The Price of Vigilance

ISBN 10: 0804119112 / ISBN 13: 9780804119115
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Synopsis: The recent forced landing of a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance aircraft on Hainan Island after aerial harassment by Chinese fighters underscores that the dangers of the Cold War are not behind us. Reconnaissance-intelligence gathering-has always been one of the most highly secretive operations in the military. Men risk their lives with no recognition for themselves, flying missions that were almost always unarmed and typically pose as weather survey or training flights. Now the true stories of these brave young men can at last be told. Larry Tart and Robert Keefe, former USAF airborne recon men themselves, provide a gripping, unprecedented history of American surveillance planes shot down by China and Russia-from the opening salvoes of the Cold War to the most recent international standoff with China.

Appearing here for the first time are many crucial documents, ranging from formerly highly classified U.S. files to conversations with Khrushchev and top secret reports from the Russian presidential archives. Along with previously unreleased military details, this meticulously researched book includes MiG fighter pilot transcripts and interviews with participants from both sides-including survivors of downed American planes. From the Baltic to the Bering Seas, from Armenia and Azerbaijan to China, Korea, and the Sea of Japan, these gripping accounts reveal the drama of what really happened to Americans shot down in hostile skies.

The Price of Vigilance brings to life the harrowing ordeals faced by the steel-nerved crews, the diplomatic furor that erupts after shootdowns, and the grief and frustration of the families waiting at home-families who, most often, were never told what their loved ones were doing. Armed with the results of recent crash-site excavations, advanced DNA testing, and the reports of local witnesses who can finally reveal what they saw, Tart and Keefe have written a real-life thriller of the deadly cat-and-mouse game of intelligence gathering in the air and across enemy borders.

The centerpiece of the book is the fate of USAF C-130 60528 and its crew of seventeen, shot down over Armenia on September 2, 1958, with no known survivors. Tart and Keefe also vividly describe other shootdowns, including the tense stand off between the U.S. and China after an American reconnaissance aircraft was forced to land on Hainan Island in April 2001.

The Price of Vigilance pays moving tribute to the courage and patriotism of all the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy crews, including those captured and the more than two hundred who never returned. Larry Tart and Robert Keefe wish to publicly acknowledge to the families, and to the nation, that we will never forget their sacrifice.

Review: Book publishers can't react to current events as quickly as newspapers and magazines, of course, so it's a remarkably fortuitous coincidence when a book comes into print covering a subject that has entered the news unexpectedly. In April 2001, a hostile aerial encounter over international waters forced an American military crew to land its damaged surveillance plane on the Chinese island of Hainan, prompting a nail-biting hostage crisis and hurting relations between the United States and China. Just weeks after this event, Larry Tart and Robert Keefe offered The Price of Vigilance, a historical treatment of airborne reconnaissance during the Cold War--plus a lengthy, hot-off-the-press introduction that describes exactly what happened over the South China Sea and why. This late addition, in fact, may be the most useful and interesting section of The Price of Vigilance. The rest of Tart and Keefe's book describes how airborne reconnaissance operations "played a major role in avoiding armed conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but at a grave cost in American lives." The authors count 264 Americans dead or missing from engagements with the Soviets, Chinese, North Koreans, North Vietnamese, and Cubans. They pay particularly close attention to the destruction of an Air Force C-130 SIGINT in 1958, over Armenia: "Without even time for a mayday call, 17 men, the majority of them in their late teens or early 20s, had been blasted out of the sky and burned to cinders." They go on to describe how security concerns prevented the Air Force from telling the relatives of these crew members much about what had happened: "The families waited almost four decades before finally learning a few scant details about what happened to their loved ones on that fateful afternoon."

Some readers may consider The Price of Vigilance an aerial version of Blind Man's Bluff, the bestselling story of Cold War submarine espionage. The storytelling, frankly, isn't as good, but The Price of Vigilance nevertheless shines a welcome spotlight on a poorly understood aspect of the Cold War. --John J. Miller

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