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A Hundred Feet Over Hell: Flying With the Men of the 220th Recon Airplane Company Over I Corps and the DMZ, Vietnam 1968-1 Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Zenith Press; First edition (May 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0760336334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0760336335
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #680,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Every generation must face tough choices as life unfolds less idyllically than imagined in the protected environment of adolescence or the shelter of a college campus. Those of us who graduated in the late 1960s faced “fight or flight” decisions not unlike those of the World War II and Korean War eras as the conflict in Viet Nam escalated and the nation once again called her sons to war. Some responded with patriotic fervor, some volunteered reluctantly, some took their chances with the draft lottery. Others sought to avoid the obligation all together. Regardless of the how’s and why’s, those who fought in Viet Nam learned about life and death, but most of all about themselves. In the story you are about to read, there is a universal truth: warriors don’t fight for their country or flag, they fight for each other, often going far beyond what their country asks. It was an honor to serve at the same time as these men. This story is about the nation’s best!”
 
—Lance W. Lord, General, USAF (ret)


“This is a story about the warrior spirit that has existed in our fighting forces since the birth of our nation. Jim Hooper has nailed this small piece of the Viet Nam War as seen through the eyes of the Bird Dog pilots of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. It is a moving tribute to the intrepid men that flew these small aircraft with skill, courage, determination and a whole lot of brass.”

—Mike Seely BG (ret) 74th RAC '65-'66; 245th SAC '68-'69


“I flew A-4 Skyhawks out of Chu Lai, and then Bird Dogs with the VMO-6 Fingerprints at Quang Tri for the second half of my tour. You have done a magnificent job of presenting the deadly environment we all faced on a daily basis. I can't thank you enough for telling the story of the "Catkillers", because it is the story of not only about them, but everyone who flew in I Corps. Your book is outstanding."
 
—Jim Lawrence, LTCOL

"[A Hundred Feet Over Hell] shows us the sheer guts, ingenuity, compassion, and humor of those who serve in defense of freedom [It’s]a tribute to the Catkillers...and the thousands who follow in their footsteps, warriors all -- old and new!"
—Brigadier General Robert H. Holmes USAF


“The settings cover so many places I've been—Quang Tri, Dong Ha, Rockpile, Vandergrift (LZ Stud), Con Thien and others. Having been in a grunt unit and in 3rd Force Recon in I Corps, I felt truly a part of the pictures the author has painted.  Although I am hopefully a very stable individual, he provided me with a 'verbal flashback' that made me breath harder and brought a tear to my eye. [Hooper does] a remarkable job of providing the sights and sounds of a unit in trouble. 
 
—Tom Wilson, 3rd Force Recon


"I felt as though I was reliving it—my heart was pounding in my chest. [Hooper has] assembled a true work of art.”
 
—Tom Coopey, Recon Platoon, 1-61

 
A classic story of war … From hell-raising antics in the clubs and bars to hair-raising combat operations, where death was often only inches away, this is a must read. Those who have "seen the elephant" … will instantly identify with the actions of their fellow warriors. Flying an unarmored aircraft well within the effective range of every enemy weapon on the battlefield to protect the grunts in close combat takes a special breed of heroes. This book chronicles the exploits of such men.
—Gary L. Harrell, LTGEN, USA (ret)


“Hooper examines various combat encounters from many points of view to build detailed composite pictures of events. And he delves deeply into the emotions and bonds that held the unit together, recounting amusing after-hours high jinks, the grim humor of wartime, and the washing away of a day’s stress in that universal solvent, alcohol.

“The best thing about the book is that—conversational re-creations notwithstanding—every page rings true, and with very rare exception, names are named. Writing fearlessly and with an artfulness that few others have managed, Hooper has captured the ironies, the buccaneer’s ethos, and the rhythms of men at war.

“Thirty years ago, Robert Mason published Chickenhawk, a classic personal account of Vietnam helicopter operations that is still as potent as a satchel charge. I’d rank A Hundred Feet Over Hell right up there with it.”

-Air & Space Magazine

From the Inside Flap

Forward air controllers in Vietnam were acknowledged as having perhaps the most dangerous aviation role of the war. Flying at speeds well below the top end of most family cars, they spent hours over hostile terrain in flimsy, propeller-driven Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs. Their work was crucial in finding and stopping the enemy before they could attack American troops, and supporting those troops with artillery and air strikes when battle was joined.

 

Of the many army Bird Dog units in Southeast Asia, none operated in as hostile an environment as the “Catkillers” of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. Their tactical area of operations was up against the Demilitarized Zone (an oxymoron if ever there was one) in I Corps, the northern-most combat zone in South Vietnam. At the time it was estimated that there were seventy-eight thousand NVA soldiers in the area.

 

The Catkillers were under the operational control of the 3rd Marine Division. Unlike the U.S. Army aerial forward observers farther south, who could only direct field artillery against enemy targets, Catkillers were authorized and trained to control air strikes, which they did regularly in support of both marine and army ground units. Elsewhere in Vietnam air strikes had to be controlled by U.S. Air Force FACs.

 

In the DMZ with the 220th RAC’s 1st Platoon, it was normal to come under fire on almost every mission. Bullet holes in their aircraft were so common that they were barely worthy of mention. When crossing the Ben Hai River into North Vietnam in search of enemy artillery, flying at 120 miles per hour in the sights of an array of anti-aircraft weapons, only good fortune kept more Catkillers from being lost. The stories of these valiant men in their small planes has been largely overlooked before, but the risks they took on a daily basis ensured more U.S. servicemen made it home. A Hundred Feet Over Hell ensures their stories are not forgotten, as the men relive their missions in their own words.

