A Hundred Feet Over Hell: Flying With the Men of the 220th Recon Airplane Company Over I Corps and the DMZ, Vietnam 1968-1969

A Hundred Feet Over Hell: Flying With the Men of the 220th Recon Airplane Company Over I Corps and the DMZ, Vietnam 1968-1969

by Jim Hooper
     
 

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Forward air controllers in Vietnam were acknowledged as having perhaps the most dangerous aviation role of the war. Flying at speeds well below the top end of most family cars, they spent hours over hostile terrain in flimsy, propeller-driven Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs. Their work was crucial in finding and stopping the enemy before they could attack American troops, and

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Overview

Forward air controllers in Vietnam were acknowledged as having perhaps the most dangerous aviation role of the war. Flying at speeds well below the top end of most family cars, they spent hours over hostile terrain in flimsy, propeller-driven Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs. Their work was crucial in finding and stopping the enemy before they could attack American troops, and supporting those troops with artillery and air strikes when battle was joined.

Of the many army Bird Dog units in Southeast Asia, none operated in as hostile an environment as the “Catkillers” of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. Their tactical area of operations was up against the Demilitarized Zone (an oxymoron if ever there was one) in I Corps, the northern-most combat zone in South Vietnam. At the time it was estimated that there were seventy-eight thousand NVA soldiers in the area.

The Catkillers were under the operational control of the 3rd Marine Division. Unlike the U.S. Army aerial forward observers farther south, who could only direct field artillery against enemy targets, Catkillers were authorized and trained to control air strikes, which they did regularly in support of both marine and army ground units. Elsewhere in Vietnam air strikes had to be controlled by U.S. Air Force FACs.

In the DMZ with the 220th RAC’s 1st Platoon, it was normal to come under fire on almost every mission. Bullet holes in their aircraft were so common that they were barely worthy of mention. When crossing the Ben Hai River into North Vietnam in search of enemy artillery, flying at 120 miles per hour in the sights of an array of anti-aircraft weapons, only good fortune kept more Catkillers from being lost. The stories of these valiant men in their small planes has been largely overlooked before, but the risks they took on a daily basis ensured more U.S. servicemen made it home. A Hundred Feet Over Hell ensures their stories are not forgotten, as the men relive their missions in their own words.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The settings cover so many places I've been—Quang Tri, Dong Ha, Rockpile, Vandergrift (LZ Stud), Con Thien and others. Having been in a grunt unit and in 3rd Force Recon in I Corps, I felt truly a part of the pictures the author has painted. Although I am hopefully a very stable individual, he provided me with a 'verbal flashback' that made me breath harder and brought a tear to my eye. [Hooper does] a remarkable job of providing the sights and sounds of a unit in trouble.

—Tom Wilson, 3rd Force Recon

"I felt as though I was reliving it—my heart was pounding in my chest. [Hooper has] assembled a true work of art.”

—Tom Coopey, Recon Platoon, 1-61

A classic story of war … From hell-raising antics in the clubs and bars to hair-raising combat operations, where death was often only inches away, this is a must read. Those who have "seen the elephant" … will instantly identify with the actions of their fellow warriors. Flying an unarmored aircraft well within the effective range of every enemy weapon on the battlefield to protect the grunts in close combat takes a special breed of heroes. This book chronicles the exploits of such men.

—Gary L. Harrell, LTGEN, USA (ret)

“I flew A-4 Skyhawks out of Chu Lai, and then Bird Dogs with the VMO-6 Fingerprints at Quang Tri for the second half of my tour. You have done a magnificent job of presenting the deadly environment we all faced on a daily basis. I can't thank you enough for telling the story of the "Catkillers", because it is the story of not only about them, but everyone who flew in I Corps. Your book is outstanding."

—Jim Lawrence, LTCOL

"[A Hundred Feet Over Hell] shows us the sheer guts, ingenuity, compassion, and humor of those who serve in defense of freedom [It’s]a tribute to the Catkillers...and the thousands who follow in their footsteps, warriors all — old and new!"

—Brigadier General Robert H. Holmes USAF

“Every generation must face tough choices as life unfolds less idyllically than imagined in the protected environment of adolescence or the shelter of a college campus. Those of us who graduated in the late 1960s faced “fight or flight” decisions not unlike those of the World War II and Korean War eras as the conflict in Viet Nam escalated and the nation once again called her sons to war. Some responded with patriotic fervor, some volunteered reluctantly, some took their chances with the draft lottery. Others sought to avoid the obligation all together. Regardless of the how’s and why’s, those who fought in Viet Nam learned about life and death, but most of all about themselves. In the story you are about to read, there is a universal truth: warriors don’t fight for their country or flag, they fight for each other, often going far beyond what their country asks. It was an honor to serve at the same time as these men. This story is about the nation’s best!”

