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Bury Us Upside Down

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from the Introduction:

This experimental unit became the most innovative air operation of the war.  “Misty,” as it became known, on account of the call sign chosen by the first commander, borrowed many of its tactics from the slow FACs.  But other techniques had to be developed on the fly.  To see targets as small as a single truck camouflaged beneath trees, the Mistys flew low–often below the minimum allowed altitude of 4,500 feet.  Anytime they buzzed over something valuable to the North Vietnamese, they attracted walls of antiaircraft fire.  Every day was an asymmetric duel between men in the air and men on the ground.  They had different guns and different advantages, yet the fight was as personal as if they were facing each other with bayonets.

It was a hush-hush mission.  The mere formation of the fast FAC unit indicated how successful the North Vietnamese had been at defeating the slow FACs that were getting blown out of the sky.  All the air defenses were being sent down the Trail–including surface-to-air missiles–were working.  If the slow FACs couldn’t find the air defenses and help clear them out, that jeopardized all the other aerial missions near the Trail–including the B-52 bombing runs that were a key U.S. advantage.  The Air Force wasn’t about to telegraph that vulnerability to Hanoi.

. . . There are still more than eighteen hundred Americans [in 2006] who presumably died during the Vietnam War and remain unaccounted for. . . . In little-noticed press releases, the Department of Defense announces the return of remains from Vietnam every week or two, on average.  The announcements get little attention.  yet across America, families that have been lacerated with anguish live through an experience they came to believe would never happen: the return of their loved ones.  This is the tale of one missing man, the family who went on without him, and the extraordinary unit he served with when he disappeared.  There are many, many other stories like this one.