They had the most dangerous job n the Air Force. Now Bury Us Upside Down reveals the never-before-told story of the Vietnam War’s top-secret jet-fighter outfit–an all-volunteer unit composed of truly extraordinary men who flew missions from which heroes are made.
In today’s wars, computers, targeting pods, lasers, and precision-guided bombs help FAC (forward air controller) pilots identify and destroy targets from safe distances. But in the search for enemy traffic on the elusive Ho Chi Minh Trail, always risking enemy fire, capture, and death, pilots had to drop low enough to glimpse the telltale signs of movement such as suspicious dust on treetops or disappearing tire marks on a dirt road (indicating a hidden truck park). Written by an accomplished journalist and veteran, Bury Us Upside Down is the stunning story of these brave Americans, the men who flew in the covert Operation Commando Sabre–or “Misty”–the most innovative air operation of the war.
In missions that lasted for hours, the pilots of Misty flew zigzag patterns searching for enemy troops, vehicles, and weapons, without benefit of night-vision goggles, infrared devices, or other now common sensors. What they gained in exhilarating autonomy also cost them: of 157 pilots, 34 were shot down, 3 captured, and 7 killed. Here is a firsthand account of courage and technical mastery under fire. Here, too, is a tale of forbearance and loss, including the experience of the family of a missing Misty flier–Howard K. Williams–as they learn, after twenty-three years, that his remains have been found.
Now that bombs are smart and remote sensors are even smarter, the missions that the Mistys flew would now be considered no less than suicidal. Bury Us Upside Down reminds us that for some, such dangers simply came with the territory.
This thoroughly readable, absorbing history chronicles the air operations known as Misty (officially called Commando Sabre) along the Ho Chi Minh trail during the Vietnam War. Flying mostly F-100s, the air force pilots acted as FACs (forward air controllers) for strike aircraft, directing them to North Vietnamese supply convoys and other targets along the conduit. Newman, a journalist, and Shepperd, a retired two-star air force general and current CNN commentator, launch their account with the story of Howard K. Williams, a pilot shot down on a Misty mission in 1968 and declared deceased in 1978 (his remains were recovered in 1991). They also bring to life a wide cast of Misty characters, including Williams's long-suffering widow, Monalee, daredevil Jim Fiorelli, hyperconfident pilot Dick Rutan and several airmen who were shot down, captured and tortured. Shepperd, a former Misty pilot, also figures in the story, as does Sen. John McCain, who provides the book's foreword. The courage and skill of the pilots emerges clearly, as does the dubious bureaucratic rationale that subjected their families to nightmarish ordeals. A distinguished addition to Vietnam War aviation literature, the volume raises serious questions about both tactics and politics.