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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 1968-1969 Hardcover – May 10, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 169 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Zenith Press; First edition (May 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0760336334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0760336335
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (169 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #948,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Joel R. 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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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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You want to know what the Vietnam War was like? In this book you get a close-up view in one of the most highly contested areas closest to the DMZ. The book is well written and/or composed by Jim Hooper, a war correspondent and brother of one of the main characters in the story. It's providential that this story has been told thanks to Jim Hooper and his outstanding skills as a writer. While he provides the narrative, he allows the participants to speak for themselves. It would seem that many of the actual participants in this combat story are good writers themselves. Or shall we call them "Thespians" or great actors? U b the judge. My thanks to Jim Hooper for being a great brother. My thanks to Bill Hooper for playing your part so very well. I most enjoyed Bill Hooper's time and encounter with the formidable Gypsy Rose Lee. Also, the candid comments, reflections, and confessions of all the players.
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I flew in the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company from July 1967 to July 1968 and long felt that the story of this unique Army Birddog unit in Vietnam needed to be told. Hooper does it perfectly. The fact that he does it primarily through the eyes of three pilots in the 1968-1969 era takes nothing away from those who flew for the 220th RAC during it's seven years of existence and operations in Vietnam. The men Hooper weaves his story around were assigned to the 220th RAC just as I was rotating home and things were really beginning to heat up in northern I Corps.

It was the only Army Birddog company that spent it's entire existence under the operational control of the First and Third Marine Divisions.
It was the only Army Birddog company that flew the DMZ.
It was the only Army Birddog company that flew over North Vietnam.
It was the only Army Birddog company whose pilots routinely flew with Marine Aerial Observers in the back seat.
It was the only Army Birddog company whose pilots were qualified and on Marine Corps orders designating them Tactical Air Controllers, Airborne.
It was the only Army Birddog company whose pilots routinely adjusted US naval gunfire, including the Battleship New Jersey onto targets in North Vietnam.

Some of the escapades of Doc Clement and Charlie Finch may seem "over the top"...but they weren't...and they DID happen exactly as told. If in doubt, go the Catkiller website www.catkillers.org and read some of the official citations relating to the Silver Stars and Distinguished Flying Crosses that Catkiller pilots have been awarded.
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Just finished reading 'A Hundred Feet Over Hell' by Jim Hooper, which I hereby give my 'Best Book of the Year So Far Award'. A fabulous read for anyone interested in Vietnam War history and small airplanes. No sexy jets for these guys, but one of Wichita's finest, a Cessna tail dragger capable of maybe 100 knots, with a 200 hp piston engine - virtually unarmed (well, a set of white phosphorus rockets intended for marking targets) flying at the front lines of a s***ty war. What makes this book such a great reading experience is how the stars aligned: 1) Bill Hooper, the older brother flying Cessna O-1 Birddogs in the DMZ, late 1960s, returns home seriously wounded; 2) Teenage younger brother Jim goes on to become a war correspondent of high repute; 3) Access by Jim to brother Bill and former 'Catkiller' pilots at reunions. The end result is absolutely top shelf, deserving a place next to the oral histories of the great Studs Terkel. Funny. Poignant. Awe inspiring. Deeply moving. And sometimes, truly breathtaking to read.
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