Sunday, August 17, 2008

Learn More About the Setting for Vietnam Air Rescues

Why did you pick the setting you used in your story? I'm not looking for -- "because I live there". I want you to dig deep and tell us...

1. Why you chose that particular setting?

This book is somewhat unique in that it is not so much a story, per se, as a reminiscence of incidents from my past. It was originally written for the benefit of my children, rather than the public in general. Another complication is that it is a collection of stories regarding my experiences during the Vietnam War, thus the ‘setting’ has to be the war as it existed in 1967-1968. Or, at least, the war as it appeared to me.

2. What does the setting add to the story?

The setting is the story. It would be very hard to write a story about combat experiences during the Vietnam War and place the action in say,
Abilene, KS.

3. Could you write the same story in a different setting?


4. Did you use a real place as a basis for your setting?


5. Or, did you create the setting from scratch?

My book is a true story and the setting is very real. There are many pictures on my website and in the book from my time and experiences in Vietnam.

6. Please provide your website link.

7. What is the link to buy your book?

8. Tell us some specific details about your setting.

What would we see?

At first glance, the setting for the book seems huge as it encompasses 3 separate countries: Thailand, Laos and North Vietnam.

Thailand is roughly the size of California, (twice the size of the entire United Kingdom, or 1.4 times the size of Germany).

Laos is barely the size of the state of Utah.

Vietnam today is larger than Italy and nearly the size of Germany. During the time period covered by the book, however, the country was split nearly equally in half.

Upon a closer look, however, the scale shrinks somewhat. The author flew out of a base in Thailand and flew over Laos to land primarily in only 2 spots, one just NE of the Plain of Jars; the other further NE near the North Vietnamese border. Obviously, he never landed in North Vietnam and his only exposure there was in the central and NW areas.

Since rescue missions depended for their success on remote areas, all of the 3 settings in the book involved dense jungle and rough, mostly unoccupied mountainous terrain.

Flying over jungle terrain can be quite boring, as it is impossible to see the ground and the packed density of the trees below tend to blur. What broke up the monotony was the jagged rocks and ridges, called ‘Karsts’, which had to be avoided and navigated through.

Since helicopters were basically incapable of flying at extremely high altitudes, the level at which one flew was critical; fly too high and you are exposed to Surface to Air missile radar and risk being shot down. Fly too low and you are exposed to a variety of ground fire types—from pistols to rifles to machine guns. For these reasons, it was prudent to vary your altitude constantly, always below the level of the mountain peaks to mask the radar and always erring on the low side. A missile radar lock-on was fatal.

What kept one on the alert was the fact that it was impossible to see the enemy, who constantly moved around. What was a safe route yesterday, could become a death trap today.

Once on the ground and assuming the alert posture, the situation changed. The daytime site was a short dirt strip roughly bulldozed near the top of a jungle-covered ridge. The alert pilot’s job was to sit inside a small plywood hut with 7 other men from dawn to dusk waiting for the call to enter North Vietnam and attempt to rescue a pilot who had just been shot down.

The irony of the situation was that the pilot who had just been downed had been traveling at 500+ mph. Now, it was expected that a helicopter, traveling at barely 100 mph, could enter the same area, conduct a search of the dense jungle, locate the downed pilot and hover long enough to bring him up through the jungle growth without being shot down itself.

Back at the daytime site, just a hundred yards or so away the jungle began; rising steeply up the hillside. The cleared area, with the short landing strip, parking area, fuel dump, plywood hut and ‘fortress’ on a small rise belonged to the Americans. The jungle belonged to the enemy, who did not hesitate to shoot at any Americans who were foolish enough to show themselves.

The site was guarded by mercenary troops, who did not speak English and had little interaction with the Americans. If gunfire was encountered from the jungle, the mercenary troops would attempt to discourage it.

The area around the hut was covered with waist-high grass. Buried in the grass were the disintegrating remains of ‘dud’ rocket and artillery shells which had failed to explode upon impact, but would now explode if stepped on or jostled. This created a protective barrier which discouraged the enemy from crawling though the grass to the hut.

There were no bathroom facilities. In addition, the only food and water available was what was carried in. Sitting in a cramped, windowless hut in high humidity all day long, caused a certain, shall we say, ripeness in the air.

Since the enemy would regularly attempt to seize the strip during the cover of darkness, the helicopters would depart just before night fell, retreating some distance SW to a larger site which, although still in enemy territory, had a larger enough troop presence to repel attacks.

This site contained a paved runway and a small city. The difficulty of landing at a controlled ‘airport’ was that there were neither radios nor English-speaking ‘controllers’ is detailed in the book.

The Jolly Green pilot’s would arrive just at dusk and depart the next morning at first light. Therefore, they had little interaction with the nighttime site, other than sleeping in plywood huts.

The normal course of alert duty was as follows:


1 Takeoff from home base in Thailand and fly to the daytime site

2 After refueling the helicopters, and assuming no one was shot down; sit in a windowless, plywood hut until dusk, monitoring a battery-powered radio.

3 Fly to the overnight site

4 Spend the night


1 Take off the next morning at first light and fly to the daytime site

2 After refueling the helicopters, and assuming no one was shot down; sit in a windowless, plywood hut until dusk, monitoring a battery-powered radio.

3 Fly to the overnight site

4 Spend the night


1 Take off the next morning at first light and fly to the daytime site

2 After refueling the helicopters, and assuming no one was shot down; sit in a windowless, plywood hut until dusk, monitoring a battery-powered radio.

3 Fly back to Thailand.

For these actions, covering 3 days and 6 sorties, the Jolly Green pilot would be credited with 1 flight!

What sort of people are there?

The only people I had any interaction with were the mercenary troops who
guarded our sites and this interaction was minimal. They were a proud people, possessed of a culture and mannerisms that were quite different from ours. I go into some detail in the book regarding the cultural differences involved.

If we were traveling to your setting, what should we bring with us?

When I was there, a flak vest, helmet and weapon would be handy. Not sure about today. Perhaps the biggest noticeable difference is the weather. Hot and sticky constantly. One must change socks and underwear quite frequently to prevent it from rotting and, more importantly, causing sores upon your body.

Cool, well ventilated clothing would be a must. We would hang our flight suits in a locker, with our combat boots sitting underneath. A low wattage bulb was kept burning constantly. This provided enough heat to dry out our boots and clothing to prevent rot.

11. Thank you for sharing details about your book setting. Now, what's the title of your book and where can we buy it?

Order link:

We've posted an excerpt from the book to share Dave's first rescue - visit

Feel free to ask questions or leave a comment at every stop on the tour to increase your chances to win a copy of this exciting book.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nikki--

Thanks for the post. Will return later to check for comments.


Nikki Leigh - Author said...

Hi Dave

Great to have you here today and I really like this post. Lots of great detail :)

Nikki Leigh