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

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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Richard E. Diller Why did I love 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.

By Ed Rasimus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Thunder Rolled as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ed Rasimus straps the reader into the cockpit of an F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber in his engaging account of the Rolling Thunder campaign in the skies over North Vietnam. Between 1965 and 1968, more than 330 F-105s were lost—the highest loss rate in Southeast Asia—and many pilots were killed, captured, and wounded because of the Air Force’s disastrous tactics. The descriptions of Rasimus’s one hundred missions, some of the most dangerous of the conflict, will satisfy anyone addicted to vivid, heart-stopping aerial combat, as will the details of his transformation from a young man paralyzed with self-doubt into a battle-hardened veteran.…


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

Richard E. Diller Why did I love 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.

By George J. Marrett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cheating Death as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The colourful characters and daring rescues of downed pilots engaged in the Secret War in North Vietnam and Laos are vividly captured by one who was there, in some of the most exciting stories ever written about aerial combat. Sandy Marrett and his squadron colleagues flew some of the most dangerous air missions of the war as on-scene commanders, in charge of rescuing the scores of US Navy and Air Force pilots shot down over North Vietnam and Laos.


Book cover of The Rescue of Streetcar 304

Richard E. Diller Why did I love 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.

By Kenny Wayne Fields,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rescue of Streetcar 304 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On 31 May 1968, Lt. Kenny Fields catapulted off USS America in his A-7 for his first combat mission. His target was in Laos, which at the time was `officially' off limits for US attacks. What the planners did not know was that Fields and his wingman were en route to a massive concentration of AAA gun sites amidst an entire North Vietnamese division.

Fields, who used the call sign`Streetcar 304', was the first to roll in, and he destroyed his target with a direct hit. Three AAA guns began to fire, but, following his wingman, he rolled in again.…


Book cover of Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey

Richard E. Diller Why did I love 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.

By Leo Thorsness,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Surviving Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On April 19, 1967, Air Force Colonel Leo Thorsness was on a mission over North Vietnam when his wingman was shot down by an enemy MiG, which then lined up for a gunnery pass on the two American pilots who had bailed out. Although his F 105 was not designed for aerial combat, Thorsness engaged the MiG and destroyed it. Spotting four more MiGs, he fought his way through a barrage of North Vietnamese SAMs to engage them too, shooting down one and driving off the others. For this action, Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor. But he didn't…


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

Richard E. Diller Why did I love 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.

By Dan McKinnon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rescue Pilot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Dan McKinnon, extraordinary helicopter pilot, brings alive the excitement and occasional terror of rescue at sea. An exciting hair raising and reverting tale of the largely untold story of helicopter resuces at sea' - Neil Armstrong, Astronaut. 'Just Great. It's going to be of tremendous interest to all naval helicopter pilots present and future and to the people who want to know more about this aspect of military flight. Boy, you've unleashed a flood of memories' - Bill Stuyvesant, legendary navy helo pilot. A daring Cold-War warrior recounts the thrills of high-sea helicopter rescue missions. Within the pages of "Rescue…


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Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

By Martha Marks,

Book cover of Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

Martha Marks Author Of Rubies of the Viper

New book alert!

Who am I?

I made my first visit to Pompeii at age seven. That day, I told my parents that I had been there before. It was all very familiar. And that sense of déjà vu has never left me. I feel it whenever I go back to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Roman Forum. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but... As an adult, I’ve returned many times to those places and visited others featured in my books: the Etruscan necropolis at Caere, which was already 1,000 years old at the time of my novels; Athens; and the ancient ports of Piraeus in Greece and Itanos in Crete. I earned a Ph.D. at Northwestern University, taught for many years, and enjoyed a million marvelous experiences, but my lifelong love of ancient Rome is the direct result of that long-ago visit to Pompeii with my parents.

Martha's book list on the Roman Empire in 1st Century AD

What is my book about?

Bernard Marks and Martha Alford met by chance. The odds were long that they would hit it off. That wasn’t in the cards they’d been dealt at birth. But, as gamblers in love, they rolled the dice. And then they worked hard, took risks, caught lucky breaks, built satisfying careers, enjoyed terrific travels, and won their own version of the lottery of life. Over four decades, Lady Luck smiled on them, until one day, she didn’t. Out of the blue, Fortune spun her wheel and taught them that no one is immune to tragedy and heartbreak.

Betting on Bernie is Martha Marks’s memoir of their improbable courtship, happy and prosperous marriage, and not-so-golden “golden years.” It will make you think, wonder, laugh, and cry.

Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

By Martha Marks,

What is this book about?

Bernard Marks and Martha Alford met by chance. No real reason for it, just a series of fluky coincidences. The odds were long that they would hit it off. That wasn’t in the cards they’d been dealt at birth. “It’ll never last,” people whispered after they got engaged. “Poor probability of success” was the general consensus when they married. But Bernie and Martha ignored the naysayers. Gamblers in love, they rolled the dice.

And then they worked hard, took even more risks, caught a few lucky breaks, built satisfying careers, enjoyed terrific travels, and won their own version of the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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