Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Bury Us Upside Down - a review

March, 1968. Phu Cat AB, Republic of Vietnam.  Pilot holding the glass of champagne is Ed Risinger celebrating his last Misty FAC mission.  Holding the bottle is Brian Williams who would later be shot down with Howard Williams, Brian would be rescued while Howard would be killed.  Man with his hand on the stabilizer is Dick Rutan who would later co-pilot Voyager around the world unrefueled.

I have written previously on Bud Day and Misty FAC.  So why would I write another story?  Because I finally acquired a copy of Rick Newman and Don Shepperd's book on Misty called Bury Us Upside Down.

This book starts at a strange place, the belated funeral of Lt. Col. Howard Williams who had been listed as MIA and then declared KIA before any remains were finally found.  Then the book goes back in time to 1967.  Soon the reader is strapped into a F-100F Super Sabre and part of the secret Commando Sabre mission going into Route Pak One looking for the enemy.  Getting one's brain bucket rattled against a canopy side while clutching at a 35mm camera hoping something besides blurs will be on the film and then grunting as the Hun is wrenched through high speed jinks to dodge AAA.  And finally landing after over four hours in the cockpit and hitting a tanker at least two times to find your legs are rubber.  Then spending hours in a debrief followed by attitude readjustment at the Officers Club.  And next day finding yourself flying another mission.  Did I mention one of the authors, Shepperd, is a Misty alumni who as a two-star commanded all of the Air National Guard.

The authors cover much of the life and times of Misty from 1967 to official disbandment in 1970.  The reader's first glimpse of Misty is from a new Intel officer getting assigned to Misty after Bud Day has been shot down.  Almost nothing is recounted of the formative early days of Misty when they first tried to perform the mission with F-100Ds but Day realized the two-seat F model with a GIB was better suited.  Its almost as if it never happened. 

Soon though my annoyance with this omission vanishes as I am sucked in.  Incredible men doing incredible things is the simplest way to describe this book.  Even the intelligence officers assigned to Misty rose to the occasion, two Lieutenants writing travel orders for each other so they can catch a hop to Saigon to creatively acquire clear film from RF-101 film canisters.  Why did they need the clear film?  So they could create booklets full of maps covering all of Route Pak I, the clear film acted as laminate so the pilots could jot down instantly new targets with grease pencils which sped up debriefs and locating new dangers.  Or for more crazy daring do, Risinger's Raid has to be one of the greatest war stories to ever happen.  Ed Risinger had found a juicy target, a SAM, but there were no assets available to attack it. So he returned to Phu Cat.  Ed rounded up two more pilots, stole three ready F-100Ds, launched, and then attacked through clouds where the SAM had been.  Once he got back to base, him and his cohorts were grounded for thee days.  And then went back to flying, all of them.  There are also stories of their battle with the 37th's commander who got mad when Misty lost a F-100F or brought one home damaged, it seemed he cared more for his availability rates than getting a mission done.  We are granted a peek into the world of the flight surgeon at war.  And most importantly we are shown how the loss of a husband/father/son impacted the families, especially when they were declared MIA.  The cruel gamesmanship of the communist in Vietnam is exposed with frank brutality when describing the crash of Howard Williams' Super Sabre.  His death and the rescue of Brian Williams was duly noted as "1 man killed; 1 alive; they took him and he was lost."  Brian Williams would have been another pawn, tortured like Bud Day and possibly suffer the fate of Lance Sijan who was badly wounded upon ejection, tortured, and never received medical attention thus he was murdered in captivity.  There are many other stupendous stories in this book besides these.

Overall I was impressed with this book and the story it told.  It only fell down in two areas.  One has already been noted by having almost no documentation describing the early days of Commando Sabre under Bud Day.  The other is the amount of time describing the in-fighting in Washington D.C. which I considered excessive.  If that had been trimmed down then the authors would have had the space to cover the early missions of Commando Sabre.  Missions flown by Day, Fogelman, and McPeak.  Day would receive the Medal of Honor.  Fogelman and McPeak would pin stars on their shoulders and each rise to become Air Force Chief of Staff.


Ed Rasimus said...

As with any organization you can find some good guys and some less good guys, but with the Misty's it gets harder to find the less good ones. "Bury Us" is primarily Don Sheppard's story, so it is understandable why the early period of Misty isn't covered as deeply. Bud Day's remarkable life is done quite well in "American Patriot" by Robert Coram (who also did "Boyd").

Murphy's Law said...

I just ordered this book from Amazon last week and am awaiting it's arrival. This review only makes me want it all the more.

Keads said...

The book is on the Kindle now, thanks for the review!

Anna said...

I am not denying it's Sheppard's book. I just find it jarring where he starts it and then carries through to Stormy and Misty shutdown. I do have Bud Day's "American Patriot" and that book in its depiction of Day's heroism humbles me.

Murphy and Keads I am glad I could be of some small service. I truly do hope you enjoy the book. It will suck you in.