Publisher: Penmore Press
Formats: Paperback | e-book (Kindle, iBook/Apple, Nook, Kobo)
Pages: 402 pages
Takes place in 1970. In combat, there is a fine line between being overly cautious and cowardice. Josh Haman, a newly qualified co-pilot fresh out of the training command on his first tour in Vietnam, has to figure out on which side of the line the combat search and rescue detachment’s officer-in-charge stands. Untested in combat and unproven as a leader, Josh makes a career and life and death decision and has to live with the consequence as learns the trade of a combat search and rescue and special operations pilot. Sit through a Pilot Disposition Board after Josh is accused of mutiny and fly with him as he leads a mission to steal a North Korean SA-2 system and on a covert, deep penetration mission into the Peoples Republic of China.
Taken from Chapter 3 – SINGAPORE
The same day, 1531 local time, on the U.S.S. Sterett
There was none of the usual bantering that went along with the work of putting the helicopter to bed for the night. The grim faces of the detachment’s enlisted men matched Josh’s dark mood. After noting a minor discrepancy on the yellow sheets of the helicopter’s maintenance log, he hung up his helmet bag and survival vest on the rack in the little storage room next to the maintenance office. Josh left without saying a word to either Chief Slaughter or the two air crewman.
Although the ship’s captain preferred that officers not eat in the wardroom in their flight suits, they were allowed to get a cup of coffee or something else to drink from the mess. After downing a Coke, Josh grabbed a second one and headed down the passageway and banged on the stateroom door that was two down from his.
“Enter.” Higgins was already showered and changing into a set of khakis.
“What the fuck to do you want, Haman?”
“Sir, we left a man behind out there we could have rescued.”
“In my judgment, it was too dangerous.”
“In what way?” demanded Josh.
“We were taking heavy machine gun fire. And, besides we didn’t have enough fuel.”
“The enemy fire stopped when I hammered the tree line. The other A-7s could have made strafing passes. And we had enough fuel to stay in the area for the better part of an hour. So that excuse, sir, is…” Josh paused, then decided to use the word that was on the tip of his tongue. “…bullshit.”
“Watch your tongue, Haman! Your mouth may cross a line your brain knows it shouldn’t. You don’t know that your mini-gun or the A-7s could have suppressed the enemy fire. The gun could have jammed, which it has a habit of doing, then what would you have done?”
“Still tried to pick the guy up. I am confident we would have succeeded. We had plenty of time and gas. We could have saved a man from going to the Hanoi Hilton and we didn’t.”
“That’s his problem, not mine. He knew the risks when he climbed in that A-7. It comes with the job. I wasn’t going to hang around long enough for the gooks to figure out how to shoot us down.”
“We are here to pick pilots up who are shot down. That is our job and we didn’t do it when we could have. Aren’t you worried that this detachment will get a reputation as one that won’t rescue pilots?”
“No. I’m not worried at all as long as I don’t get shot up or go home in a body bag.” Higgins stood up and jabbed his finger into Josh’s chest. “I have grown weary of your desire to be a hero and in the process get me shot or killed. You’ve been out here a little over a month and don’t know shit from shinola about what we do or how we do it.” Higgins turned his back on Josh as he went to his bunk bed.
“Sir, on the contrary, I know what my job is and what our squadron’s mission is. I even have an idea of how to do it. And I will try to accomplish it to the best of my ability. Today we had a good plan and it would have worked. If it didn’t, then we would have tried something else. He bit back his next thought: From you, I’m learning how not to do this job. “If it requires getting shot at, so be it. If I get killed in the process, tough shit. At least people around me can say I tried.” Which is more than they can say about you.
Higgins turned and took two strides across his stateroom. His forefinger stabbed into Josh’s chest again, his face, less than a foot from Josh’s, was beet red.
