Air Commando One: Heinie Aderholt and America's Secret Air Wars / Edition 1

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Air-dropping agents deep behind enemy lines in clandestine night missions during the Korean War, commanding secret flights into Tibet in 1960 to support the anticommunist guerilla uprising, participating in plans for the 1962 Bay of Pigs invasion—even before the escalation of the Vietnam War, Brigadier General Harry C. “Heinie” Aderholt worked at the heart of both the U.S. Air Force and CIA special operations worldwide. In 1964 he became commander of the famed First Air Commando Wing, fighting to build up special operations capabilities among the American and South Vietnamese airmen. In 1966 and 1967 he and his men set the record for interdicting the flow of enemy trucks over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and North Vietnam.

Drawing on official records, personal papers, and interviews with Aderholt and many who worked with him, Air Force historian Warren A. Trest details the life and career of this charismatic, unconventional military leader who has become a legend of the Cold War Air Force. He tells how Aderholt’s vigorous support of low-flying, propeller-driven aircraft and nonnuclear munitions pitted him against his superiors, who were steeped in doctrines of massive retaliation and “higher and faster” tactical air power. In the mid-1960s Aderholt’s clash with Seventh Air Force Commander General William W. Momyer reflected a schism that still exists between the traditional Air Force and its unconventional special operations wings. The book also integrates U.S. Air Force and CIA accounts of some of the most pivotal events of the past fifty years.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Informed readers in military aviation and/or history should be interested in this biographical account of Aderholt's Air Force career.”—Library Journal

“In this grandly entertaining work, Trest, a former air force historian . . . puts interviews, archival material and recent scholarship to careful use.”—Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
Air Force General Aderholt was the driving force behind the formation of the Air Commandos during and after the Korean War. Historian Trest, who has written over 50 official Air Force histories, tells the story of the development of the Air Commandos, the Air Force's special operations unit. During and after the Vietnam War, the Air Commandos' air missions included special cargo and personnel airdrops, combat missions using specialized aircraft, and intelligence and other missions for the U.S. military and the CIA. Aderholt also had to fight to protect the unit from other Air Force leaders, who thought it was out of step with the world of more conventional and exotic tactics and weapons systems. Informed readers in military aviation and/or history should be interested in this biographical account of Aderholt's Air Force career. This book could be well received by libraries with military special forces collections.--Terry L. Wirick, Erie Cty. Lib. Syst., PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Details the life and career of a charismatic, unconventional military leader of counterinsurgency operations who has become a legend of the Cold War Air Force. Draws on official records, personal papers, and interviews with Aderholt and many who worked with him, and integrates US Air Force and CIA accounts of some the most pivotal events of the past 50 years. Includes b&w photos from personal collections. Trest was formerly histories division chief with the Office of Air Force History. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560988076
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,419,568
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

WARREN A. TREST is a former United States Air Force senior historian. He was a combat reporter and air power historian in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the Cold War. Serving with the Third Infantry Division in Korea, he received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star while reporting on the war. During his thirty-plus years as a military historian, he has authored and coauthored more than 50 histories and studies.

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Read an Excerpt

...the detachment continued to carry out its regular air transport tasks, providing routine and emergency airlift, flying the Ambassador and other VIPs around and making the frag run each night to a growing family of Allied bases. Another part of its regular mission was psychological warfare, which included aerial broadcasting of loudspeaker messages and "wide-ranging leaflet drops urging Chinese and North Korean soldiers to surrender or face inevitable death." Always innovative and willing to try new ideas, Heinie decided that since they were flying over enemy-held terrain anyway and nearly always spotted tempting targets they might as well make the most of the opportunity. In the saga of what has been described as the first and the last C-47 "Bomber," the detachment rigged some of its planes to hold "two, 75 gallon napalm bombs under the transport's belly." The C-47 had paracontainer racks underneath that were used to drop bundles. Heinie's crews screwed aero-delivery shackles into the racks and hung napalm canisters the same way it was done on fighters. When the last agent had parachuted from the plane, Heinie and his crews flew "armed reconnaissance" dropping the napalm canisters on trucks and other lucrative targets on their way home.

Aderholt and Captain Lou Droste made the first C-47 napalm drop against a target that Fifth Air Force intelligence had identified as an enemy headquarters. On Christmas Eve, Heinie and Droste made a reconnaissance run over the target. They observed a large, barn-like structure sitting in the open with tracks leading through the snow into the building. "At dawn the following morning, flying at minimum altitude, 50 feet off the ground, we delivered a Christmas present---two napalm canisters crashing through the front door at the same time," Heinie recalled. "The building erupted in flames. Nobody got out." That was the first time the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron's planes had dropped napalm, and was believed to have been the first napalm dropped in combat from a transport aircraft.

The detachment believed higher headquarters was unaware of its midnight bombing runs until Colonel Childre called and said, "I know you have been dropping napalm." Hesitantly, Heinie answered, "Yes." "Well, officially I've got to tell you not to do it," Childre said, "but I know you are going to do it anyway."

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Prologue: The Man and the Mission 1
1. The Call to Arms 16
2. On Assignment with the CIA 51
3. Cold War Rituals 64
4. Shadow Wars and the Tibetan Airlift 75
5. The Secret War in Laos 99
6. The Air Commandos: A Breed Apart 125
7. Faces of a Misbegotten War 157
8. The Tigers of Nakhon Phanom 182
9. Weathering the Storm 213
10. Mission Accomplished 234
Epilogue 262
Acronyms 273
Notes 277
Selected Bibliography 309
Index 313
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2001

    Must Read...Fascinating!

    This book was fascinating...and enlightening! I have become aware of how little I know about the 'goings on' of the time, but I'm hooked! I can't wait to learn more through other books. I am the daughter of one of the individuals mentioned in the book, so I have a special affinity for the stories and their relevance to my father. But, I swell with pride, not just at his accomplishments, but at the courage and conviction displayed my so many listed in the book. These are the people who did 'it' because 'it' was the right thing to do!

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