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North Flag: My Service in the Republic of Vietnam, June 1968-June 1969.

North Flag: My Service in the Republic of Vietnam, June 1968-June 1969. By John V. Rob. Warrenton VA: History 4 All, 2015. Illustrations. Photographs. Maps. Pp. 222. $18.00 paperback ISBN: 978-1-934285-25-1

This book is about a year spent as a helicopter pilot in the 1st Cavalry's 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion--call sign North Flag. It is a series of personal stories about real action in one of the most dangerous areas and periods of the Vietnam conflict. Rob takes the reader on multiple missions that show how air cavalry helicopters and their crews helped change the way infantry and mechanized infantry fight war. His well-written stories are riveting at times. He finds humor in most situations, and demonstrates how and why the "Huey" changed the way we fight. Multiple descriptions of resupply, medevac, troop insertion, flank support, and mechanized infantry support actually place the reader in the fight.

Through the nearly 80 short stories, I actually began reliving medevac missions I carried out in IV Corps of Vietnam. The missions described are not exaggerated at all. Rob relates these experiences so well, it makes one admire the teamwork it took to complete these different missions. It was a real fight, and the air-assault mission was critical to saving infantry lives. In addition to feeling they are with Rob and his unit, readers will experience what it was like living each day with these guys--the good and the not-so-proud moments. All events are related with the right touch of humor that really defines everyday living in a combat zone.

Other features that makes this book so compelling are references to everyday occurrences and mundane life: buying a rare, cold Coke in the "boonies" from a Vietnamese child; landing at night to the light from a Zippo lighter (the official helicopter landing light, since JP4 fuel kept it burning even under the rotor wash); flying in bad weather with just enough instruments to get you out of trouble--or just enough to get you killed--was certainly an experience that emphasized the importance of the various missions. Peoples' lives depended on the success of resupply, extraction, and medevac, regardless of what Mother Nature threw in.

Rob's unit even had bouts with snakes. He describes how one dove into a bunker to avoid rockets from the bad guys only to find that the local snakes beat him there. It was a matter of finding common ground so both humans and snakes were protected from rockets and the chill of night. Snakes were willing to share as long as one didn't step or fall on them--sounds fair!

I have to applaud Rob's description of a time when he and his crew were shot down by a single bullet from an AK47. Their lives were saved by their crew chief who used good old American ingenuity by diagnosing the problem after landing in the middle of the jungle, walking a couple of miles each way through enemy terrain to get a short shaft from the "Home Depot" (friendly helicopter emit), and replacing the part with a crescent wrench and a pair of pliers. The amazing story of how they got back was all due to the backbone of any aviation unit--the crew chief. This is just another example of a beautifully described experience which makes this book a great read.

The book has a list of acronyms and detailed, labeled drawings of a Huey helicopter gunship in addition to personal photos of Rob and members of his unit. These illustrations and photos make the book quite personal.

Rob certainly proved the value of air assault in Vietnam that made a difference in an infantryman's life, and he well described the value that helicopters added to the way we fight war. Readers will not want to put this book aside for very long once they start reading it.

Larry McKinley, Docent, National Air and Space Museum, and a medevac (DUSTOFF) pilot in Vietnam.
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Author:McKinley, Larry
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2016
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