“Let me make this clear. I don’t give a shit about making rescues, accomplishing the squadron’s mission, or this goddamn war. What I give a shit about is getting home in one piece. And if that means I don’t take risks and avoid being shot at, so be it. I didn’t ask to be assigned to this goddamn squadron, I don’t support this fucking war, and if some other poor bastard gets wounded, killed or captured, then it is too bad for him. I just want to survive.”
Josh reached up and gently removed the finger that had been tapping on his chest. I am not going to hit the son-of-a-bitch, no matter how much I want to, but I am not backing down!
“Sir, I suggest you have someone else come out here and relieve you as the officer-in-charge and that you request an immediate transfer out of HC-7. This will let the rest of us do the job we are trained and assigned to do. I’m not going to leave another man behind.”
“Get the fuck out of my stateroom before I put you on report for insubordination!” Higgins snarled.
“With all due respect, Lieutenant Higgins, sir, that would be an interesting discussion. What do you think Power House 310, his squadron mate, and the pilots in the A-7s who were overhead and saw what happened would say at my court martial?”
“What are you now, a fucking sea lawyer?”
“No, sir, but you and I both know I’m right.” Josh took a deep breath and twisted the door handle. “Sir, as the administrative officer of this detachment, I’ll have your letter requesting a transfer ready for you to sign after chow tonight.”
Higgins got squarely in front of him. “You will do NOTHING, repeat NOTHING of the sort. That is an order.”
Josh leaned back a bit so the spittle spraying from Higgins’ mouth didn’t land on him. “Sir, if you don’t sign it, I will get someone else to endorse it and send it up the chain of command.” Josh opened the door and left. When he closed it, he leaned his forehead on the cool metal bulkhead. This bastard is going to give me a reputation that will ruin my career just as it starts. What a fucking mess!
“That was interesting.”
Josh spun around and saw his roommate. Gainesville pointed towards the aft end of the ship and started walking. He waited until they reached the open main deck by the five-inch gun mount before he spoke.
“I heard most of what was said,” stated Gainesville. “Josh, the combat information center is full of enlisted guys who know what went on because they heard the transmissions. I am sure things are being said in the enlisted messes and berthing spaces that don’t make your guys happy. Anyway, the captain has the search and rescue frequency piped into the bridge, so he knows what is happening. Captain Danforth heard what went on today and Higgins is making him look bad too. To put it mildly, he doesn’t like it. I am sure that he’ll do more than endorse the transfer letter. If needed, I think he’ll have the ship’s admin officer write it. This way, you won’t need Higgins’s signature. Believe me, if Higgins or anyone from your detachment showed up on the Oriskany today or tomorrow, he might get beat up or killed.”
“Thanks for the help. I almost called Higgins a coward.”
“He is, and he’s a disgrace to the Academy and the Navy. There’s a fine line between cautious and cowardice and he’s on the wrong side. You don’t have to sugar-coat it.”
“Shit! This is not what I envisioned for my first tour. Nothing I learned in school or the training command prepared me for this.” Josh looked down at the can of Coke in his hand and took a sip.
“War is hell,” sighed Gainsville. “Sometimes the enemy is one of us. I’ve been in your shoes. When we get to Subic, let’s have a beer and I’ll tell you about the division officer on my first ship. He was another martinet like Higgins and the captain got him transferred to the Swift boats. On almost every mission, his boat had some kind of problem and he had to return to base. The commanding officer wrote him a bad fitness report and forced him out of the Navy, which I think is what he wanted. What he didn’t want was the general discharge with no GI Bill or VA benefits. But that’s what he finally got.”
Josh swallowed the rest of his Coke and crushed the can. “In the meantime, I have to live and work with the bastard.”
“Yes, you do.”
From Chapter 8 – FREQUENCY PROBLEMS
Thursday, December 3rd, 1970, 1423 local time, Gulf of Tonkin
Josh awoke with a start as someone kicked his boot sole. “Mr. Haman, get up, sir. We’re going flying.”
