/ Published September 24, 2015
To North Vietnam and Back Again: A Personal Account of Navy A-6 Intruder Operations in Vietnam by Ed Engle. Xlibris LLC, 2014, 212 pp.
People who have experienced the daring drama of the movie Flight of the Intruder and are expecting the same from Ed Engle's book To North Vietnam and Back Again: A Personal Account of Navy A-6 Intruder Operations in Vietnam perhaps should look for another book. The author presents a more down-to-earth perspective of naval operations in the end years of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. That said, the book still has considerable merit, as does the story that Engle presents to the reader. In essence he offers a glance into a somewhat normal career in the military and the opinions and viewpoints of a field grade officer. Readers will experience moments of sheer terror on missions into North Vietnam, yet much of the narrative resembles the standard autobiography of an engineer who became a bombardier and, ultimately, resumed his former career.
To North Vietnam and Back Again begins like any normal autobiography, detailing the author's early years and leading into his military service. It is always interesting to see the development of the author from childhood, for it creates a personal identification with that individual. Additionally, readers will be fascinated with the unconventional way Engle entered active flight service with the Navy. Retired lieutenant commander Engle's time in Vietnam represents the meat of the naval A-6 aircrew perspective of the war there. The book offers an abundance of technical information, providing a glimpse into the grit and grind of carrier deployment into the Vietnam area of responsibility. Throughout the author's years in Southeast Asia, he displays the same level of dedication, ingenuity, and bravery exhibited by all of the Navy A-6 crew members. Compared to the total length of the book, the section on Vietnam is surprisingly short, but at the same time, it is arguably the most interesting part. The final half of To North Vietnam and Back Again is a chronology of the remainder of Engle's career and his work for the US Navy during his postmilitary life.
The author constantly compares the Navy that he knew and loved to today's service, likening it to "going to the office and coming back again" (52). Here he largely refers to the personal and squadron relationships throughout his naval career. Furthermore, Engle delves into an interesting argument and viewpoint that he describes as the "burst bubble" (131) phenomenon. On multiple occasions, he points out how he would find or experience something about the Navy that would burst his bubble. Evidently, he has a set idea about what a bubble is, for, in truth, it is a relative term. Engle boldly points out what he considers errors made by Navy commanders and leadership concerning decisions that he observed in both his wartime and peacetime careers. This point of view from a line naval aviator is both fascinating and helpful.
Ultimately, To North Vietnam and Back Again has some merit to the academic world, offering excellent detail on technology and communication that affect current US conflicts, as well as a harrowing tale of Vietnam. Engle keeps the reader interested by utilizing an effective storytelling style of writing and by including both stock and personal photos throughout the book instead of including them all in a center section, as is the case with most autobiographies. Unfortunately, to the average Air Force officer, the book has limited usefulness in application since its focus is primarily naval and historical. Nevertheless, it is still worth reading because, unlike the average autobiographical work, it offers a unique perspective on events. Anyone could find enjoyment in this story of Engle's life by reading it with an open mind.
Capt Richard P. Loesch III, USAF
Laughlin AFB, Texas
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."