietnamese forces against invading Japanese troops. Wittman served in the U.S. Army during and after the Korean War.

The novel centers on a handpicked OSS team led by Maj. John Guthrie and his second in command, Capt. Edouard Parnell, both veterans of combat in the European theater. The team is parachuted into Tonkin, in far northern Vietnam, to lead the effort on the ground working directly with Ho Chi Minh’s rag-tag Viet Minh guerillas against the Japanese for control of what was then known as Indochina.

They’ve been told to get the Vietnamese to start “kicking some Jap ass.” One problem is understanding the complex Vietnamese political situation. Another big issue is dealing with the French who want to regain control of their Indochina colony, consisting of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Among the complicating factors is that the British were supporting the French because the Brits wanted to regain their own colonies, primarily India, after the war. Ho Chi Minh wanted the French and the Americans to be fighting the Japanese.

Guthrie, a labor lawyer in civilian life in Gary, Indiana, had been considered a “hard charger” after being awarded a Silver Star. He suffered from occasional nightmares, and even more frequent stomach ulcers.

Wittman

Both Ho Chi Minh and the head of the Viet Minh military forces, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, end up meeting these Americans. Giap is depicted as dour man mainly because of his hatred for the French.

Ho is impressed by the American plan to give the Philippines independence after the war and believes the best chance for independence for Vietnam lies with cultivating a close relationship with the U.S. What he wants from Americans in the near-term are supplies, military equipment, and weapons.  

After a night-drop, the OSS team gets lost and is ambushed by a Japanese squad before encountering friendly Vietnamese who, as part of Ho’s Viet Minh guerrillas, have been helping rescue shot-down U.S. in pilots in northern Vietnam. The Viet Minh promise to help this small American group in return for receiving better weapons.

The title is a reference to this very short period of time in 1945 during which the U.S. and the communist nationalist leadership of Vietnam fought together as allies. During that time key decisions were made that would have a big impact on the Vietnamese and American people for generations to come.

George Wittman drops us into the middle of this chaotic time and place with a book that is nothing short of a riveting read.

The author’s website is georgehwittman.com

–Bill McCloud

Hispanic Medal of Honor Recipients & Jewish Medal of Honor Recipients by Michael Lee Lanning

Lee Lanning is a prolific author and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel who served in Vietnam as a platoon leader and rifle company commander with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. His latest books—Hispanic Medal of Honor Recipients: American Heroes (Texas A&M University Press, 304 pp., $29.95) and Jewish Medal of Honor Recipients: American Heroes (Texas A&M, 247 pp., $29.95)—are companion pieces in every sense of the term. In them, Lanning writes about a select group of American servicemen, members of one of the country’s most exclusive and honored organizations.

Of the more than 40 million men and women who have served in the military since the formation of the Continental Army in 1775, the Medal of Honor—which was first awarded during the Civil War—has been bestowed on only 3,525. “It is the highest award for bravery given by the U.S .Armed Forces for combat against enemy forces,” Lanning writes. “It is awarded to those who distinguish themselves by gallantry and intrepidity beyond the call of duty at the risk of their own lives.”

All too often the award is bestowed posthumously. Of the MOH awardees, at least 17 were Jewish; 60 were Hispanic.

These books follow a similar pattern and complement each other. Lanning begins both with a brief description of the MOH—its history, significance, and exclusivity.

What follows is a rendition of the MOH citation for each recipient and a brief synopsis of the valorous actions the recipients performed in battle. Lanning also provides the background story for each individual; and for the living recipients, a description of their lives today.

Twenty-two Hispanic Vietnam War troops—including Army Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez and Army Spec. 4 Alfred Rascon—and two Jewish men–Army Col. Jack Jacobs and USAF Sgt. John Levitow—received the MOH. Lanning notes that newly presented information and records could mean that those numbers will increase.

These are good books filled with well-presented and informative stories.

–Tom Werzyn

Pop a Smoke by Rick Gehweiler

I believe that crewing on a helicopter—especially piloting one—was one of the most dangerous and difficult assignments in the Vietnam War. Fifty years after the fact, Rick Gehweiler has mined his memory and confirmed my belief with Pop a Smoke: Memoir of a Marine Helicopter Pilot in Vietnam (McFarland, 172 pp. $29.95, paper; $13.49, Kindle). He and I also agree that medics and corpsmen had it just as rough as helicopter crews.