When Josh had stretched out, trying to sneak in a nap, the briefing for first launch of the day was not due to start for another two hours. He’d picked the H-3 as a place to sleep because he was the co-pilot on Darryl Richardson’s crew and they were on five-minute alert. Rather than hang out in the ready room, he’d stretched out next to the tray that contained six thousand rounds of 7.62mm ammunition that fed the mini-gun in the cargo door and fallen asleep. The padded horse-collar rescue sling, when positioned under the back of his neck, made a perfect pillow.
Since getting to the Ranger on Monday, he’d flown in circles at two hundred feet a mile off Vinh for two consecutive nights. The night before, they’d orbited off Haiphong for the better part of eight hours, landing on the deck of the Oklahoma City to take on fuel and go to the bathroom without shutting down, then returning to their station off Haiphong. That was after he had been the co-pilot on a morning log run to Cam Ranh Bay. Montemayor wasn’t kidding when he said he was following the board’s recommendation to get him the flight time to qualify as a HAC as soon as practical. Josh was flying his ass off, and he didn’t want fatigue to degrade his performance.
“What’s up, Van der Jagt?”
“Don’t know sir, they just announced that the Alert Five SAR bird is being launched, and that’s us.”
“Got it.” Josh climbed into the co-pilot’s seat and had the number one engine running when Darryl Richardson climbed into the cockpit and plugged in his helmet.
“Keep going. I’ll take over when it is time to engage the rotors.”
Josh nodded and began the process of starting the number two engine. By the time it was running, Richardson was strapped into his seat.
Josh looped the hook on the shoulder straps into the buckle on the three-inch wide lap belt and pulled all of them tight. Richardson keyed the mike. “Tell the ship that we’re ready to go. I’ll do the takeoff checklist.”
“Gray Eagle tower, Big Mother 22 is ready for lift-off,” Josh reported. Gray Eagle was the call sign for the Ranger.”
“Big Mother 22 is cleared for takeoff. Contact Hunter 010 on 312.6 when airborne.”
After checking in and getting a heading, Josh waited until Richardson had the H-3 level at 500 feet before he keyed the intercom. “Darryl, what’s going on?”
“Big Mother 30 had some kind of mechanical problem and is heading back to the ship. We’ll go pick up their orbit, and hopefully it’ll be boring. I hope you’re not mad that we interrupted your nap!”
Josh held up a balled fist with the middle finger extended. “I got a question for you.”
“In a situation like this, wouldn’t it be helpful to stop by CIC and get a quick brief?”
“It’s a great idea, but it won’t work for two reasons.” Darryl had the H-3 climbing and accelerating. “One, you’d never make the five minute launch window, and two, they may or may not be following what is happening with an Air Force plane unless he was calling in strikes. Even then, they may not be copying the transmissions.”
“Big Mother 22, Hunter 010, we have a fox 100 with battle damage trying to make it to the beach. Call sign is Tractor 61. Head three-four-oh and buster.”
“Fox one hundred” was an Air Force F-100, the first Air Force fighter that could go supersonic in level flight. In Vietnam, they were used for close air support and forward air controllers. By 1970, they were being replaced by the Air Force’s version of the A-7, which was newer and much more capable, but which could not go supersonic. Buster meant ‘fly as fast as possible.’
At cherubs two, the green-blue waters of the Gulf rushed by noticeably faster. Josh saw the gentle swells did nothing to hide the very noticeable yellow, worm-like forms of sea snakes and the larger, gray-black shapes of sharks that came the surface bask in the warm sun.
“We’ll stay about a mile off the beach. If we make gentle ten-to-twenty degree bank turns, we’re hard to spot visually or on radar. Or so the intelligence guys tell me.” This was Darryl’s way of planning and teaching at the same time.
Josh wiggled in his seat and pulled the lap belt and shoulder straps tighter. “How long—” The screech of a beeper stopped him, and a high-pitched warbling sound coming from a transmitter in the ejection seat told everyone monitoring the guard frequency that someone had just punched out.
