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Taking Fire, Saving Captain Aikman: A Story of the Vietnam Air War

 by Kevin O’Rourke and Joe Peters, Casemate Publishers, 2013

June 27, 1972, was a rare day for the North Vietnamese: Their MiG-21s took a heavy toll on their usual nemeses, F-4E Phantom IIs—four claims and as many as four actual U.S. Air Force losses, including two over Nghia Lo. The Phantom crewmen parachuted down on the Laotian side of the border, where both weapons intercept officers, Captain Thomas J. Hanton and 1st Lt. Richard H. McDow, were caught by local militia and sent to the Hanoi Hilton. A helicopter-borne search-and-rescue team rescued one pilot, Captain Robert Craig Miller, but the other, Captain Lynn Aikman, lay dazed and injured from his ejection, surrounded by enemies searching for him.

Kevin O’Rourke and Joe Peters devote Taking Fire to the events of that one day, ultimately focusing on the extraordinary efforts of pararescue sergeant Chuck McGrath, his fellow helicopter crewmen of the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron and a supporting cast of A-1 Skyraiders and faster combat planes to recover Aiken, regardless of the risks.

Each man and machine played its part to achieve the objective to which everyone in search-and-rescue singlemindedly devoted himself, as expressed by their man at the top, Seventh Air Force General John W. Vogt: “I had to decide whether we should risk the loss of maybe a dozen airplanes and crews to get just one man out. Goddamn it, the one thing that keeps our boys motivated is the certain belief that if they go down, we will do absolutely everything we can to get them out. I just said, ‘Go do it!’”

Combining numerous firsthand accounts into a one-day whole, Taking Fire follows this atypical rescue operation from the mission’s start to an equally unusual aftermath 10 years later. In sum, it’s a gripping story on its own merits, though as a work of history it could have been presented better.


Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.