Book 8


The Gunships







Page Updated
October 10, 2011

Contact: Bill Petrie
CMSgt, USAF, Ret.

Guest Book




A Favorite from
The Book Hootch

The Rescue of BAT 21
by Darrel D. Whitcomb.

ISBN: 0-440-61394-9
Format: Hardcover

Naval Institute Press
118 Maryland Avenue
Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5035
1998, 196 pages, $27.95.

Web address:

When his electronic warfare plane, call sign Bat 21, was shot down on 2 April 1972, fifty-three-year-old Air Force navigator Iceal "Gene" Hambleton parachuted into the middle of a North Viet­namese invasion force and set off the biggest and most controversial air rescue effort of the Vietnam War. Now, after twenty-five years of official secrecy, the astonishing' story of that dangerous and costly rescue is revealed for the first time by a decorated Air Force pilot and Vietnam veteran.

Involving personnel from all services, including the Coast Guard, the unorthodox rescue operation claimed the lives of eleven soldiers and airmen, destroyed or damaged several aircraft, and put hundreds of airmen, a secret commando unit, and a South Vietnam­ese infantry division at risk. In the 1980s it was the subject of a highly fictionalized book and a popular movie that focused on one small aspect of the mission. In contrast, this book is based on recently declassified official records, first-ever interviews with participants (who also provided previously unpublished photos and maps), and author Darrel Whitcomb's direct experience in similar rescues. It is a page-turner that finally makes public the behind-enemy-lines, heart-stopping heroics of Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient Tom Norris and his Vietnamese SEAL coun­terpart, the only foreign national to ever earn a Navy Cross. It also examines the thorny debates arising from an operation that bal­anced one man's life against mounting U.S. and South Vietnamese casualties and material losses, the operation's impact on one of the most critical battles of the war, and the role played by search and rescue as America disengaged from that war.

Whitcomb's unforgettable testament to the courage and will of American airmen, soldiers, and sailors caught up in this life-and-death drama serves as a warning about the dangers of drawn-out coalition warfare without defined objectives.

Danel D. Whitcomb, a 1969 graduate of the Air Force Academy, served three tours in Southeast Asia as a cargo pilot and forward air controller in the OV-lO and 0-1. He flew combat over South and North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia until the last day in 1973, earning a Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and numerous other medals. Still active in the Air Force Reserve, he is currently a captain for Delta Airlines. He lives with his wife and children in Fairfax, Virginia. This is his first book, although he has written several articles for leading military journals.

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