BOOK REVIEW By J. DOUGLAS HINTON
Even for non-military pilots, “The Rescue of Streetcar 304, A Navy Pilot’s Forty Hours on the Run in Laos,” by Kenny Fields is a real page-turner.
The scenario is the Vietnam War in 1968. Flying A-7 Corsairs, Naval Aviator Lt. Kenny Fields (call sign: “Streetcar 304”) and his wingman are dispatched on their first combat mission from the carrier USS America to bomb a target in Laos.
The flak (called triple A) along the Ho Chi Minh Trail is so heavy one could get out and walk on it. Fields is hit on his second bomb run, loses part of his wing and has to eject.
With his back and leg injured from the ejection, what follows over the next 40 hours is both gripping and terrifying as Fields lands right in the middle of the North Vietnamese army withdrawing from Ke Sahn, at the end of the Tet offensive.
The largest rescue effort of the war to date is launched, using Air Force F-4s and F-105s to suppress the AAA fire while Forward Air Controllers (FAC), flying Cessna O2-A Skymasters, mark the anti-aircraft batteries with “Willy Pete” smoke rockets. Jolly Green Giant helicopters, accompanied by A-1 Skyraiders, move in for the rescue. Two A-1s are shot down. One pilot is rescued, the other captured by the North Vietnamese. Fields’ wingman is hit and has to ditch at sea.
During the war, it was believed that if a pilot wasn’t rescued within an hour or two of ejecting his chances rapidly decreased. The tales Fields tells of chance encounters with a leopard and a tiger, as well as North Vietnamese Army regulars and Pathet Lao guerrillas (known for their extreme cruelty to prisoners) will keep you on the edge of your chair. Time and again rescue attempts failed as the enemy inexorably closed in on Fields. The grand finale could be straight out of Hollywood, except it was for real.
I have seldom read a more entrancing account of combat, escape and evasion and the hope, despair, agony, desperation, courage and faith in his Maker described by Fields in his bid to remain free and return to his family and fellow warriors.
Published by the Naval Institute Press, the 384-page book, with 32 photos, sells for $29.95.
For more information: KennyWayneFields.com.