A Hundred Feet Over Hell is the story of a handful of young pilots taking extraordinary risks to support those on the ground. Flying over Vietnam in two-seater Cessnas, they often made the difference between a soldier returning alive to his family or having the lonely sound of “Taps” played over his grave. Based on extensive interviews, and often in the men’s own words, A Hundred Feet Over Hell puts the reader in the plane as this intrepid band of U.S. Army aviators calls in fire support for the soldiers and marines of I Corps.
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About the Author
Jim Hooper is a war correspondent and author. Wounded twice while covering Africa as a freelance journalist and photographer, he has reported on wars in Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, and Uganda. He is equally familiar with the Balkans, filing dispatches from Bosnia (where he was captured by Muslim fundamentalists and escaped execution only by extraordinary good luck), Croatia, and Montenegro. His most recent book was Bloodsong! Firsthand Accounts of a Modern Private Army in Action: Angola 1993–1995. The younger brother of a wounded veteran of the 220th RAC, he lives in London.
Read an Excerpt
"Contact! We're taking fire!" Behind the voice [on the radio] were sharp bursts from automatic weapons. . . .
[Pilot Doc Clement] counted at least twenty-five enemy soldiers in the open and muzzle flashes from more concealed in the undergrowth. . . . "DASC, this is Catkiller 1-8. We have troops in contact on the 292 out of channel 109 at fourteen nautical miles. I need that air [support] now!" . . .
"Mustang," [Bob] Happe called [from the back seat], "this is Southern Hotel. How's your cover? Over."
"Southern Hotel, we got good cover, but we can't hold on long!"
"Roger, Mustang, we'll have arty on the way ASAP!" Happe switched his radio back to the marine artillery battery at Con Thien. "Cherry Buster 6, this is Southern Hotel. Fire mission. Over." He was giving the battery commander the coordinates when DASC confirmed that the first flight would be wheels up out of Chu Lai in less than two minutes.
Doc shook his head. Chu Lai was 150 miles to the south, at least twenty minutes flying time for the jets. Something needed to be done now: anything to buy time. He lifted his M16 from where it was slung on the map light and chambered a round. A quick glance over his shoulder showed his backseater doing the same. "Ready to go, Hap?"
"Let's do it, Doc!"
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Mission 1
Chapter 2 The Apprentice 19
Chapter 3 Catkiller on Crutches 31
Chapter 4 Black Ace to Catkiller 35
Chapter 5 The Lighter Side 49
Chapter 6 Yellow Brick Road 65
Chapter 7 My People Need Help 81
Chapter 8 Catkiller Down 121
Chapter 9 Bombing Halt 133
Chapter 10 Air to Air 147
Chapter 11 Thanksgiving and Christmas 161
Chapter 12 Gypsy Rose Lee 171
Chapter 13 Night Contact 187
Chapter 14 Taking the Edge Off 201
Chapter 15 Lean On Me 207
Chapter 16 Busy Month of June 221
What People are Saying About This
“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)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"A Hundred Feet Over Hell" by Jim Hooper tells the story of the extreme bravery of your fathers and grandfathers who flew little Piper Cub airplanes into enemy fire to assist your fathers and grandfathers fighting on the ground during the Vietnam war. Jim Hooper has the knowledge and ability through his skillfully written words to take the reader back to 1968 and remind us of another Great Generation.
When Bill Hooper returned to Florida after being injured on active duty in Vietnam, he was angry. It was not a reaction to having suffered a brutal ordeal in an unpopular war. He was angry about being home. He was separated from his military family, the men he was committed to serving and protecting. At first, this was difficult for his brother Jim to understand. Decades later, after surviving his own combat experiences as a war correspondent in Africa and the Balkans, Jim began to explore Bill's Vietnam experiences. After extensive research and interviews with men who served with Bill, this book took shape. The author seamlessly wove together first-person accounts of soldiers with his own narrative. It flowed smoothly, and I came to really care about the people whose voices filled the pages. There's also a great deal of action in this book. I agree with another reviewer, Julie at My Book Retreat, who wrote: "Reading this book was like watching a war movie. It was full of action "scenes" where Catkiller pilots are flying over the DMZ taking enemy fire, while relaying vital information about troop locations, and guiding fighter pilots to fire at the VC troops while avoiding the friendlies." Some parts of this book are actually laugh out loud funny. These young men escaped the pressures of combat by cutting loose during their downtime, and many of their experiences are hilarious. For example, one night a bunch of guys were in the middle of a poker game when the camp was struck by enemy fire. "Wisby was yelling at us to get to the bunker, but we just sat there because of all the cash on the table. There had to be $500 in that pot! Rockets were impacting everywhere. Then the lights went out. Everyone had a Zippo, and we got a candle lit and finished the hand. I thought we were going to die for sure." (p. 53) Other parts of the book are infuriating. We see the brutality faced by both soldiers and Vietnamese civilians on a daily basis and the lack of support our serviceman received from the South Vietnamese, who they were trying to support, and from their own government. During their down time, the Catkillers were sometimes immersed in "hate sessions." They vented about the indifference of the South Vietnamese, the baffling decisions made by the military bureaucracy, which sometimes cost the lives of their comrades in arms, and the frustrations of being caught in limited warfare, trying to save American lives but not allowed to invade North Vietnam. A news correspondent who had served in World War II was at one of these "hate sessions." He said the experiences he'd seen in the 1940s, serviceman struggling to preserve each others lives in the face of lack of support and seemingly absurd decisions from further up the hierarchy, were being repeated "with only cosmetic differences" in Vietnam. I found this disheartening on many levels, and I suspect the same issues are being faced - again, with only cosmetic differences - by our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some accounts of war play on our emotions in a very intentional way, striving to send the obvious message that "war is hell." Others glorify war. A Hundred Feet Over Hell does neither. It simply tells the soldiers' stories, very personal stories of courage, fear, grief, and pride in a job well done, in what David Mitchell at BiblioBuffet aptly called a "concise but literate style." This is an important work of contemporary history and a powerful tribute to men who devoted the