Fast Movers: Jet Pilots and the Vietnam Experience Info

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The war in the skies above Vietnam still stands as the longest
our nation has ever fought. For fourteen years American pilots dropped
bombs on the Southeast Asian countryside -- eventually more than eight
million tons of them. In doing so, they lost over 8,588 fixed-wing
aircraft and helicopters. They did not win the war.
Vietnam, though one of our least popular wars, produced one of the most
effective groups of warriors our nation has ever seen -- men of
dedication, professionalism, and courage. In Fast Movers,
official navy historian John Sherwood offers an authoritative social
history of the air war, focused around fourteen of these aviators --
from legends like Robin Olds, Steve Ritchie, and John Nichols to
lesser-known but equally heroic fighters like Roger Lerseth and Ted
Sherwood draws on nearly 300 interviews to tell stories
of great pilots and great planes in the words of the men themselves.
Fliers recall jets such as McDonnell Douglas's famous F-4 Phantom,
"a Corvette with wings"; the F-05 Thunderchief, the workhorse
of the war; the F-8 Crusader, the last of the gun fighters; and the
block-nosed but revolutionary A-6 Intruder with its fully computerized
attack systems, terrain mapping radar, and digital all-weather
navigation system.
Ultimately, though, it was the men who
mattered. Sherwood shows us the brash confidence of famous iconoclast
Robin Olds, who does not hide his thrill of the hunt -- and the kill.
Roger Sheets looked like Don Knotts but prepped his "Vulture
Flight" of Marine A-6s with the simple, unequivocal line,
"Gentlemen, let's go out and kill something." But Sherwood
lets us know that it wasn't all glory, that pilots suffered fear just
like other soldiers. Ed Rasimus later admitted he thought that an
assignment to Thailand was "like getting diagnosed with terminal
cancer: everyone is hoping the cure will come before you die."
/> There were things worse than death, too. Fast Movers offers
fascinating portraits -- based on Sherwood's interviews and
just-declassified naval archives -- of Vietnam's POWs. Pilots lucky
enough to suffer only broken bones and burns from the violence of
1960s-era Martin-Baker ejection seats struggled to find honorable ways
to negotiate half-decade-long periods in captivity. Passive resistance,
like Commander Jeremiah Denton's famous blinking of TORTURE in Morse
Code, was sometimes successful, often brutally reprised. Escape was
Those who avoided shootdown learned to live with
other frustrations. Most wanted to "go downtown" (bomb Hanoi)
but were foiled by their civilian superiors, who dictated the numbers
and types of aircraft that could be used in a given strike, the kinds of
ordnance that could be levied against a target, and even the flight
paths that could be flown. Against all odds, the pilots spawned a
culture of success in the midst of failure and frustration. Fast
captures a hidden and crucial story of America's least
successful war.

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