BONNIE-SUE begins as a timeless classic, a story of men locked in combat. Yet, the book soars far above the mud of war. The author blends detail, emotion, and you-are-there realism. Day by day, without profanity, be breathes life and loyalty into a desperate struggle for survival. Against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960's, BONNIE-SUE evolves into a saga of commitment and sacrifice, love and brotherhood.
Marine Corps helicopter crews and infantrymen found little glory waiting for them in faraway Vietnam. Instead, they found themselves mired in a life-and-death battle with tenacious Sino-Soviet pawns.
Marion Sturkey, a Marine Corps helicopter pilot in Vietnam, combines fascinating detail with grim realism. After-Action-Reports, Unit Diaries, and hundreds of records from the Marine Corps Archives create the outline for his riveting chronology. Onto this framework the author weaves personal accounts from the helicopter crews and infantrymen. Day by day, he breathes life into this eloquent saga of Marines at war.
The reader steps through a looking glass into the crucible of combat. Through real men in real places -- no pseudonyms -- one sees the madness, the passion, the love, the horror, and the loyalty shared by pilots, aircrewmen, and infantrymen. In the end, their survival became their victory.
To date, there is no better book about the Marine helicopter war in Vietnam. It rises above the mud of war and takes the reader on a ride that is not only terrifying, but an inspiring mission with professional and courageous men.
(Leatherneck Magazine November 1997)
BONNIE-SUE is one of the most compelling books about commitment and sacrifice by Marines for their fellow Marines during the mid-1960s. This is a book about commitment. It should be read by all Marines.
(Marine Corps Gazette December 1997)
An excellent accounting of what it was like to really be there. You will read about yourself and those you served with. We highly recommend it to all pilots and aircrew.
(USMC Vietnam Helicopter Association Winter 1997)
This is our story, told some twenty to thirty years later, but as chilling and touching to us who were there as if it took place yesterday. Who are we? We are every Marine helicopter aircrewman who flew in Vietnam.
(Marine Corps Aviation Association Summer 1997)
There is no crying or remorse, only a factual, hard-hitting and truthful approach to reality. The detailed history of the Marine helicopter pilot has never been written in such a hard, cold-steel, factual way as this great book reveals.
(Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association June 1998)
From other reviews:
|"It rises far above the mud of war." |
|"Accurate and factual, riveting and compelling." |
|"Cuts straight to the heart." |
|"A true story of loyalty and dedication, commitment and sacrifice." |
|-- BOOK EXCERPTS -- |
EXCERPT ONE, Copyright 1996 Marion F. Sturkey: We verbally rehearsed our plan on the ICS. Strange, but I remember that our voices were calm and steady, and none of us had any reservations despite the perils of our task. We had to succeed. Our only fear was the fear of possible failure, the fear of making some dumb mistake, the fear that we might somehow let our fellow Marines down. The Grunts down below depended on us. They relied on us in a way that no men can understand unless they have endured the volatile crucible of warfare together. We could not -- must not -- fail them.
Guided by the gunships, we turned eastward and started down. This would be a power-on approach all the way, since we could not yet see where we might land. Deadlock hung with us, radioing verbal guidance. Down below the Grunt radioman chimed in and tried to help. I could tell that he was scared. His whispering voice sounded squeaky and several octaves too high. From experience I knew why he was whispering -- not a good omen for us.
We slowed to about 70 knots as we passed through 300 feet of altitude. Peering through the darkness, I could now see the ground below me. The faint light remaining revealed deep gullies and ravines all around the small knoll. Where could we land? Where?
EXCERPT TWO, Copyright 1996 Marion F. Sturkey: We waited for our crew chief and gunner. Then, side by side, the four of us walked across the flight line toward the drab olive-green row of HMM-265 tents. The crew chief and gunner ambled off toward the armory tent to drop off their machineguns, while Harpo and I sauntered into the ready-room.
I looked at the other pilots around me. They were all my friends. The camaraderie, the trust, and the loyalty can never be explained to one who has not experienced the unique bond that is shared by Marine Corps helicopter pilots in combat. Our bond transcended material possessions, military rank, and social status. We shared a brotherly love, a love that no earthly circumstance could ever shatter. War is a cruel game, a brutal game, a deadly game. I knew that this would be the most intense and utopian experience that I would ever have. Although it now sounds insane, right at that moment I would not have traded places with anyone else on earth.
EXCERPT THREE, Copyright 1996 Marion F. Sturkey: Sounding much weaker now, Srsen yelled a final warning to his friends: "Grenades!" Then, from Srsen's direction came the unmistakable sound of a fierce struggle. After that, no one heard from him again.
