It’s 1968. Hamilton Hancock is on the fast track to become a fighter pilot. He is slated to fly an F-100, F-105 or F-4 in Vietnam. Then, the “needs of the service” intervenes, and he is assigned to fly one of the smallest, slowest aircraft in the Air Force inventory, the O-2A. Hamilton becomes a Forward Air Controller (FAC) in Vietnam, and picks up the nickname “Hamfist.” While Hamfist flies in air combat over the Ho Chi Minh Trail and battles an enemy gunner with a deadly record, on the ground he must also battle his inner fears and personal demons.
This is the first in a trilogy, and when I say trilogy I don’t mean three separate stories but one story cut into three parts. It’s also a short read at only 268 pages in length so can be easily finished in one sitting.
Set during the Viet Nam war this novella at times read more like an Air Force procedural manual than a piece of fiction, with more military acronyms than any one non-military person could possibly keep track off. However, don’t let you dissuade you from reading this, it is a fascinating read. Although the plot ambles along at a very pedestrian pace, it is full of well researched and authentic detail about the war it is set in and the role of the combat pilot during these times. This would be an education to all those of a younger age who think the Viet Nam war was just fought on the ground.
The story is told in the first person narrative and, although all the details are spot on the story itself is a work of fiction based on actual events. The military was using the same ‘hurry up and wait’ tactics it uses now and this, plus many other pieces of the way the military works made me chuckle to see things never change. I found it to be a highly enjoyable read, and completed it in one sitting.
If you’re looking for a factual account of combat pilots in Viet Nam, this may not be the book for you, but if you don’t mind a mix of factual detail and fictional storyline, then I highly recommend you pick this one up. I will be reading the remainder of the trilogy as I am eager to find out what happens to Hamfist.