“Big Mother 22, Hunter 010, Tractor 61 is down in a rice paddy about three miles inland. Tractor 66 is orbiting. No bad guys in sight, over.”
“He’s asking us if we want to attempt the rescue. Here’s the rub: our rules of engagement say the Air Force has all the rescues over land and we get the guys who land in the gulf, but up to about fifteen miles inland is a gray area,” Darryl explained. “We’re the nearest rescue asset and it’ll probably be hours before the Air Force can get there. How far away are we? Thirty, maybe thirty-five miles?”
“How about less than twenty.”
“So, mister future HAC, do we go or do we pass?”
“I say we go. The longer Tractor 61 is on the ground, the more likely he is going to get captured.”
“Right answer. This is what is known in the rescue business as a judgment call. If we pick him up, we made the right call. If we die, well too bad, so sad. At least we tried. The worst would be we go in, get shot up and can’t for whatever reason make the pick-up. That’s when some rear echelon mother fucker decides that he can get a top one percent fitness report by screwing us over because we didn’t follow the rules made by guys who don’t do the actual work.”
“Understand. Been there, done that AND I have the scars. They’re still red.” Josh activated the radio mike. “Hunter 010, Big Mother Double Deuce is en route. Say pigeons to Tractor 61 and what close air support assets are available.” When he was finished transmitting, he pulled out a pencil to write down the bearing and distance to the survivor from his helicopter.
“Pigeons three-four-zero at fifteen. Tractor 61 now says he is taking small arms fire from the tree line. He’s hunkered down behind one of the dikes in the rice paddies. Tractor 66 only has twenty mike-mike ammunition left, but four A-7s from Gray Eagle have an ETA of two-zero minutes. Call sign of the leader is Battle Cry 407. Say your ETA?”
“We should be there in less than ten mikes. Stand-by for instructions for Tractor 61.”
“What’s this double deuce shit? That’s pretty salty.”
“I can be more formal.”
“No, it’s cool. So mister future HAC, what’s the plan? This is your rescue.”
“We get there as fast as we can and position ourselves between Tractor 61 and the tree line. Petty Officer Bennington works his magic with the mini-gun, and if it is wide enough to land on the dike, we do it. If not, we put one wheel on and get him in through the passenger door. I think that will be faster than trying to hoist him up, and it gives him more cover. I’d hate to pull up a dead man.”
“Sounds like a plan. Just remember, I’m co-pilot so you have to tell me what to say on the radio.” Richardson raised his hands in the air and Josh put the chart on the console so his aircraft commander could use it.
“Crew, this is Mr. Haman, prepare for a ground pick-up, but just in case have the horse collar handy. You heard my brief to Mr. Richardson. Any questions?”
“No questions, sir. We’re rigged and ready. Van der Jagt is ready to go get him if needed. Kowalski’s got the M-60 ready.”
Josh turned around and saw that Kowalski had swung the gun mount into place. They had removed the top half of the door, and the boron epoxy armor plate was in place as well.
“Darryl, tell Tractor 61 to pop a smoke when he sees us.”
You sure you want him to do that?”
“Yeah. The gooks already know where he is and it’ll save us time finding him. It is not like we’re going to sneak into the rice paddy.”
“Tell Hunter 010 that as soon as we cross into the rice patty, have the two A-7s drop their bombs along the tree line to—”
“Big Mother 22, Hunter 010. Tractor 66 reports two groups of twenty to thirty people advancing from two directions toward his playmate and one group is within one hundred yards. He is requesting instructions.”
Josh keyed the intercom. “Tell Tractor 61 to strafe the closest bastards first and then get the others!”
As they raced toward the rice paddy, tracers lanced out at the helicopter. Josh started using uncoordinated movements of the cyclic, rudders and collective to make the HH-3A erratic and harder to hit as he dropped down to less than fifty feet above the trees. “Gunners, return fire as you see targets shooting at us.”
