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“Bury Us Upside Down”

The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail

by Rick Newman
and Don Shepperd


S u m m a r y

Publication Details: “Bury Us Upside Down” The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail by Rick Newman and Don Shepperd, Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345465377
Media: Soft cover, 512 pages
Price: USD29.95 ppd in the USA
Review Type: First Read
Advantages: A valuable history of this important corner of Vietnam war aviation history; replete with eyewitness recounting of hairy combat sorties, shoot-downs and rescues
Recommendation: Highly Recommended 

Reviewed by "Bondo" Phil Brandt

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1967 was not a good year for Forward Air Controllers (FACs) who flew small, slow 0-1s and 0-2s at treetop level trying to flush out the locations of the hordes of North Vietnamese trucks, troops, missiles and equipment flowing south, down the countless tributaries of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. Along with the trucks came AAA, lots of it, and it was rapidly making the slow FAC mission untenable.

Something in the FAC business had to change. Keeping in mind the old fighter saying, “speed saves”, 7th Air Force in Saigon upped the ante by creating Commando Sabre, a secret “fast Fac” organization using F-100Fs, the two-man version of the venerable Hun. Flying out of Phu Cat Air Base under the permanent callsign, “Misty”, a small number, approximately twelve, of F-100Fs, waged a covert daily struggle with constantly increasing enemy traffic on the Trail, marking targets for various fastmovers, and occasionally doing their own strafing. It was probably the most exciting flying to be had in Vietnam.

This authoritative book–Don Shepperd was a Misty who eventually retired as a two-star--begins with the Nineties military funeral in Arlington National Cemetery of Howie Williams, a Misty, who had crashed twenty-three years prior, was declared MIA, and whose few remains had been recently recovered from the jungle crash site. The only items in the handsome, horse-drawn casket were some teeth, a few bone fragments and a piece of an Ace comb, but these small remains of a once tall, strapping fighter pilot now rendered a sense of calm and peace to Howie’s long-mourning family.

Mistys at first pulled four-month tours at Phu Cat, rotating back to their normal F-100 squadrons at Tuy Hoa, RVN. Later, the rotation criteria became the more usual 100 mission stint. The Misty operation got off to an immediate bad start when its first commander, Major Bud Day, was shot down and captured. His long, excruciating POW story is one of the most notable in the ten-year Southeast Asia tragedy and resulted in (now) Colonel Day receiving the Medal of Honor upon his release in 1973.

Even though flying an armed, much sturdier and faster airframe, the Misty role remained quite dangerous–out of 157 pilots assigned over three years of Misty operation, 34 were shot down, 7 were killed and 3 were captured. A digression if I may: I was privileged to have lunch with a rescued Misty pilot at the 2005 Combat Search and Rescue Reunion at Moody AFB, Georgia. The telling of his shootdown, injuries and rescue made what hair I still have left stand on end!

The constant, violent jinking and G-loading to avoid ground defenses made flying Mistys a physically grueling task; even in-shape young pilots would become airsick and were exhausted after missions. When a line of enemy trucks was discovered, Mistys would strafe the lead and tail end vehicles, then call in Thuds or F-4s to complete the job. Even with the Mistys “killing” many trucks and SAM transporters daily, Trail traffic continued to build. Of course, much of the enemy traffic was at night, and the Mistys flew days. A short trial of night FAC-ing was tried with poor results. The added aircrew hazards were not worth the truck kills.

“Bury Us...” is replete with eyewitness recounting of hairy combat sorties, shoot-downs and rescues. Dick Rutan, recently notable for his setting (in the Nineties) of the round-the-world unrefueled aircraft record, adds much to the Misty lore. When his close friend, Howie Williams, went missing, Rutan was inconsolable and secretly planned to insert himself via helicopter, along with a “black ops” team, in an attempt to locate Howie and his airplane, or at least try to determine if Howie had been killed or captured. The night before the covert mission was to launch, Rutan received an anonymous telephone call. A gruff voice told him not to even think of doing what he was planning. The voice then said that Howie’s disposition had been “determined” and that Rutan didn’t need to know anything further. Needless to say, even the aggressive young Rutan realized he was playing with the powerful Black World and desisted. The mysterious call was, in my opinion, probably based on data from “Teaball” at Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Air Base in Thailand (this reviewer did a one-year, 7th Air Force tour there in 1974). During the Vietnam conflict “Teaball” was a super secret listening facility at NKP which monitored North Vietnamese radio traffic 24/7. I’m guessing that Teaball intercepted North Vietnamese transmissions telling Hanoi that the crash site had been discovered and that Howie was a fatality.

The Misty operation ceased in 1970, its role now taken over by F-4s and OV-10s.

The last third of the book addresses the sad situation of wives, children, siblings and parents of Misty MIAs that, over the three succeeding decades following the repatriation of American POWs in 1973, have had to wage an unceasing, sometimes infuriating, battle with DOD, State Department and Executive Branch bureaucracies to determine the fate of their loved ones. Our government does not cover itself with glory in this respect, and the benign neglect accorded some of these families is most distressing to this veteran. When one puts his/her hand up, pledging to defend the U.S. Constitution, the government really does “own” you ‘til death...and maybe after!

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the book’s title originated, it’s from an old fighter pilot 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.”

“Bondo” Phil Brandt
USAF (Ret.)

Review Copyright © 2006 by Phil Brandt
This Page Created on 27 September 2006
Last updated 27 September, 2006

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