ASSAULT FROM THE SKY: U.S. Marine Corps Helicopter Operations in Vietnam
There are two reasons why “Assault From the Sky: U.S. Marine Corps Helicopter Operations in Vietnam” is so distinctive that it deserves an appellation all its own: first, combining qualities of superlative research and scholarship for the first book to document the sacrifice and heroism of helicopter crews in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975; and, second, the author, Dick Camp, himself.
First, the subject.
During the more than a decade of American involvement in South Vietnam, some 400 Marine Corps helicopters were lost in combat and operational accidents, resulting in the deaths of more than 800 crewmen and passengers. It’s inexplicable that only a handful of articles have focused upon what is commonly referred to as “America’s first helicopter war.”
The author admits that his narrative, compressed into three main sections, serves only as an introduction for a much-needed future analysis of successful and failed helicopter missions. Nonetheless, from unpublished sources, such as the Marine Corps University Archives and the Marine Corps History Division, U.S. government publications, unit records and diaries, as well as personal interviews, evolves a cogent, yet stunning, strategic history that the reader will find difficult to put down.
Of immense value in setting the tone for what’s to follow, the reader should first review Appendix A, “Marine Corps Helicopter Development, 1948-1969.”
Part One, “The Buildup, 1962-1966,” carries us through six chapters of early actions accompanied by detailed maps and charts, as well as hitherto unpublished personal photographs from the participants themselves. Part Two focuses on the increasingly heavy fighting that occurred between 1967 and 1969, with Part Three, “The Bitter End, 1975,” describing what occurred on Saigon rooftops and at the Defense Attaché Compound. Vivid eyewitness accounts of the fighting that took place at the U.S. Embassy during the final days and hours conclude the account of Operation Frequent Wind, the largest evacuation in helicopter history—1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese.
As for author Dick Camp, let this be said: The past 100 years, say, from 1914 until now, have probably produced more than a quarter of a million military pundits writing about every conceivable subject of warfare in every imaginable type of media print. Based upon Camp’s output to date, his smooth narrative skill in both fiction and nonfiction, and his promise for better writing to come, he has to be among the top 25. He would be embarrassed by, and actually null, any ranking alongside or comparison to the likes of Samuel Eliot Morison and others. No special glory, title, honor or distinguishing designation for him.
For a glimpse of Camp’s achievements, see R. R. Keene’s eminently praiseworthy review of Camp’s second venture into fiction, “The Killing Ground: A Novel of Marines in the Vietnam War” (Leatherneck, September 2013, page 59).
For a greater insight into the mind and character of the man, one has to look no further than Camp’s first book, “Lima-6: A Marine Company Commander in the Vietnam War,” that is, Lima Co, 3d Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment (June 1967-January 1968). Read between the lines and you get this: men who adored him because Dick wouldn’t have a man in his company that he did not think was as good as himself. Hence, full equality that bred respect and love for a father as well as a captain. Not one of his boys would have hesitated stepping between him and death.
The only deference Dick Camp might yield or submit to is this: “Son of the United States Marine Corps.”