Josh was skimming the helicopter forty feet above the muddy water of the rice paddy when a cloud of orange smoke billowed out from the middle. He could hear the humming of the mini-gun as he adjusted the helicopter’s track so that he could flare and skid the helicopter to a quick stop.
“Gear. Darryl, do the landing check.”
“Gear going down. I was wondering when you were going to drop it.”
The M-60 machine gun just behind his head began hammering out rounds at the rate of six hundred per minute.
“Are you going to authenticate?”
Shit, I forgot to do that. “No, because his wingman has been on top of him the whole time. This one can’t be a decoy.” I hope that is a good enough answer.
“I would have had Hunter 010 verify for us on the way in. Too late now. I’ve dialed up full power. We’re good to go. I’ll back you up on the throttles if you need it.”
Josh rolled the helicopter and reduced power. The HH-3A shuddered and groaned, acknowledging what he was trying to do with it, but telling him it was not the way the helicopter was designed to be flown. He fed enough control inputs in opposite direction to bring the helicopter into a slow creep ten feet off the ground.
“Am going to put the left main mount on the dike. Tell Tractor 61 to get moving toward the passenger door. I don’t want to hang around here forever.”
Just then, a spout of mud erupted a hundred feet in front of the helicopter, followed by another ten feet closer.
“Mortars? What the fuck do I do about them?” Ping, ping, thwack. “Survivor’s running to the helo.” “He’s on board.”
More pings and thwacks and the controls jumped in Josh’s hands as a black object flew across the cockpit and parts of the instrument panel disintegrated. Then he heard a sickening thud. He glanced to his right and saw Darryl’s head slump down and blood spray all over the right side of the instrument panel.
Instinctively, he pulled up on the collective and dumped the nose with the cyclic to get the helicopter moving. It yawed sickeningly to the right because he hadn’t pushed far enough on the left rudder pedal to compensate for the added torque. “Crew, Mr. Richardson is hit. Get him out of the seat and see what you can do for him.”
“Yes, sir.” The mini-gun hummed. Behind his head, Kowalski kept firing short bursts. Van der Jagt reached around the seat and unbuckled the aircraft commander’s harness and unhooked the cord connecting his helmet to the helicopter radios before looping his hands under his armpits, lifting and dragging an unconscious Richardson out of the aircraft commander’s seat.
Another thwack was followed by a loud bang. The H-3 shuddered. More mini-bangs. Then a louder BANG followed by the sound of a jet engine unwinding. Out of the corner of his eye, Josh saw the rpm for the number one right engine headed to zero. He shoved the emergency throttle for the left engine up to the stop and watched as the rotor rpm began to decay. Shit, piss and corruption!!! They were only going sixty knots, but at least they were slowly accelerating. Good.
“Sir, Mr. Richardson took a round that went through the seat and his right bicep before going into his chest. We’re doing what we can back here, but he’s in a bad way. We need to get him to a hospital.”
“Got it.” Getting them all back was up to him now. “Hunter 010, Big Mother 22. We’ve got Tractor 61 on board but took a lot of hits. Have one seriously wounded and we’ve shut down the right engine. Need vectors to nearest ship and ask them to close our position as fast as they can.”
Seventy knots. Do I climb so I have altitude and choices, but become a big slow target, or do I stay low and make it harder for them to track the helo?
“Sir, if you can keep the jinking to a minimum, we can work on getting the bleeding stopped and give Mr. Richardson some plasma to help replace the blood he lost.”
They just told me that I have to fly straight and level or Darryl is going to die. “Let me know when I can turn again. We’re about five minutes to feet wet.”
Van der Jagt stuck his head between the pilot and co-pilot seats. “Bennington says Mr. Richardson is barely conscious. I did a security check and we’ve got lots of holes in the airframe, but no hydraulic leaks. There’s jet fuel streaming down the side of the fuselage, which is probably why the engine shut down. None of the fuel lines inside the cabin were hit.”
“Good. Climb up here and you can help me out.”
