During his 28-year Air Force career Steve Ladd spent 25 years in flying squadrons and fighter wings. He held command positions, but did not allow those duties to keep him on the ground. Even in his final job as Commander of the 549th Joint Training Division (Air Warrior) at Nellis AFB Ladd “managed to saddle up and fly [A-10 Warthog] missions three or four times a week,” to teach close air support tactics, he writes in From F-4 Phantom to A-10 Warthog: Memoirs of a Cold War Fighter Pilot (Air World/Casemate, 220 pp. $24.95, hardcover; $16.99, Kindle).
Commissioned through ROTC at the University of South Carolina, Ladd earned his wings in 1968. Shortly thereafter, he landed at Ubon RTAFB in Thailand and piloted 204 Vietnam War missions in the F-4D Phantom. He volunteered for a second tour, but the Cold War trumped the Vietnam War and the Air Force sent Ladd to Spain for F-4E Victor Alert nuclear weapon delivery duties.
That brief background marks the beginning of Ladd’s memoir, the engaging story of his 4,400 flying hours equally split between the title’s two aircraft.
Ladd describes almost no air war action in this memoir. Instead, he briefly tells a couple of combat stories, then explains: “I’m much more interested in providing an insight into behaviors and experiences which make this noble profession unique, rather than providing an autobiographical portrayal of my own year in the combat zone.”
Nevertheless, Ladd’s ego is evident throughout the book. Suffice it to cite that he believes that if “you never met a fighter pilot, you missed one of life’s great experiences.”
The book contains a wealth of anecdotes about the peacetime adventures of fighter pilots. Ladd primarily speaks from the heart, which makes recollections significant. He praises his fellow pilots, but also finds fault with them, particularly their flying ability. And he calls out questionable behavior related to maneuvering for leadership positions and competing for promotions. He also accepts a role as the butt of a joke. Above all, Steve Ladd’s devotion to the U.S. Air Force is flawless.
The best among the book’s many eye-opening reminiscences is Ladd’s account of transitioning from flying the F-4 to the A-10. In that regard, he says, “Dogfighting makes movies. Close air support wins wars.” His descriptions of flying the A-10 and firing its huge gun made me feel as if I were in the cockpit.
He also provides an excellent account of a trip he and his wife took to Berlin before the Wall came down. And his account of heading an accident investigation is a lesson in complete thoroughness.
Ladd’s military career had great depth. Beyond Thailand, his overseas assignments included sojourns in Spain, Iran, England, and Germany. Stateside, he flew from Moody, MacDill, Homestead, Nellis, and Davis-Monthan AFBs in eight different jobs. Ladd was relegated to sitting behind what he calls a “Big Gray Desk” for a few years in the late 1980s, performing what he calls “shoe clerk duties.”
Sixteen pages of mostly crispy color photographs of Ladd, his wife, airplanes, and patches highly personalize this memoir.
The book’s website is phantomtowarthog.com/the-book