The best books written by pilots who experienced combat during the Vietnam War

Richard E. Diller Author Of Firefly: A Skyraider's Story About America's Secret War Over Laos
By Richard E. Diller

Who am I?

I am well qualified to speak of the Vietnam aviation experience because these things happened during my formative years as a pilot, and I was on the “front lines” of seeing and experiencing much of it. In addition, I keep up-to-date with it via reunions and reading stories told by other pilots, and I have met Kenny Fields, George Marrett, and Leo Thorsness.


I wrote...

Firefly: A Skyraider's Story About America's Secret War Over Laos

By Richard E. Diller,

Book cover of Firefly: A Skyraider's Story About America's Secret War Over Laos

What is my book about?

Firefly is the only book written about the night mission over Laos, and I explain how we found targets at night, how we avoided hitting mountains in the dark, what napalm looked like when it hit the ground, or a truck at night; and what AAA looked like when it was coming toward me. My squadron lost seven pilots during my year of combat flying, and I tell of how I dealt with the loss of friends. In addition, I was a newlywed when I went off to war and my wife lived in a high-rise apartment in Bangkok, and I was able to visit her about every six weeks. I tell of many things we did together in the big city.

I flew 203 missions and was an instructor pilot who taught new pilots how to stay safe. I am one of only two air force pilots who flew both the supersonic F-106 and the A-1 Skyraider who wasn’t a career officer, and I make several comparisons between the airplanes. I communicated with my parents via three-inch reel-to-reel audio tapes and my dad saved all of them. Several times I talked about missions as soon as I returned, so the stories are as fresh as if they had just happened this morning.

The books I picked & why

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When Thunder Rolled: An F-105 Pilot Over North Vietnam

By Ed Rasimus,

Book cover of When Thunder Rolled: An F-105 Pilot Over North Vietnam

Why this book?

Rasimus was an F-105 pilot who flew 100 missions over North Vietnam early in the war when things were really hot. He tells of the courage it took to fly into such a dangerous environment and of some of the pilots who did it.


Cheating Death: Combat Air Rescues in Vietnam and Laos

By George J. Marrett,

Book cover of Cheating Death: Combat Air Rescues in Vietnam and Laos

Why this book?

George Marrett was in my squadron the year prior to me and we tell of some of the same people. Cheating Death is about search and rescue. Same airplane, different mission. A-1s were taildragger airplanes with a 2,700 horsepower engine, could carry 10,000 pounds of external ordinance, and had two 20mm guns in each wing. It was low and slow compared to a jet and could stay over a survivor for a long time until a rescue was made. The author tells of several exciting rescues of pilots who were shot down deep in enemy territory and explains how it was done.


The Rescue of Streetcar 304

By Kenny Wayne Fields,

Book cover of The Rescue of Streetcar 304

Why this book?

This is an exciting book by Kenny Fields, a navy pilot who was shot down on his first mission. He came down near a North Vietnamese division in southern Laos and was on the ground for about 50 hours before he was rescued. The story is told from the perspective of the survivor. The NVA and Viet Cong troops had recently participated in the siege of Khe Sanh, and were back in the (for them) sanctuary of Laos.


Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey

By Leo Thorsness,

Book cover of Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey

Why this book?

This book is about a pilot who was shot down over NVN and how he survived almost seven years of mistreatment as a POW. Thorsness received a Medal of Honor. The POWs were nearly starved to death, were tortured and not allowed to talk to each other.


Rescue Pilot: Life-Saving At-Sea Navy Helicopter Missions

By Dan McKinnon,

Book cover of Rescue Pilot: Life-Saving At-Sea Navy Helicopter Missions

Why this book?

Dan McKinnon was a navy helicopter pilot who was airborne near an aircraft carrier during flight operations so pilots who had mishaps could be quickly and safely recovered. This is a story about an unusual type of flying, one that provides another layer of safety for naval operations at sea.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Vietnam, the Vietnam War, and pilots?

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