Flying Through Midnight: A Pilot's Dramatic Story of His Secret Missions Over Laos During the Vietnam War

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9780743274883: Flying Through Midnight: A Pilot's Dramatic Story of His Secret Missions Over Laos During the Vietnam War
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Riveting, novelistic, and startlingly candid, John T. Halliday's combat memoir begins in 1970, when Halliday has just landed in the middle of the Vietnam War, primed to begin his assignment with the 606th Special Operations Squadron. But there's a catch: He's stationed in a kind of no-man's-land. No one on his base flies with ID, patches, or rank. Even as Richard Nixon firmly denies reporters' charges that the United States has forces in Laos, Halliday realizes that from his base in Thailand, he will be flying top-secret, black-ops night missions over the Laotian Ho Chi Minh Trail.
A naive yet thoughtful twenty-four-year-old, Halliday was utterly unprepared for the horrors of war. On his first mission, Halliday's C-123 aircraft dodges more than a thousand antiaircraft shells, and that is just the beginning. Nothing is as he expected -- not the operations, not the way his shell-shocked fellow pilots look and act, and certainly not the squadron's daredevil, seat-of-one's-pants approach to piloting. But before long, Halliday has become one of those seasoned and shell-shocked pilots, and finds himself in a desperate search for a way to elude certain death.
Using frank, true-to-life dialogue, potent imagery, and classic 1970s song lyrics, Halliday deftly describes the fraught Laotian skies and re-creates his struggle to navigate the frustrating Air Force bureaucracy, the deprivations of a remote base far from home and his young wife, and his fight to preserve his sanity. The resulting nonfiction narrative vividly captures not only the intricate, distorted culture of war but also the essence of the Vietnam veteran's experience of this troubled era.
A powerhouse fusion of pathos and humor, brutal realism and intimate reflection, Flying Through Midnight is a landmark contribution to war literature, revealing previously top-secret intelligence on the 606th's night missions. Fast-paced, thrilling, and bitingly intelligent, Halliday illuminates it all: the heart-pounding air battles, the close friendships, the crippling fear, and the astonishing final escape that made the telling of it possible.

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Review:

When John Halliday arrived at Thailand's Nakhon Phanom Air Base in 1970, he thought the next year would bore him out of his skull. He believed his mission in the Vietnam War would be to fly cargo around Thailand. What could be easier? A couple of nights later, Halliday found himself dodging dozens of anti-aircraft shells in an aging cargo plane over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Flying Through Midnight is his riveting account of his top-secret black-ops assignment--one of the most dangerous of the war.

Halliday flew slow propeller-driven relics at night deep into guerrilla territory in the "unofficial" war in Laos. His task with the 606th Special Operations Squadron was to help pinpoint guerrilla truck convoys for U.S. planes to bomb. Meanwhile, President Richard Nixon denied U.S. forces were fighting in Laos. Halliday wasn't even supposed to tell his wife what he was doing. His mail and phone calls were monitored, and soon he went from being a jittery FNG ("f---ing new guy") to a decorated war hero who logged 800 combat flight hours in Vietnam and the Gulf War. He was awarded the Air Force's Distinguished Flying Cross for one particularly amazing feat of bravery--a nighttime crash-landing on an unlit airstrip amid soaring mountains, which saved his crew. Flying Through Midnight does a remarkable job bringing to life Halliday's dramatic combat experiences, the foibles of his superiors, the brutalities of war, and the colorful quirks of his fellow flyboys, including his roommate whose favorite hobby was reading canned-food labels. There's not much here about the deeper rationale of the Vietnam War, but it's a gripping read. --Alex Roslin

From the Back Cover:

A WAR THAT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO BE THERE
In 1970, a young American pilot arrived at a dusty, half-deserted U.S. air force base and found himself on a battlefront he'd never heard of: the secret black-ops war in Laos.
 
A MISSION YOU COULDN'T TRAIN FOR
John T. Halliday was instructed to fly a retrofitted C-123 transport to direct night-time air strikes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The mission sent Halliday, his plane, and his fellow men into the teeth of enemy fire--and required breaking every rule he had ever learned about flying.
 
 
A TRUE STORY OF EXTRAORDINARY COURAGE AND SURVIVAL AGAINST ALL ODDS
In this compelling account, Halliday takes us inside a top-secret air base and into the cockpit of an antiquated plane that was a lifeline for special forces on the ground. As he chronicles his evolution from a by-the-book flyboy to a daring warrior of the night, he also tells the story of a truly heroic, seemingly impossible flight: of how he and his men survived a horrific engagement with the enemy, attempted a harrowing a crash landing, and what they found deep inside a forbidden land...

 
"An eternal story that transcends any war."--John J. Nance, author of Free Flight
 
"This book is as much about confronting the past as describing it."--USA Today

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9780312942038: Flying Through Midnight: A Pilot's Dramatic Story of His Secret Missions Over Laos During the Vietnam War

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ISBN 10:  0312942036 ISBN 13:  9780312942038
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2007
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