Jim Hooper‘s A Hundred Feet Over Hell is a true account of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company, with which his brother Bill served as one of the Myth Makers flying single-engine Cessnas that were extremely vulnerable to artillery and other ground fire. These men were charged with flying over hot zones and locating the enemy for bombers, giving precise coordinates for dropping bombs and napalm.
“Rather than sharing our joy at his return, Bill was angry. Not because of the crippling wound received in an unpopular war — he accepted that as part of what he had signed on for. The anger came from being here. In a demonstration of uncompromising loyalty over logic, it was, he believed, a betrayal of the warrior family he’d left behind.” (Page xi)
Hooper has captured the essence of these men and their time in Vietnam from their crazy stunts to the moments when they feared for their lives. Through alternating points of view the stories unfold quickly as one man feeds off and expands on the story being told by their friend and colleague. Readers will meet characters like Doc Clement and Charlie Finch, but these men are not characters, but real human beings who lived through the harsh realities of war.
“Bill Hooper: . . . I can’t remember more of that day, save weeping in the privacy of my room. Perhaps the saddest thing of all was that I would learn to be unemotional about killing, eventually joining others who were very good at it.” (Page 23)
Hooper pulls no punches in the organization of this book and doesn’t seem to modify the military language these men used on a regular basis; some examples include VC for Viet Cong and DMZ for demilitarized zone, which is clearly a misnomer, to the lesser known terms DASC for Direct Air Support Control Center and Kit Carson scout for those former Viet Cong recruited to assist with counterintelligence. Readers of military history and fiction are likely to understand many of these acronyms and terms easily, but others may have to refer to the provided glossary. However, once they get a grip on the terminology, readers will plunge into the narrative easily, getting to know each of the soldiers and how they coped with the war.
A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper will remind readers of those in-the-field journalistic interviews with soldiers and those documentaries where one soldier begins a story only to be continued by another soldier, providing a deeper impact. Each man shares their fears, their triumphs, and their more embarrassing moments. One of the best books about the Vietnam War, not about infantry.
Please check out this book trailer to see what these men flew over enemy territory without armor or weapons.
Please also check out these great photos.
After graduating with a degree in Slavic Studies from the University of South Florida, Jim Hooper worked as a documentary research-writer for WFLA-TV in Tampa, with weekends set aside as a skydiving instructor and team captain. He gave up television after three years to devote himself full time to jumping out of airplanes, logging over 3000 freefalls and building the world’s premier skydiving center in Zephyrhills, Florida. His thirst for adventure unfulfilled, he sold the business in 1984 to realize a long-held dream of being a war correspondent and author, making his home in England and setting off for Africa.
This is my 39th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.
This is my 7th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.