 


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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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The writing style is superb.
J. Gregory
The "Catkillers" of the 220 RAC flew what could very arguably be the most dangerous sustained mission profiles of any aircrews during the Vietnam War.
Lawrence Mayes
As to the book it keeps you on the edge and is very hard to put down.
VonHoltz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By J. Rudy VINE VOICE on May 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Jim Hooper's "A Hundred Feet Over Hell" is the story of his brother's Vietnam War experiences flying the O-1 Bird Dog Observation Aircraft. Bill Hooper was a Tactical Air Controller - Airborne, or a TACA. He flew this low-flying, slow-speed aircraft with the 220th Reconnaissance Aircraft Company, a unit known by their call-sign "Catkillers". In the second war of the Jet Age, the Bird Dog was a very unglamorous aircraft, but to the men on the ground, having a Bird Dog overhead was like having your own personal guardian angel. Hooper's book does an outstanding job of documenting the contributions of the Catkillers between 1968 and 1969.

"A Hundred Feet Over Hell" is a very personal story told by the men who lived the war. Hooper does an amazing job telling the story of how these aviators called in airstrikes in support of ground troops. After reading the book, the reader gains a new appreciation for the difficulty of simultaneous flying a plane; describing a target to a jet aircraft traveling four times as fast and 10,000 feet higher than you; and avoiding ground fire. American aviators were the best in this lethal business.

In the chapter "Busy Month of June", Hooper describes a Catkiller attack on a North Vietnamese Truck Convoy. "I started climbing, mentally computing where I wanted to roll in. At about eight hundred feet, I nosed over. Fixed on the windscreen of the lead truck, I armed both outboard tubes. The truck grew larger, and I could see the driver leaning forward to look up. Steaadyyy. Passing through five hundred feet, I squeezed the trigger, holding the dive for the split second it took the rockets to ignite and clear the tubes. In less time than it takes to describe, they hit. What happened next was not part of the plan.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Gregory on May 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This was a fantastic read. It pulled me in and didn't let me go until I finished it. The author weaves an incredible tale of young men in small, slow aircraft facing death every day while striving to save the lives of their fellow soldiers. Well researched through interviews with the actual pilots who flew these missions, it is a fascinating story. One page could have me laughing and the next page could fill me with sadness. The writing style is superb.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By H. J. Mowrey on May 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This terrific book tells the story of a company of Army fixed-wing aviators performing forward air controller duties flying very slow, prop-driven, single engine Cessna aircraft over some of the hottest battlefields of the Vietnam war.

From grunts on the ground wading through the swamps of the Delta or struggling through the jungle highlands, to medical personnel providing care to wounded warriors, to the pilots and crews of helicopters or "fast-mover" jet aircraft, to small Special Forces units patrolling deep in enemy-controlled areas in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos, each veteran saw the war from their individual perspective. In this book, Jim Hooper tells about the Vietnam war from the perspective of his brother Bill and his fellow aviators providing their forward air controller services in support of Marines and Army grunt units on the ground in the northern part of South Vietnam known as I Corp.

As a veteran of the U.S. Army (1967-70), I served both stateside and elsewhere in the Asia during the period covered by this book. Probably because of my service as well as my long-standing fascination with military history, I have read many books about war and I can say that this book ranks right up there with the very best.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kymberlee E. Braun on October 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a combat veteran of the 101st Airborne Division in the very same I Corps region as the setting for the book, I thought I was familiar with combat operations. After reading "100 Feet Over Hell", I was able to see the war from a much different perspective. All we knew about Bird Dogs was that they were a radio call sign for artillery. Jim Hooper gives vivid descriptions through the eyes of his brother and fellow Bird Dogs. The absolute hell that the Bird Dogs went through to provide artillery support for us grunts on the ground was something I didn't appreciate until reading this book. "100 Feet Over Hell" is very well written, well presented and well researched. Jim Hooper is a professional writer and his talent shows throughout this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By TOM RUCKER on May 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If you were in the Viet War, this is a must read book. The boys flying these little, flmsey planes did not get enough credit for saving lives on the ground while risking theirs. A 21 gun salute to all you brave flyers.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John A. Lee on May 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
On this Memorial Day, I am proud to be counted amoung the few that had the honor of serving our country. I read this book and found the writing to be both engaging and moving. In retrospect, of how these men were seen by "some" people in our nation, it a refreshing to see and "feel" the journey these boys to men accomplished. I believe this book is both moving and remarkable to see all that these men did for every single soldier they protected. I salute all those who served for honor, country and most importantly each other.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By William R. Davis on October 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was honestly sad that the book came to an end. This will forever be one of my favorites I've ever read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Walter Shiel on October 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Hooper's book is more about the men who fought a thankless war over one of the most hazardous areas in an unarmored, virtually unarmed, and slow airplane (the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog) than about flying the Bird Dog. Men who flew and fought right down in the weeds, typically well within the range of even small arms fire. The men were mostly young, newly minted Army pilots with an abundance of determination, intestinal fortitude, and camaraderie and a limited tolerance for bureaucracy and regulations.

Most of the book is told in their own words, with inputs from several participants alternated as a particular event or story unfolds, all blended with editorial commentary to set the scene and provide a "higher altitude" view of what was going on. This approach provides a thoroughly engaging means of understanding not only what was happening but what those combatants were thinking and how they were handling both the stresses and challenges of combat.

However, Hooper does not just tell one combat story after another. He wisely provides a lot of insights into what they did before and after missions, how they dealt with the constant threat of death, and how they partied to alleviate the tensions of war. Again, most of this is told in the first-person by the men who lived it.

If you're an experienced combat pilot, you'll feel a kinship with the young men in the book. If you're not, you'll come away with a renewed appreciation for their trials, successes, and even failures.

This is a book I highly recommend!
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