Fresh out of the University of North Carolina and influenced by an uncle (a three-star Navy admiral), Gehweiler enlisted in the Marine Corps. After going through OCS and pilot training he arrived in Phu Bai in 1968 and joined the “Ugly Angels” helicopter squadron HMM-362. They flew the old Sikorsky H-34s, which would be taken out of service the next year.

Gehweiler tells his story as he best remembers it, frequently making the point that many events are deeply etched into his mind forever. He uses the second half of Pop a Smoke to spell out combat events filled with danger and tragedy he took part in. As a lieutenant, he entered the war with barely a clue as to why. Frisky as college fraternity boys, he and other young LTs matured into men of destiny.

“We just were along for the ride,” Gehweiler says, “with no control over what happened. We never discussed the validity of what was going on.” Following their missions, they headed off to the O Club “to see how much we could drink. It was the only way we knew to decompress and try to relax. “

Losing close friends and classmates in combat made him realize that he had to fly “at razor edge’s efficiency.” And he did.

Rick Gehweiler flew 150 missions, and describes about a dozen of them that are doozies. He dazzled me with stories about an overloaded Sikorsky bouncing to get airborne surrounded by NVA troops; extremely hazardous recon inserts and extractions; the time his helicopter was shot down and his copilot killed; night rocket attacks on Phu Bai; and medevac rescues. I only wish he had shared the details of more missions.

Gehweiler displays a few fits of righteous pique, but fundamentally he cares about the welfare of others. At heart, he is a selfless and humble guy who has repressed accounts of his exploits out of modesty, as I see it. He does include humorous accounts of lieutenants outwitting their superiors, noting that his “whole tour seemed like a full season of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.”

Rick Gehweiler

Like other youthful troops, Rick Gehweiler came to realize how the post-traumatic stress disorder that still clouds his personality developed. As I interpret his work, he had difficulty in seeing the inevitable while swept up in combat and suffered the repercussions of combat trauma.

He ends the book by discussing his and others’ treatment for PTSD, “a disease,” he says, “we will always have.”

Gehweiler adds an epilogue that analyzes America’s decision to get involved in the war, its consequences, and its lessons. He emphasizes the pitfalls of poor decision making at high levels of government.   

Not surprisingly, he reflects the attitude of many Vietnam War veterans, myself included, when he says: “As bad as it could be some days, it was still the most challenging, exhilarating, and satisfying time in my life. As odd as it may sound, I still miss it, and would do it again in a heartbeat.”

—Henry Zeybel

Love Found and Lost by Kim Vui

Love Found and Lost: The Kim Vui Story (Texas Tech University Press, 260 pp. $26.95, hardcover; $8.99, Kindle), is an interesting and important autobiography by a Vietnamese actress and singer who was the most glamorous—and famous—star in the South Vietnamese entertainment industry in the 1960s and 1970s. This is also the story of Saigon’s nightlife and film scene during the American war years.

Kim Vui was six years old in 1945 when the Japanese surrendered to the United States near the end of World War II, which led to chaos in and around Saigon as the French tried to regain control of their former colonial capital. Amid the uproar, Kim Vui fled with her family to the Mekong Delta to begin a new life in the countryside. The next year she saw French forces murderously rampaging through her village. The family subsequently returned to Saigon.

With fond memories of singing in her Catholic church, Kim Vui began performing in theaters in Saigon at an early age. In spring of 1955, after France had lost all its Indochinese colonies, the sixteen-year-old Vui was pregnant by a young man she would only see once more in her life.

After her first child was born she finished secondary school and returned to singing in restaurants. Kim Vui also worked in a government program taking music, dance, and propaganda into the countryside to support the noncommunist South Vietnamese regime during the war against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.

South Vietnam was developing a small film industry and Kim Vui starred in her first movie in 1957. Ten years later, with Saigon now “a capital in the midst of war,” she had become a popular entertainer, known as a singer of “tragic love songs.” But having failed to find true love, Kim Viu writes, “I made myself ignore the past, live in the present, and always look to the future: to forget the illusion of love and think only of my children.”

In 1968 she took part in an Asian ensemble that had a few gigs in Las Vegas. Returning to Vietnam, she starred in two films with anti-communist themes. After marrying an American civilian, she moved to the U.S. with her children and parents. After that “marriage of necessity,” she wrote, “I would learn that one can survive, even in the absence of happiness.”

