Reading Dragonfly: The Smallest Fighter… The Fastest Gun… A-37s Over Vietnam (A-37 Association, 311 pp.; $29.95, hardcover; $19.95, paper) is like sorting a stack of lottery tickets and finding every one is a winner. Dragonfly presents a collection of attention-grabbing history lessons. I initially opened the book, edited by Frederick D. Long and Lon Holtz, to a story titled “Sir, I’m on Fire,” and was amazed by how in the heat of the moment (pun intended) pilots perform illogical actions and survive whole. It only got better from there.
The book is packed with first-hand accounts of Dragonfly pilots’ combat missions in Vietnam from 1967-72. Some other chapter titles are “I’ll Never Do That Again,” “Hanging By A Thread,” and “How to Kill a Water Buffalo.”
Arranged chronologically, the flying events parallel the course of the war. Pilots talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. They recall dangerous and heroic deeds; they explain the utterly stupid ones. Honesty prevails.
The nine-by-eleven-inch book is a work of love and art. Its large format includes hundreds of photographs, maps, and illustrations. The A-37 Association published Dragonfly in 2014, with a second edition in 2015.
Editor Fred Long’s Introduction records the transformation of the T-37 from a trainer into an attack aircraft. He also explains the development and deployment of other A-37 squadrons, starting with the 604th Air Commando Squadron up to the time when the USAF turned the fleet over to the South Vietnamese Air Force.
“The A-37 was called on to take out missile sites, artillery and supply sites, bunkers, trucks, sampans, buildings and support ground troops while under attack,” Long says. “They flew day and night, dropped napalm, bombs, fired rockets and the minigun under every conceivable condition. They went on FAC missions, dodged antiaircraft fire, and performed escort operations. A successful mission was the rule, not the exception.”
Associate Editor Lon Holtz, the President of the A-37 Association, adds historical perspective with “Prologue 1945-1966: The Beginning of an Unpopular War.” Holtz flew the Dragonfly in Vietnam during his 1968-69 tour of duty.
The editors included a section that honors thirteen Dragonfly pilots killed during the war. Appendices include a Vietnam War Photo Album, Dragonfly Combat Pilot Roster, and Glossary, along with an extensive Bibliography and Index.
Books of this type are important because they fill voids in military history. Combat is a highly personalized and relatively spectatorless endeavor. Rarely are people standing around to watch and report it. Mainly, the people that see it are those engaged in it. Consequently, John Q. Public relies on guys from the arena to tell it like it was. This book performs that duty through the voices of a specialized group of warriors.
The same logic applies to any war memoir. I made four trips to Southeast Asia in four different jobs and thought I knew a lot. But since August of 2014, I have read and reviewed nearly seventy Vietnam War memoirs and each one has taught me something new about that conflict.
For more info, go to www.a-37.org/news/news_page.html