—Lance W. Lord, General, USAF (ret)

“This is a story about the warrior spirit that has existed in our fighting forces since the birth of our nation. Jim Hooper has nailed this small piece of the Viet Nam War as seen through the eyes of the Bird Dog pilots of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. It is a moving tribute to the intrepid men that flew these small aircraft with skill, courage, determination and a whole lot of brass.”

—Mike Seely BG (ret) 74th RAC '65-'66; 245th SAC '68-'69

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780760336335
Publisher:
Zenith Press
Publication date:
05/10/2009
Edition description:
First
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

"Contact! We're taking fire!" Behind the voice [on the radio] were sharp bursts from automatic weapons. . . .

[Pilot Doc Clement] counted at least twenty-five enemy soldiers in the open and muzzle flashes from more concealed in the undergrowth. . . . "DASC, this is Catkiller 1-8. We have troops in contact on the 292 out of channel 109 at fourteen nautical miles. I need that air [support] now!" . . .

"Mustang," [Bob] Happe called [from the back seat], "this is Southern Hotel. How's your cover? Over."

"Southern Hotel, we got good cover, but we can't hold on long!"
"Roger, Mustang, we'll have arty on the way ASAP!" Happe switched his radio back to the marine artillery battery at Con Thien. "Cherry Buster 6, this is Southern Hotel. Fire mission. Over." He was giving the battery commander the coordinates when DASC confirmed that the first flight would be wheels up out of Chu Lai in less than two minutes.

Doc shook his head. Chu Lai was 150 miles to the south, at least twenty minutes flying time for the jets. Something needed to be done now: anything to buy time. He lifted his M16 from where it was slung on the map light and chambered a round. A quick glance over his shoulder showed his backseater doing the same. "Ready to go, Hap?"

"Let's do it, Doc!"

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Every generation must face tough choices as life unfolds less idyllically than imagined in the protected environment of adolescence or the shelter of a college campus. Those of us who graduated in the late 1960s faced “fight or flight” decisions not unlike those of the World War II and Korean War eras as the conflict in Viet Nam escalated and the nation once again called her sons to war. Some responded with patriotic fervor, some volunteered reluctantly, some took their chances with the draft lottery. Others sought to avoid the obligation all together. Regardless of the how’s and why’s, those who fought in Viet Nam learned about life and death, but most of all about themselves. In the story you are about to read, there is a universal truth: warriors don’t fight for their country or flag, they fight for each other, often going far beyond what their country asks. It was an honor to serve at the same time as these men. This story is about the nation’s best!” —Lance W. Lord, General, USAF (ret)

“This is a story about the warrior spirit that has existed in our fighting forces since the birth of our nation. Jim Hooper has nailed this small piece of the Viet Nam War as seen through the eyes of the Bird Dog pilots of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. It is a moving tribute to the intrepid men that flew these small aircraft with skill, courage, determination and a whole lot of brass.”
—Mike Seely BG (ret) 74th RAC '65-'66; 245th SAC '68-'69

“I flew A-4 Skyhawks out of Chu Lai, and then Bird Dogs with the VMO-6 Fingerprints at Quang Tri for the second half of my tour. You have done a magnificent job of presenting the deadly environment we all faced on a daily basis. I can't thank you enough for telling the story of the "Catkillers", because it is the story of not only about them, but everyone who flew in I Corps. Your book is outstanding." —Jim Lawrence, LTCOL

"[A Hundred Feet Over Hell] shows us the sheer guts, ingenuity, compassion, and humor of those who serve in defense of freedom [It’s]a tribute to the Catkillers...and the thousands who follow in their footsteps, warriors all — old and new!"
—Brigadier General Robert H. Holmes USAF

“The settings cover so many places I've been—Quang Tri, Dong Ha, Rockpile, Vandergrift (LZ Stud), Con Thien and others. Having been in a grunt unit and in 3rd Force Recon in I Corps, I felt truly a part of the pictures the author has painted.  Although I am hopefully a very stable individual, he provided me with a 'verbal flashback' that made me breath harder and brought a tear to my eye. [Hooper does] a remarkable job of providing the sights and sounds of a unit in trouble.  
—Tom Wilson, 3rd Force Recon

"I felt as though I was reliving it—my heart was pounding in my chest. [Hooper has] assembled a true work of art.” —Tom Coopey, Recon Platoon, 1-61

 A classic story of war … From hell-raising antics in the clubs and bars to hair-raising combat operations, where death was often only inches away, this is a must read. Those who have "seen the elephant" … will instantly identify with the actions of their fellow warriors. Flying an unarmored aircraft well within the effective range of every enemy weapon on the battlefield to protect the grunts in close combat takes a special breed of heroes. This book chronicles the exploits of such men.
—Gary L. Harrell, LTGEN, USA (ret)

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