The actress and singer Kim Vui was known as “the Sophia Loren of Vietnam.”

She would eventually find herself taking one final stab at finding true love. Despite multiple marriages and occasional other relationships, Kim Vui was doing all that she thought she could to make a safe, successful, life for herself and her six children.

In Love Found and Lost, Kim Vui presents a rare and satisfying glimpse into the social life of upper-class Vietnamese citizens in South Vietnam during the war. Her strengths and maternal influences shine throughout this story—a story of a woman, herself, full of love.

–Bill McCloud

F3D/EF-10 Skyknight Units of the Korean and Vietnam Wars by Joe Copalman

Joe Copalman is an expert on aviation history. F3D/EF-10 Skyknight Units of the Korean and Vietnam Wars (Osprey, 96 pp. $24, paper; $9.99, Kindle), his first work for Osprey, is a thorough rundown of an aircraft that was hitherto unfamiliar to me. Along with accounts of its role in two wars, Copalman includes views of the Skynight’s activities throughout the Cold War. Jim Laurier provides the book’s artwork, the usual first-class Osprey combination of drawings and photographs.

The Douglas F3D Skyknight was in action with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps as a night fighter jet from 1950-70. A pilot and radar operator manned the plane. Copalman calls the aircraft “the most unsung hero of its two major wars.”

In Korea, twelve F3Ds Skyknights (nicknamed “Nightmares”) replaced the F4U-5N Corsair and F7F Tigercat in August 1952. Copalman describes missions of crews inexperienced in combat against both Korean and Chinese aircraft and high caliber antiaircraft fire. The pilots developed complicated maneuvers and struck ground targets of opportunity. Lacking formal training in tactics, they learned by doing.

With detailed accounts of air warfare, Copalman explains Nightmares’ difficulties tryin to avoid becoming bait for MiGs and searchlight traps, as well as the rigors of escorting outdated B-29s. The Nightmare pilots were pragmatic and understood that their jamming was effective when tracking AAA began firing erratically as their aircraft broke enemy radar locks. The Nightmares’ confrontations with slow-moving North Korean “Bedcheck Charlie” biplanes steal the Korean War show.

Two years after the Korean War, the F3D upgraded to the F3D-2Q, re-labeled the EF-10B in 1962. In the Cold War the plane performed photographic and electronic surveillance against Soviet-designed radar in North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Far East. The EF-10Bs and MiGs looked each other over, but never fought.

The Vietnam War required a full-scale array of new tactics by EF-10B crews. They deployed as squadron VMCJ-1 to Da Nang in April 1965 and operated over South and North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Copalman offers a full picture of the squadron’s actions during five years in-country. Renaming the aircraft “Whale” and “Super Whale,” crewmen again basically learned the best tactics for themselves through on-the-job training.

The men’s primary task was hunting and jamming North Vietnamese ground-controlled interception sites electronically or with chaff to outwit surface-to-air missile launch teams. In support of fighter-bombers, EF-10B crews were the first on target and last to leave. Overloaded with jammers and carrying maximum fuel, Whale pilots could barely get airborne and often shut down an engine to save fuel and lengthen their time over targets.

Whale and enemy SAM crews both developed new tactics. SAM crews tended to improve slightly faster because Soviet technical advisers helped them; at the same time, Pentagon rules restricted EF-10B attacks on SAM sites for fear of killing Russian advisers and escalating the war.

EF-10Bs escorted Navy A3Ds on straight-and-level, slow-speed bombing missions that one Skyknight pilot likened to World War B-17 raids on Germany. Every day offered a new experience.  

Copalman describes almost unimaginable highlights of the EF-10B’s flying from aircraft carriers. More than likely, he could write an entire book about the uniqueness of that potentially self-destructive practice.

I enjoyed F3D/EF-10. Like every Osprey book, its research uncovered new facts about warfare—in this case, the work of an aircraft unfamiliar to me. Heroics also are part of the drama.

Copalman portrays the resilience of American flyers by showing how they had to learn for themselves the best ways to execute their mission.

They relearned old lessons that hadn’t been passed down by people in similar dilemmas. Copalman clearly shows that the pilots came up with tactics that helped others more than themselves.

–Henry Zeybel