FAST MOVERS, Jet Pilots and the Vietnam Experience” by John Darrell Sherwood,

 “FAST MOVERS, Jet Pilots and the Vietnam Experience” by John Darrell Sherwood, Free Press, 1999, is more than a well-documented good read, it is intriguing, at least it should be to those who participated in last century’s fourteen year adventure known as the Air War over Vietnam.  Particularly the marquee operations of that adventure known as “Rolling Thunder,” “Commando Hunt,” and “Linebacker” (I &II.)  The book has been praised by some of the more well known chronologists of the era including; Barrett Tillman, Mark Berent and Stephan Coonts.

In the course of the war, the United States dropped more than eight million tons of bombs on SE Asia and lost 8,588 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.  That the US never lost a battle but lost the war due to lack of popular support and the politics in Washington, DC that drove poor decisions regarding targeting, weaponeering and geopolitics is the conventional wisdom.  Few, in today’s United States, have a visceral understanding of the inherent personal risks to the actual combatants in warfare.  Aviators and aircrew understand these risks and could have easily avoided them.  In military aviation the merest hint of reluctance to fly is enough to get one yanked out of the cockpit and put behind a desk without culpability or punishment assigned.  So why put oneself in harm’s way?  Why face hostile fighter aircraft, SAMs and incredible volumes of AAA?  Where if you go down and survive you will be faced by a native population whose only aim is to see you suffer horribly before you die.  Why do it once, much less hundreds of times?  Sherwood tries to answer these questions by biographical analyses of fourteen “Fast Movers” of the era. In gathering material for these analyses, Sherwood conducted almost three hundred interviews and obviously gathered copious quantities of documentation.  He concludes the fast-movers “…participated in the war for the sake of their comrades, their units, the service, and to demonstrate their unique skills in an air-combat environment.”  This is certainly valid but hardly original and not peculiar to jet aviators.  Authors, historians and tacticians from Shakespeare to Keegan have suggested  warriors perform out of loyalty to and in support of, their peers; their messmates, the guy in the next foxhole, their wingman.  However it is an important message and Sherwood reiterates it well.  It is particularly important today when so few of our national leaders have any first hand military experience.

The principals included in the study are some of the most famous names in recent aviation warfare circles: Robin Olds, Steve Ritchie, Chuck DeBellevue and John “Pirate” Nichols, III.  Some whose names are familiar but not as well known: Roger Sheets, Charlie Carr, jr., Roger Locher and Roger Lerseth.  Others whose names remain virtually unknown to this day; Ted Sienicki, Jim Latham, Phil Schuyler, Ed Rasimus and Bill Angus.  All of these people had two things in common.  They conducted air warfare in jet aircraft in the skies over Vietnam, under extremely adverse conditions and they did it with uncommon dedication, selflessness and valor.

In addition to the fourteen principals, the work is peppered with names many will recognize; Bill Harris, Jesse Greer, J.B. Souder, Jim Stockdale, James Salter, Lyle Bull and many more.

John Sherwood is also the author of “Officers in Flight Suits; The Story of Air Force Fighter Pilots in the Korean War.”  He holds a Ph.D in History from George Washington University, and is the Official Historian of the United States Naval Historical Center, where he is writing the history of Naval Air Power in Southeast Asia.
 

Reviewed by Cdr. George G. Fisher, USN (ret)

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