There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Sunday, April 22, 2007

'Bury Us Upside Down' on the bus

Finished yet another book riding Sacramento Regional Transit to and from work. I'm going to need another bookcase.

"Bury Us Upside Down" tells the story of a secret Air Force unit officially known as Commando Sabre, but known to the crews as Misty. The all-volunteer F100 jet squadron operated between July 1967 and October 1968 as fast FACs -- forward air controllers -- looking for bombing targets along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Vietnam and Laos.

The book offers a richly detailed view of the life of fighter pilots. The book also does a masterful job of illustrating the plight of wives left behind when Misty pilots disappeared.

What emerges from the book is a picture of pilots who rode a line between legendary and notorious. But it also offers an allegory for the war in general.

The futility and the bravery, the dedication and foolishness of the Vietnam War are illustrated by the tale of what was supposed to be a routine final mission of pilot Chuck Shaheen.

Riding in the backseat for that Misty mission was Dick Rutan, who would years later become famous for circumnavigating the world, nonstop, without refueling.

The pair went north looking for targets. Eventually they spotted a lone truck with a small supply area nearby. The Misty jet marked the target with smoke, and three Air Force fighter bombers made three separate passes at the target. Nobody touched the truck.

Shaheen decided he'd show them how to do it. He instructed them to hold high and dry while he made a final strafe pass. Then they'd all go home together.
Shaheen emptied the jet's guns, covering the truck with 20mm rounds. As he pulled up from the strafing run his jet was struck by antiaircraft fire. Shaheen was able to get the burning jet over the water of the Gulf of Tonkin before he and Rutan had to eject. Both were rescued and unharmed.

On that day, the United States traded one multimillion-dollar jet and nine loads of bombs and risked the lives of two officers in exchange for one truck. That was the story of the Vietnam War.

The pilots did a lot of drinking in the officers' club to let off steam after the dangers of the day. The title of the book comes from a favorite drinking toast:
When our flying days are over
When our flying days are past
We hope they'll bury us upside down
So the world can kiss our ass.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the book also. I'd like to see a work on the slow FACs since most of them were flying in slow targets but provided a much needed resource to the troops on the ground.


John said...

I served in a Navy F-4 squadron in maintenance administration during the mining of Haiphong Harbor and the Christmas bombing of Hanoi. Most of the squadron's work involved escorting A6 and A7 bombers and F4 photo reconnaissance flights. In reading the book I was surprised to learn of the problem with bombing accuracy. Fast or slow FACs, if the bombers can't hit the target it's all a waste. I suppose this problem has been fixed today with the modern guidance systems.