Most war books that chronicle an author’s time at war are deadly serious. The second of the two books I recently read on the Vietnam War was a bit more humorous than most other war books. Naked in Da Nang: A Forward Air Controller in Vietnam by Mike Jackson and Tara Dixon-Engel is a great read. It describes Jackson’s time as a forward air controller in Vietnam.
Here is a general description of the book from the book’s publisher’s website:
FACs (forward air controllers) in Vietnam flew low and slow, searching for signs of an elusive enemy. Often they trolled themselves as bait for the NVA troops to try to shoot down. When a friendly unit made contact, having a FAC overhead made their day, because the FACs controlled the bomb-, rocket-, and napalm-laden fast movers, fighter jets, and attack aircraft whose ordnance often made the difference between life and death. They were regarded by many of their air force and naval aviator brethren as insane, suicidal, or both. In addition to the perils of enemy fire which ranged from lucky AK-47 shots to .51 caliber machine guns and SA-7 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, they had to watch out to keep from being blown up in a B-52 Arc-Light strike or knocked down by friendly artillery.
I really enjoyed reading Jackson’s exploits as a young pilot leading up to his deployment to Vietnam and as a FAC. He brings humor to situations where humor is rarely found. His training as a pilot had me laughing more than once.
Many times Jackson found himself in very interesting situations. For example, the title is derived from his time in Da Nang when he was taking a shower during a monsoon and his living quarters lost power and water. He went outside to rinse off the soap on his body and ends up locked out of the building. So, he is buck naked in a monsoon trying to get back inside. Needless to say, some people saw him (South Vietnamese women and children looked at him like he was deranged). This is just one of many interesting and humorous stories.
Jackson not only brings humor in the book, but he also shows how the men and women who served in this war were not drugged out losers – as they were portrayed in many media outlets (this was especially the case for 20-25 years ago). He was a normal, Midwestern college graduate who went into the Air Force half-expecting the war to be over by the time his training was over, but when it wasn’t over – honorably served his country and tried to help the South Vietnamese win the war.
Finally, the reading is very easy to follow. For example, the authors explain the various levels of training a person must go through in order to become an Air Force pilot. Jackson colorfully explains how he almost washed out because he was given one of the hardest instructors who prided himself in kicking out pilot trainees.