Originally published in 1990, this classic work has now been revised and updated with 50,000 words of additional narrative and previously unpublished photos. It is the story of how, in Vietnam, an elite group of Air Force pilots fought a secret air war in Cessna 0-2 and OV-10 Bronco prop planes—flying as low as they could get. The eyes and ears of the fast-moving jets who rained death and destruction down on enemy positions, the Forward Air Controller made an art form out of an air strike—knowing the targets, knowing where friendly troops were, and reacting with split-second, life and death decisions as a battle unfolded.
The expertise of the low, slow FACs, as well as the hazard attendant to their role, made for a unique birds-eye perspective on how the entire war in Vietnam unfolded. For Tom Yarborough, who logged 1,500 hours of combat flying time, the risk was constant, intense and electrifying. A member of the super-secret “Prairie Fire” unit, Yarborough became one of the most frequently shot-up pilots flying out of Da Nang—engaging in a series of dangerous secret missions in Laos. In this work, the reader flies in the cockpit alongside Yarborough in his adrenaline-pumping chronicle of heroism, danger and wartime brotherhood. From the rescuing of downed pilots to taking out enemy positions, to the most harrowing extended missions directly overhead of the NVA, here is the dedication, courage and skill of the fliers who took the war into the enemy's backyard.
Colonel Tom Yarborough, USAF (ret.) served in the Air Force for thirty years in a variety of flying and staff assignments. A command pilot, during his two Vietnam tours as a forward air controller, he earned thirty combat decorations, including the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Air Medal, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He currently lives in Springfield, Virginia, where he maintains ties to the academic community as an adjunct history professor at Northern Virginia Community College.
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About the Author
Table of Contents
Prologue: June 30, 1970 15
Map: Area of Operations 19
1 Indoctrination of a Rookie 21
2 Across the Fence 44
3 X-Ray Mission: Laos 83
4 Prairie Fire 112
5 Rescue at Route 966 141
6 Lessons in Judgment 161
7 Standing Up in a Hammock 184
8 Outside the Envelope 206
9 The Covey Bomb Dump 224
10 All Points of the Compass 248
11 Valley of the Shadow of Death 268
12 SAR on the Trail 300
13 The Year of Fifty-Three Weeks 317
Epilogue: August 15, 1973 325
Where Are Tney Now? 332
What People are Saying About This
Many SOG veterans -- including myself -- are alive today thanks to the courage, flying skill and determination of Col. Yarborough and his fellow Covey FAC pilots. His personal account captures the spirit of those harrowing days when we Green Berets, deep behind enemy lines in Laos -- no matter how dire the situation -- only needed to hear Covey's approaching engines to know all was not lost. Congratulations on telling your story -- and our story -- so well.
—John L. Plaster, Team Leader, Recon Team California, MACV-SOG, author of "SOG" and "Secret Commandos"
As Covey 580 and a former Prairie Fire FAC, I can definitely identify with Tom Yarborough's saga. Da Nang Diary is a riveting, authentic story that has never been told until now. Yarborough takes you into the cockpit as he flies his dangerous top secret missions in support of covert reconnaissance teams operating in Laos. This memoir is very personal, honest, and insightful---and one of the best books about FACs ever written. A gripping read!
— General Ralph "Ed" Eberhart, USAF (Ret), former commander of NORAD, U.S. Space Command, and Air Combat Command
From telephone booths on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to dangerous emergency landings at abandoned Khe Sanh, you can almost see the explosions of marker rockets and smell the avgas in DA NANG DIARY, this intimate account of a Forward Air Controller working with the Special Forces on their secret operations in South Vietnam and Laos. Yarborough's vivid picture of staging the air missions that inserted SOG teams where they were needed is the only one of its kind. Don't miss it!
—John Prados, noted Vietnam War historian and author of Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975
At last, after four decades, we can finally recognize some of the Vietnam War's most intrepid warriors, the courageous Covey FACs who supported SOG reconnaissance teams on their top-secret missions into Laos and Cambodia. The dramatic true stories in Da Nang Diary fill a major gap in special operations history. This is a 'must-read' for all warriors and a book to place on the shelf next to John Plaster's SOG: The Secret Wars of America's Commandos in Vietnam.
— Major General John K. Singlaub, USA (Ret), former commander of SOG and author of Hazardous Duty