0715 Hours: Another shower of grenades landed in and around the perimeter. The chilling rattle of AK-47 fire swept over the ridge. The Marines fired back through the thick vegetation and threw grenades down the incline. Most of the Marines were hit now, mainly by grenade fragments. Neither the Marines nor the North Vietnamese could see each other because of the tall and thick elephant grass.
Hopkins and his assistant patrol leader, Staff Sergeant David A. Woodward, each grabbed a handful of grenades. They ran about 20 feet out through the elephant grass, and from there they hurled their high explosive grenades in the direction of the North Vietnamese. Hopkins got hit in the face and hand, but both he and Woodward were able to scamper back into the Marine perimeter.
Now the incoming fire intensified, and the Marines fired back. The only sensation was of chaos, bedlam, and unceasing crescendos of deafening noise.
Joe watched one dazed and bleeding corporal, nearly insane with savage rage, jump to his feet. He began screaming almost incoherently: "COME ON, CHARLIE, COME ON, CHARLIE!" Berserk now, he charged out of the perimeter while firing his M-14 from the hip, ran down the slope, and disappeared in the thick vegetation. Without a word, another bleeding Grunt heroically ran down after him.
Another shower of enemy hand grenades rained down into the tiny Marine perimeter. PPOOOWWWW! Joe reeled under the blow. He was deaf. He could hear nothing, but he felt no pain. What had happened? Had someone kicked him in the head?
EXCERPT FOUR, Copyright 1996 Marion F. Sturkey: The Grunts straggled up behind their assigned helicopters. Here they dropped their gear, their rifles, and sat down on the grass to wait . . . The Grunts knew full well what lay in store for them that hot Indochinese morning. Dong Ha was near the coast in the flatlands. The coming battle, however, would be fought on terrain that is maddening, worse than any the Marine Corps had ever encountered, even worse than Guadalcanal. The mountains west of Dong Ha are cloaked in 100 foot high jungle canopy. Beneath that dense foliage lies a tangled and nearly impenetrable mass of vines and undergrowth so thick that machetes are needed to hack through it. The jungle vegetation is so dense that at midday it appears almost as dark as at midnight.
There would be no breeze to ease the stifling and suffocating heat, no relief from the constant swarms of stinging insects that make days miserable and nights unbearable. The jagged and jungled Cordillera is a wild and uninhabited wilderness. It is spooky beyond mortal belief, a foreign land where demons, trolls, and evil spirits might live and roam the earth.
EXCERPT FIVE, Copyright 1996 Marion F. Sturkey: Grunts view helicopter crews with a liberal dose of apprehension. Most Grunts look upon transportation by helicopter as an evil omen, an occupational hazard, a mode of travel to be avoided if humanly possible. For these Grunts, a helicopter assault into a hot landing zone can be terrifying. While in the helicopter in the air, they have no control over their destiny. Strapped into the web troop seats, they are buffeted by the wild vibration of a twisting high-speed autorotative descent. The shrill metallic whine of the aft transmission drowns out the wail of the turbines. Battered by the tooth jarring shudders from flying through the invisible rotor-wash of a preceding helicopter, hearing the crackle of small arms fire below, the Grunts are powerless to respond. Swept along by unseen aerodynamic and mechanical forces beyond their control and understanding, they pray for the relative safety of a firefight on solid ground.
Song Ngan Valley, July 15, 1966, 0755 Hours: Our flight of helicopters swept westward toward the Rockpile, then turned to the north. Below us lay the jungle, an unbroken sea of green. Off to my left, the volcanic black wall of the massive Razorback glistened like a mirror in the early morning sunlight.
EXCERPT SIX, Copyright 1996 Marion F. Sturkey: On rubbery legs we crawled out of the helicopter, lapsed into inane boyish laughter, and collapsed onto the soft green grass. The thrill, the ecstasy, surpassed human description. We rolled in the grass, laughed, and congratulated ourselves on nothing more than our survival, our ultimate victory, our greatest joy of all. Life truly is an incredible gift.
Military rank, social status, and financial standing meant nothing here. We were all equal, all brothers, all proud professionals, all Marines. We gloried in our tradition, in our brotherhood, and in our sacred trust that can be broken by nothing other than death itself. Together we shared the passion, the love, the horror, the incommunicable experience of Marines at war. We lived and flew in the presence of death, but we were never more alive.
All of us were young, with hearts and spirits touched by fire. Years later, our survival would become our victory.
