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The Phantom Vietnam War: An F-4 Pilot’s Combat over Laos

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The Phantom Vietnam War: An F-4 Pilot’s Combat over Laos by David R. “Buff” Honodel, USAF, Retired. University of North Texas Press, 2018, 307. 

Lt Col David “Buff” Honodel does more than just tell the war as it happened in The Phantom Vietnam War; he also adds a personal and engaging perspective with multiple unique points of his experiences fighting in Laos throughout his autobiography. 

Honodel’s goal with this work is to tell the story of his experiences in Laos, highlighting the fact that, even though the war was in Vietnam, pilots and equipment were lost in Laos. Although there are parts of the author’s story that precede the assignment in Laos, and there is a chapter at the end that looks at some parts of his life following his first tour overseas, Honodel sticks to his originally-stated intentions. His approach to writing a concise and focused personal Vietnam memoir is refreshing as other authors might focus only a small portion of their entire work on actual war experiences with the majority of the book about the rest of their lives. Honodel’s perspective gives the book a good, in-depth look at a specific part of the war through the eyes of a single fighter pilot. This perspective also allows Honodel to focus on the interpersonal relationships, worldviews, and larger Air Force interactions that are sometimes found in other memoirs but often condensed or not fully explained. 

One of the major strengths of this work is Honodel’s focus on the loneliness of combat experience in Southeast Asia. His experience in the war was of a replacement pilot to his unit, knowing only a single pilot who was quickly placed in a different squadron. Although he was part of a team, he was an individual. The author reinforces the comradery of the unit and willingness to sacrifice oneself for brothers in combat that are part of most Southeast Asia fighter pilot perspectives. Yet Honodel keeps coming back to what was lacking in his assignment as a replacement pilot as compared to what he experienced in units before fighting overseas. This perspective on how he felt about fighting in the war bridges the gap for modern Airmen and Soldiers who can find themselves on random operations as individuals plugged into a unit overseas. The ability to bridge this generational divide is a phenomenon that can bring modern Airman and Vietnam veterans together on a very personal level. 

Another refreshing perspective that continues throughout the book is an appreciation of tanker pilots and their willingness to support. In many stories captured in literature, tanker support to fighters is portrayed as rigid regarding rules and regulations on what, where, and how the tanker could support the fighters and bombers that went in and out of the hostile areas. However, Honodel often speaks fondly and offers gratitude to the tanker pilots who supported him and his fellow aviators during the year he was in the war. Through a few specific examples of where the tankers came in to help and saved him and his comrades, the reader gets a unique perspective on how the tanker support was more than just aircraft flying a racetrack pattern behind the line of battle. 

Ultimately, everyone with interest in the war in Southeast Asia should read Honodel’s account of his wartime experiences. Not only does The Phantom Vietnam War cover those subjects, the author also discusses leadership, comradery, and many other topics. The memoir is an easy read as the style, word choice, and narrative of the writer engage the reader throughout the work. Since Honodel does such a good job retelling his wartime experiences, this book should be a must-read for most people in and out of uniform. 

Maj Richard P. Loesch III, USAF

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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