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Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trailby Rick Newman
Synopses & Reviews
They had the most dangerous job n the Air Force. Now Bury Us Upside Down reveals the never-before-told story of the Vietnam War’s top-secret jet-fighter outfit–an all-volunteer unit composed of truly extraordinary men who flew missions from which heroes are made.
In today’s wars, computers, targeting pods, lasers, and precision-guided bombs help FAC (forward air controller) pilots identify and destroy targets from safe distances. But in the search for enemy traffic on the elusive Ho Chi Minh Trail, always risking enemy fire, capture, and death, pilots had to drop low enough to glimpse the telltale signs of movement such as suspicious dust on treetops or disappearing tire marks on a dirt road (indicating a hidden truck park). Written by an accomplished journalist and veteran, Bury Us Upside Down is the stunning story of these brave Americans, the men who flew in the covert Operation Commando Sabre–or “Misty”–the most innovative air operation of the war.
In missions that lasted for hours, the pilots of Misty flew zigzag patterns searching for enemy troops, vehicles, and weapons, without benefit of night-vision goggles, infrared devices, or other now common sensors. What they gained in exhilarating autonomy also cost them: of 157 pilots, 34 were shot down, 3 captured, and 7 killed. Here is a firsthand account of courage and technical mastery under fire. Here, too, is a tale of forbearance and loss, including the experience of the family of a missing Misty flier–Howard K. Williams–as they learn, after twenty-three years, that his remains have been found.
Now that bombs are smart and remote sensors are even smarter, the missions that the Mistys flew would now be considered no less than suicidal. Bury Us Upside Down reminds us that for some, such dangers simply came with the territory.
"'What's the difference between a fighter pilot and God?' goes the old joke. 'God doesn't think he's a fighter pilot.' Wars change, but fighter pilots stay the same — young, bold, aggressive, crafty, funny, oversexed. Their stories manage to sound both daring and self-deprecating. Today's matchless Air Force, with its combination of hyper-high-tech planes and unmanned drones, is an awesome spectacle,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) but the heart yearns for the stories of legend — fighters turning and jinking through torrents of antiaircraft artillery to drop their bombs while fending off Soviet MiGs, in the days before the skies were ours. That brings us back to Vietnam, largely remembered as a quagmire on the ground but also a gritty air war, where pilots struggled with outdated tactics, bureaucratic ineptitude and a nearly invisible enemy. The aces in the cockpits have long taken their credit, but some of the greatest flying heroes of the war carried neither bombs nor missiles. They were 'fast FACs' — forward air controllers — flying F-100 fighter jets instead of old propeller-driven aircraft, buzzing the Ho Chi Minh Trail, searching for ways to stem the constant flow of North Vietnamese resources to the anticommunist south. It was hard enough avoiding ground fire on bombing runs, but the F-100 pilots went looking for it. They flew just above the weeds, deliberately drawing out gunfire in order to mark North Vietnamese targets with smoke rockets for the fighters to bomb from safer altitudes. It wasn't a risky mission; it was insane. In 1967, Don Shepperd flew 58 missions with the top secret Operation Commando Sabre, dubbed 'Misty' after its first commander's favorite song. The Misty pilots were a brazen, hard-flying lot who read the jungle by dust on the treetops and trails that vanished into mountainsides. They developed a sixth sense for hidden targets and a strange affinity with the ground shooters. The North Vietnamese, who were experts with camouflage, moved at night or under the incessant cloud cover. The Mistys took staggering risks to flush them out, often returning to base with bullet holes in their fuselages — or not returning at all. The stories in 'Bury Us Upside Down' are vivid and timeless: the North Vietnamese gunner who was so inept that the Mistys had a standing order not to shoot him; the pilot who dissuaded his new commander from launching night Misty missions by taking him on a night flight and surreptitiously switching on the outboard lights over heavy ground fire; the Misty custom of igniting their afterburners over POW sites, sending out a familiar booming noise that told the downed airmen they were not forgotten. In this gripping narrative, Shepperd (now a CNN military analyst) and co-author Rick Newman (a U.S. News & World Report writer) follow the Mistys' short, tumultuous course through the war and the long, dispiriting wait of the families at home after some of the men were captured or missing in action. Too often, a combat pilot's story hinges upon glorified personal experiences, with little insight into the complexity of the war. But 'Bury Us Upside Down' unfolds in crisp vignettes and remarkable detail, from the 1968 Tet Offensive to the peace negotiations that left so many MIA families dejected. It's a fabulous read. In 1972, two years after the Mistys were disbanded, their mission adopted by better-equipped F-4 Phantom fighters, Ed Rasimus returned to Vietnam for his second tour of duty, this time flying F-4s out of Korat, Thailand. 'Palace Cobra' picks up where his first book, 'When Thunder Rolled' (a memoir about flying F-105s), left off. The result may be the best comparison of F-4 and F-105 performance and tactics ever written, but laymen not versed in Air Force jargon may find themselves overwhelmed. In Vietnam, Rasimus makes clear, there were no precision-guided weapons, no night-vision goggles, none of the gadgets indispensable to air combat today — but they all began there. Vietnam was a sort of tooth-cutting for the modern Air Force. The prestigious USAF Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada was busy developing aggressive tactics that stateside fighter-training wings refused to adopt. Their generals feared increased accidents; after all, accidents cost promotions. So staff officers in Vietnam were still advocating conservative, tight-turn tactics against Soviet-built MiGs long after the USAF Weapons School had discredited them. This had a Darwinian effect; often, it was the most wily, rule-breaking pilots who survived. Rasimus' story reads as though it happened yesterday, with all the fear, bravado and frustration of combat but none of the reflection one might have expected after 30 years. That's too bad. Rasimus' passion for the cockpit comes through, but his memoir lacks the resonance of an earlier generation of pilot-writers. (Ernest K. Gann's 'Fate Is the Hunter' and Antoine de Saint-Exupery's 'Flight to Arras' come to mind.) Alas, with Vietnam, we'll have to be satisfied for now with hair-raising tactics and swooning binges at the officers' club bar." Reviewed by Kim Ponders, a major in the U.S. Air Force reserves and former AWACS flier who is the author of the novel "The Art of Uncontrolled Flight", Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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A dream team of an accomplished journalist and a military-legend-turned-CNN-analyst brings to life, for the first time, the most dangerous missions flown in the Vietnam War. Misty was the call sign for pilots from a top secret U.S. Air Force unit officially known at the Commando Sabre Operation.Formed in 1967 to find targets along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and interdict the flow of supplies from North to South Vietnam, the missions which the Mistys flew are now considered no less the suicidal.
About the Author
Rick Newman is a writer and editor at U.S. News & World Report who covered the Pentagon for seven years, including U.S. missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Persian Gulf. He has written hundreds of stories on the military, including dozens of exclusives, and more than twenty cover stories.
Don Shepperd (Misty 34) reported for duty at Phu Cat Air Base on December 19, 1967, and flew fifty-eight missions as a Misty during his four-month tour. With a total of 247 combat missions in Vietnam, he retired from the Air Force in 1998 as a two-star general and head of the Air National Guard. In 2001 he joined CNN as one of their principal military analysts.
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