Sherman Lead: Flying the F-4D Phantom II in Vietnam, by Gaillard R. Peck, Jr., Osprey Publishing, 2019, $32.

As an aviator who flew the F-4D Phantom II with “Satan’s Angels” of the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron while stationed at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in 1968-69, Gaillard Peck knows that air combat is both taxing and adrenaline-inducing. His deeply personal and starkly honest memoir of his year as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War captures those realities in a series of vignettes. It is the perspective of a gung-ho junior officer staring down death on 163 combat missions, many flown at night.

In ranging from the mundane to the dramatic, the author renders lengthy tutorials on such technological items in the combat flier’s toolbox as the electro-optically guided Walleye precision weapon and then follows with hair-raising descriptions of penetrating hostile skies to pickle off the devices on priority targets. His account is a straightforward recitation of what unfolded on the ground at the squadron’s lively hooch and in the heated air over North Vietnam and Laos. 

The author’s experiences involved drunken parties on base along with gutsy dives through danger zones that on a particularly harrowing mission resulted in the award of a Silver Star. Vietnam was already seen as a lost cause by many Americans when the author arrived in-theater, yet charged by camaraderie and shared sacrifice he gave the endeavor all he had. The simple eloquence of his valuable book is distilled at the end when, in connection with a 2013 ceremony honoring the repatriated remains of long-missing squadron mates, he stated, “These weren’t just my wingmen, they were my brothers.” 

This article appeared in the July 2020 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here!