Van der Jagt stepped up and sank into the pilot’s seat. He looked around as Richardson’s blood oozed out of the cushion around him. After plugging his helmet into the intercom, he waved his hands. “Sir, I hope you don’t want me to fly this thing for you.”
“The top part of the cyclic has been shot off and the box at the end of the collective looks like it stopped a round. I’m using the foot switch to talk on the intercom.”
Josh looked down and saw the handle to the pilot’s cyclic stick lying on the Plexiglas of the bubble beneath his feet. Those bastards were aiming at the cockpit and AT ME!
“Sir, do you want me to close the fuel shut off valve to the right engine?”
Shit, I forgot to do the engine shut down checklist. “Van der Jagt, here’s the pocket checklist. Under emergency procedures, find the single engine shut down checklist and read the items off to me.”
“Yes, sir. It seems like I’ve done this before.”
“Yeah, but let’s not make it a habit.” Josh started to say something else but held up his hand when he heard the beginning of a transmission.
“Big Mother 22, Hunter 010, we have you one-eight miles from Battle Torch. Fly one-six-zero. He is closing your position at two-five knots and will have a ready deck on arrival. Remain this frequency and we will notify Battle Torch when you are within five miles. Copy?”
“Big Mother 22 copies.” This is going to be a series of first for me. First landing on the back of a destroyer in a shot-up H-3! First single engine landing on the back of a destroyer not certified for an H-3! It is up to me to make sure this is not my first crash! The only good news is I know the flight deck of the Sterett. There won’t be much room to spare, as in only six feet between something solid and the tip of the H-3’s rotor blades if I land on the center of the deck.
The horizon was now filled with blue water. “Hunter 010, Big Mother 22 is going feet wet.”
“Roger. Battle Torch is now twelve miles on your nose and closing. Medical team standing by. Big Mother, say angels.”
“Big Mother is at cherubs two.” Josh switched to the intercom.
“Bennington, how’s Mr. Richardson doing?”
“He’s breathing and I got the bleeding stopped. I gave him some morphine for the pain. If you don’t crash on the Sterett, the doc there should be able to keep him alive.”
“I’ll do my best…”
Agonizing minutes later, Josh saw the familiar shape of the Sterett looming ahead. White water from the bow wave poured down the side of the ship. When the ship was steaming at flank speed, this was called “having a bone in its teeth.” As the helo crossed the bow to get make its approach, Josh could see why. The white water looked like a big shank bone!
“Crew, let’s get ready for landing. Once we touch down, I want you to get Mr. Richardson out as fast as you can, then we’ll shut down. Van der Jagt, you’ll need to watch the torque and the rotor rpm. If it drops below one hundred percent, let me know. I think we’ll get some droop, but not too much. We’re relatively light with only about a thousand pounds of fuel.”
“Yes, sir, got it.”
“Big Mother 22, Battle Torch. We have you in sight. Wind will be thirty degrees to port at two-zero knots. You have a ready deck.”
As Josh approached the Sterett, he could see the water churned up by the ship’s screws even as it was slowing down to just under twenty knots. He slowed the helicopter to a slow creep.
Fifty yards from the side of the ship, Josh could see the ship’s doctor and two corpsmen standing in the hangar. Beside them, a wire-framed Stokes litter lay on the deck. At one end, a pole with two IV bags, one dark and one clear, was attached to the litter. Off to the right, the enlisted man assigned to guiding him aboard was waving him forward.
At thirty knots on the airspeed indicator and forty feet over the water, the helicopter’s relative closure rate to the ship was only ten knots. Josh stopped the forward motion when Kowalski, who had his head out the aft cargo door, called out, “Tail wheel is over the deck and clear.”
Josh lowered the collective. The helo settled faster than he wanted and landed with a thump. He felt the helo settle on the deck and all the tension and fear left his body. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw four men carry the litter and one hold the pole with the head into the hangar. As soon as he heard the number two engine start to unwind, he pulled back on the rotor brake.