Prologue: (300 B.C. -- 1966) Mongols, Thais, and Indians migrate into Indochina during the first millennium B.C. These "Vietnamese" endure 23 centuries of political and military strife. The French Army conquers Vietnam in 1884, and French governors replace the Royal Vietnamese Emperors. Foreign rule ends after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. North Vietnam begins a political and military campaign to topple the South Vietnamese government. United States Marines arrive in 1962 to help defend the South Vietnamese.
HELICOPTER VALLEY: (July 14-16, 1966) The outnumbered Marines stage a daring helicopter assault. They charge into the Song Ngan Valley wilderness to thwart an across-the-DMZ invasion by North Vietnam. Five of the Marine helicopters are swatted down from the sky as the epic slugfest begins.
HARD DAYS -- HARD NIGHTS: (July 16 -- August 5, 1966) Exhausted helicopter crews fly day and night to supply the Marine infantry with the tools of warfare. An enemy regiment decimates a Marine infantry company. Helicopter crews race into the battle. In the face of the onslaught, the North Vietnamese withdraw into the impenetrable jungle.
THE EIGHTH NIGHT OF AUGUST (August 6-9, 1966) A Marine reconnaissance team known as "Groucho Marx" stumbles into the enemy. Helicopters rush reinforcements into the fray, but the North Vietnamese surround the tiny Marine perimeter. Downed helicopter pilots and aircrewmen join the Marine infantry and fight their attackers throughout the night.
MUTTER RIDGE (August -- October 1996) Atop the northern rim of Razorback Valley, helicopter crews join the 40 day struggle for control of rugged Nui Cay Tre Ridge. Only blind luck -- nothing more -- dictates who dies, and who lives to fly and fight again another day. China and the Soviet Union threaten to throw their massive armies into the brutal fighting.
INTO THE NEW YEAR (October 1966 -- January 1967) Along the DMZ, seven under-strength Marine battalions battle four entire North Vietnamese divisions. The perils of flying in monsoon rain and fog take a deadly toll on the Marines and their helicopters. Clandestine flights into the neverland of Laos become routine.
PHOTOGRAPHS & MAPS: 21 photographs and 4 maps, with descriptive narratives.
THE LONGEST NIGHT: (January 26-27, 1967) Across the South Vietnamese border in Laos, the North Vietnamese surround a Marine reconnaissance team. North Vietnamese gunners shoot down rescue helicopters that try to reach the trapped men. Six helicopters are lost during a night of terror, but none of the dead or wounded Marines are left behind.
THE HILL FIGHTS: (February 2 -- May 10, 1967) The North Vietnamese fortify three remote mountaintop bastions near Khe Sanh. In savage fighting the Marines wrest Hill 881 South, Hill 881 North, and Hill 861 from the enemy. A helicopter crew chief becomes the only American Serviceman in the past 102 years to be awarded the Silver Star on two consecutive days.
THEY BOUGHT THE FARM: (May -- October 1967) The Marine H-46 helicopters are cursed by a mysterious series of fatal crashes. The crashes cease after the helicopter fuselages are structurally reinforced. Meanwhile, the reliable old piston-powered H-34 refuses to step aside for the newer and faster turbine powered helicopters.
LEATHERNECK SQUARE: (May -- December 1967) Marine artillery and North Vietnamese artillery duel day and night. The deafening cannonade could have been mistaken for the World War II siege of Stalingrad. McNamara's Wall becomes an embarrassing failure. The beleaguered Marine infantry relies on its daily helicopter lifeline.
THE SIEGE AT KHE SANH: (January -- April 1968) Khe Sanh, a remote fortress deep in the mountains, is defended by 5,772 Marines. Five mechanized enemy divisions -- 42,100 men -- surround Khe Sanh. Outnumbered seven to one, the Marines get hammered by artillery and infantry assaults. Another Dien Bien Phu? No, swarms of helicopters brave the enemy ring-of-steel each day, and the Marines emerge victorious from the 77 day siege.
Epilogue: (1968 -- 1995) The United States withdraws from Southeast Asia. Backed by China and the Soviet Union, the potent North Vietnamese war machine overwhelms South Vietnam. Surviving Marine pilots, aircrewmen, and infantrymen remember the horror and hardships, the fear and fatigue, the stench and carnage. Yet, they also recall the camaraderie, the love and brotherhood, the passion, the incommunicable experience of Marines at war. They fought and flew hand-in-hand with death, but they were never more alive. Survival became their victory!
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