A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper is a very personal story about the Vietnam War experience, told mostly from the mouths of the men who lived it. The "Catkillers" of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company were forward air controllers operating in the most hostile environment in Vietnam: the so-called "Demilitarized Zone," which was anything but demilitarized. These men flew in two-seat, propeller-driven Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs, at low speeds and low altitudes, directing field artillery against enemy targets and controlling air strikes. Through an extensive amount of research and numerous detailed interviews, Hooper manages to present a clear picture of life in the I Corps and DMZ during the Vietnam War ~ the battles and the personal struggles, the way these men were changed forever.
I have to start my review by saying that I highly doubt I'm the target audience for this particular book. Yes, I enjoy historical fiction and memoirs. But I would not normally pick up a true story about a war. I've read novels and memoirs related to World War II, but they were about civilians living through the war, not the military actually fighting in it. Despite all that, I really loved this book.
A Hundred Feet Over Hell was a much easier read than I had expected, and I felt like I really got to know these men through Hooper's storytelling. Reading this book was like watching a war movie. It was full of action "scenes" where Catkiller pilots are flying over the DMZ taking enemy fire, while relaying vital information about troop locations, and guiding fighter pilots to fire at the VC troops while avoiding the friendlies. It amazes me that these men survived in these planes that had no armor and no real weapons. Their planes were riddled with bullet holes, yet they continued to fly right into the middle of battles so they could save the men on the ground. I loved the fact that Hooper devoted an entire chapter to the perspective of those men on the ground whose lives were saved by the Catkillers.
Hooper also weaved in plenty of personal accounts of the men who were there ~ their memories of their first days, their first flights, their first kills. He described, through their words and memories, the time they spent away from the battlefield, drinking beer, joking with each other, trying to have some normalcy in the wake of war:
We took hits, but luck saw them pass through our aircraft without striking flesh or engine, and we returned to Dong Ha to count the holes, play a few hands of poker, and prepare the next day's mission. War was our life. It was what we did. ~ p45There is a lot of jargon in the book, so Hooper provides a glossary in the back. But I only referred to it a few times. I didn't find it difficult to keep up with the acronyms and military terminology at all. If you enjoy war movies and stories, I highly recommend this book. And if you are a history buff, especially if you're interested in the Vietnam War, I'd say this is a must read. The first-person accounts make you feel like you're part of the action!
My Rating: 5/5
For more information about author Jim Hooper, whose own brother was one of the Catkillers, visit www.jimhooper.co.uk.
This review was written based on a copy of A Hundred Feet Over Hell that I received from Lisa Roe at Online Publicist.