Once the rotors stopped, Josh sat there numb, staring back and forth at the hangar deck and the blood-splattered, shot up instrument panel. The damage assessment would come later.
“Sir, the helo’s tied down.”
“Thanks.” With that he unstrapped. Before he stepped down from the cockpit, Josh steadied himself on the seat, afraid his knees would buckle or that he would throw up.
Josh was still wearing his survival vest as he walked around the H-3, surveying the battle damage. On the right side were a series of holes in the fuselage just aft of Richardson’s seat. Most of the incoming bullets had been stopped by the wing of the seat, leaving dents in the boron epoxy armor. One had penetrated the plate protecting the actuators and went on through the seat’s side armor making a jagged, elongated hole. He was sure it was the bullet that struck Richardson.
“Sir, the captain of the ship would like to see you in his at sea cabin.”
Josh turned to see Petty Officer Bennington standing next to him, a respectful distance away. “Any word on Mr. Richardson?”
“No, sir, other than he’s in surgery.”
“We took a lot of rounds.
“Yes, sir, we did. That was a great piece of flying, sir.”
“Thank you, Bennington. Good work on Mr. Richardson. You probably saved his life. Where’s the rest of the crew?”
“Thank you, sir. We’ve been in sick bay. The corpsman gave each of us a couple of small bottles of brandy. We’re going to be on the ship for a couple of days, so they’re arranging some clean clothing. We can wash our flight suits then.”
“Good. I’ll go see what Captain Danforth has to say.”
As he made his way to captain’s at sea cabin just aft of the bridge, the vibration from the Sterett churning through the gulf lessened to a more normal thrum and hum as the ship slowed to cruising speed. A Marine in fatigues was sitting by the door with a .45 caliber pistol in an unbuttoned holster. Josh could see the brass jackets of the .45 rounds in the two magazines in a pouch on the web belt.
The Marine came to attention. “Mr. Haman, it is good to see you again. Captain Danforth is expecting you.”
“Thank you, Sergeant Gittings. When did you get promoted?”
The message came in last week, sir.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Josh tapped on the door, and after hearing “Come in,” opened it.
Captain Danforth stood up and held out his hand. “Well done and welcome back. Close the door and have a seat.”
Josh did so, while the captain went to a table and picked up a glass, which he set in front of the helicopter pilot. Then he twirled the dial on the safe behind his desk, swung open the door and pulled out a bottle of Chivas Regal. Without saying a word, he poured four fingers into the glass, which had the ship’s logo etched onto the side. “Drink this, you need it. You’re not going flying for a while.”
“Yes, sir.” Josh took a sip and grimaced slightly as the alcohol burned his throat.”
“Josh, you are not leaving this stateroom until that glass is empty. If you want another, just say so.”
Josh nodded and took another sip, this time enjoying the taste and feeling the heat in his stomach.
“Lieutenant Richardson will be out of surgery in about twenty minutes. The doc is stitching him up now and the word is he will probably live, but he’s going to need more surgery. It’ll be safe to move him in a few hours, so CIC is going to call the Ranger. They’ll send over a helo with a medical team and take him to one of the hospital ships south of us. Kudos to your guys in the back for keeping him alive.”
Josh nodded, sipping scotch.
“My guess is your helicopter is going to clutter up my deck for a few days.”
“Yes, sir, it will need an engine change.”
“How bad is it?”
“Sir, it is pretty ugly. If you look at the bullet holes, it is obvious that they were targeting the tail rotor, the cockpit, and the engines. It looks like they had a 12.7mm machine gun, because that’s the round that went through the armor plate and hit Mr. Richardson. The plates protecting the engines took several rounds as well, one of which knocked out the fuel control of the right engine. A few inches above and it would have hit the combustion section, and who knows what would have happened then.”
“Are you O.K?”
