"These are the heroes no one told you about" - Tom Clancy.
Officially the war in Laos did not exist - both North Vietnam and the USA denied they had troops there. In fact, thousands of North Vietnamese were invading the country and pouring down the Ho Chi Minh Trail on their way to the south, and the Americans were fighting a vigorous war against them from the air.
The Ravens were the pilots, all volunteers, who flew through heavy groundfire to identify targets and call in air-strikes. Their mission was so secret that they were 'sold' their prop-driven planes for a dollar apiece so they could be struck from US Air Force records. They wore no uniform and carried no identification. Refugees from the bureaucracy of the war in Vietnam, they accepted the murderous casualty rates of what was known as the Steve Canyon Program in return for a life of unrestricted flying and fighting.
Devoted to the hill tribesmen they fought alongside, the Ravens did their job with extraordinary skill and crazy courage and with a humour that was all of its own. This is the story, brilliantly told for the first time, of these extraordinary men. Based on extensive interviews with the survivors, it is a tale of undeniable heroism, blending real-life romance, adventure and tragedy.
The Ravens were American forward air-controllers who directed strikes from vulnerable, low-flying spotter planes, mainly in support of a Meo general named Vang Pao in Laos. "Advised'' by the CIA, this fierce warlord fought to keep the North Vietnamese out of the strategic Plain of Jars. Robbins (Air America) conveys the unique flavor of Raven-style combat and also explains how the diplomatic-military dynamics of the clandestine war in Laos fit into the overall American effort in Southeast Asia. The cast of characters is memorable: a swaggering, rowdy bunch of mavericks whom their parent service (the U.S. Air Force) had great difficulty controlling, they seemed to get by on sheer cussedness. According to the author, they suffered the highest casualty rate of the Indochinese War. Robbins describes the poignant plight of displaced Meo/Hmong tribespeople who have settled uneasily in the United Statesincluding General Paoand their ongoing struggle to ``propitiate the alien spirits of America.'' Photos.