A Combat Pilot's Tape Recorded Transcripts from Vietnam 1968-1969
Colonel John "Ace" Astle, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
Combat Pilot, Vietnam War and Desert Storm Veteran
Presidential Helicopter Pilot, Medical Evacuation Pilot
31 Air Medals, 2 Purple Hearts and Presidential Service Badge
Former State Senator of Annapolis, Maryland's 30th District
"Many autobiographical books have been written about the Vietnam experience, most of them years after the fact based upon imperfect memory. By contrast, the contents of this book reflect immediate reactions to the grim reality I encountered in Vietnam at the time on a daily basis.
It's all here, from the drama of facing danger in combat, to the frustration of dealing with the military
bureaucracy, to the excesses of exhausted Marines in drunken revelry. What follows is a chronological
transcript of those tapes edited only for coherence, and not to protect the readers' sensibilities. It
reflects my extreme swings of mood-from fear and anxiety to grief and exhaustion to relief and
exhilaration. The events described are sometimes barbarous, sometimes ridiculous and sometimes
sublime, but they are always real. In the theater of war, life gushes forward at a heightened pace. But
amid the cacophony and confusion, the discerning reader will hear the earnest sounds of a young man
emerging into manhood. Be forewarned the language is sometimes raw and cruel, for which I make no
apology. It is the honest language of who we were then, an audible snapshot of that hardest of times.
Committing this story to paper has helped me come to terms with the war, and to put it in focus. It has
become commonplace to describe the conflict there as a defeat, but those of us who took part in it have
difficulty with that. We were never bested on the battlefield. Every time the enemy stood up to
challenge us, we took the worst he had to offer and returned it with interest.
Yet we were the ones who withdrew, not because we were defeated on the battlefield, but because of
a failure of will among our political leadership. For a variety of reasons, the Vietnam conflict provoked a
divisive cataclysm that ripped our society apart, and shook our nation to its very foundation.
For me, the final evacuation was terrible humiliation. I thought of the brave men who had given their
lives in the cause. Turning our backs and running away seemed to dishonor their sacrifice. It ran
contrary to everything I had ever held fast and believed in, a betrayal of my values and heritage..."
- Colonel John "Ace" Astle U.S.M.C. (Ret.)