“I think so. This is the first time someone got hurt in my helicopter. I liked flying with Mr. Richardson.” Josh took another sip. “I’ll be alright. I’m still pretty pumped up.”
“Let me give you some advice. It’s normal to be scared and upset. Don’t be afraid to talk about it with other pilots.”
“Sir, you sound like my father.”
“He told me the exact same thing, sir. My dad flew in World War II and Korea. He also said there is a randomness about death in war, and he often wondered why a burst of flak tore up the plane flying on his wing and not his. Or, why the German fighter choose to attack another plane in the formation and not his. His message to me was you had to be fatalistic about it and do what you need to do to survive. He said never give up trying to stay alive, but if it is time for you to buy the farm, it’s time and there is not a lot you can do about it.”
“He sounds like a wise man.” Captain Danforth paused, then said, “Just remember, this door is always open for you.”
What an Admiral said about CHERUBS 2, a novel about the Vietnam War
W. W. “Bear” Pickavance, Jr. Rear Admiral USN (Ret)
“All of Marc Liebman’s books are superb and hard to put down once you start to read them, but “Cherubs 2” is his finest to date! I could not put it down and read it cover to cover at one sitting! The book takes the reader back to the early 1970’s and takes guys like me right back to our youthful combat days flying over North Viet Nam! In 1972 we were striking areas around Haiphong harbor several times daily and were losing aircraft and pilots to SAM’s and AAA at a high rate. We had no idea how the missiles got into the country but they seemed to have no problems replenishing what they shot at us! Some of us thought they were off loaded from ships in Haiphong harbor. It was very frustrating to look down at the number of Chinese and Russian ships anchored in the river around Haiphong awaiting off-load of munitions and supplies and not be allowed to hit them due to phony rules of engagement! We also knew that the next day the recently unloaded weapons would be used against us and planes and pilots would be lost! Others thought the missiles came in by rail from the USSR. The Air Force had basically the same restrictions in the Hanoi area and the “Northwest rail-line”. Rules of engagement were written by bureaucrats in and out of uniform and politicians in the White House that had no concept of how to fight and win a war and really didn’t appear to care about losses unless it impacted an election! It was extremely frustrating and sometimes we Junior Officers (JO’s) had to take matters into our own hands…’nuff said! Marc does an excellent job in rekindling those emotions and in many ways provides a relief. Marc and all the combat aircrews who sacrificed to save those who were forced to eject in Indian Country are hero’s! They pulled my wingman and several of my friends out of the jaws of the enemy and for that they will always be my hero’s! I still have a business card they gave me after one of several successful rescues I was involved in which says…”call 243.0 [UHF emergency frequency] for service…you fall we haul”!
Those of us who flew combat over North/South Viet Nam knew we stood a 50-50 chance of being picked up if bagged due to the sheer guts of the Big Mother crews! “Cherubs 2” is a fast paced, thrilling, accurate novel that you will not be able to put down! It sits in my library right next to Clancy’s novels!!!”
Winter 2016 #131
“Any helicopter pilot or crewman will find this book realistic and absorbing and will not want to put it down. Naval veterans of Vietnam will recognize the locations, ships, aircraft and the frustrating progress of the war in Southeast Asia. I highly recommend this thriller to all hands.” READ MORE »
THE AVIATOR, Magazine of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot’s Association
November/December 2015 Issue 34-06
“The key to good fiction is character development, no easy feat with this novel’s large cast of characters including air crewmen, Seal team members, Russian and Chinese officials, CINPac and top officials at the Pentagon, and Haman’s love interest–just to name a few. This book also includes the historical specifications on the operating Naval ships in the region and their aircraft rosters complete with call signs, during the time frame of the book. This is a page turner and not easy to put down.” READ MORE »
The VVA Veteran: Books in Review II
April 24, 2017
“I found this novel engrossing, and eagerly await the next one in this series. The series is literate and witty and historical enough to teach me stuff I’m interested in, but without ever being boring. I highly recommend it.” READ MORE »