Memoir of an Aerial Scout in Vietnam
David L. Porter
Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland, 2020, 182 pages
Book Review published on: August 12, 2022
In October 1995, Col. David L. Porter retired from the U.S. Army after twenty-seven years of service, which included two combat tours in Vietnam, service on the Army Staff, and multiple leadership assignments to include battalion and brigade commands. As a successful officer, he has plenty of experiences to share. Nearly twenty-five years after his retirement, he revisits his service, but rather than provide a memoir of his entire service, he chose to focus on his first two years in the Army. Taking Fire! Memoir of an Aerial Scout in Vietnam recounts his first tour in combat with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR).
Porter graduated from South Dakota State in 1968 where he was commissioned as an Armor branch second lieutenant. He immediately attended Armor Officer basic course at Fort Knox, Kentucky, followed by flight training at Fort Wolters, Texas, and finally advanced flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama. After fourteen months in training and thirty days of leave, Porter found himself assigned to the 11th ACR in Quan Loi within twelve miles of the Vietnam-Cambodian border. He was initially assigned as UH-1 pilot in the aerial lift platoon with the 11th ACR’s Air Cavalry Troop. The Air Cavalry Troop consisted of aviation assets that supported the 11th ACR’s ground squadrons with lift support, aerial scout capability, and the ability to engage enemy ground forces through the coordination of aerial scout helicopters and gunships. After three months, Porter joined the aerial scout platoon flying the OH-6 Light Observation helicopter. He worked in conjunction with AH-1H Cobra helicopter pilots to identify enemy ground forces, mark their positions, and direct the helicopter to engage the enemy. Porter spent the next six months as an aerial scout participating in numerous engagements. Then in February 1970, he was reassigned as the Air Cavalry Troop executive officer. He finished his combat tour and safely returned home in July 1970.
The first strength of Porter’s account is the ease in which he crafts his personal story. He continually draws the reader in with his descriptions of the challenges in flying missions with the intricate details of daily life on an airfield in enemy territory. He articulates the thoughts and feelings of his fellow pilots by highlighting their nightly conversations, which they referred to as “Bunch of Guys Sitting Around Talking” or BOGSATs. This is the scene he uses to illustrate the pilots’ thoughts on their missions, their fears, and their constant desire to improve in their craft. His descriptions of flight in a light observation helicopter make readers feel as though they are flying at treetop level scouting enemy forces and receiving enemy fire. These alone push his audience to keep turning the page.
The second strength of Porter’s account is that it goes beyond the typical descriptions of pilots and ground troops in combat. What is unique in Porter’s story is his growth as an officer and professionalism throughout his time in Vietnam. Admittedly, he entered the Army with no aspirations for a career in uniform. He only wanted to complete his obligation and move back to South Dakota to teach in the local high school. However, his perspective changed during his time in the aerial scout platoon. He grew to love his role on the team, enjoyed working with his fellow officers and warrant officers to improve as a scout and pilot, and he admired the professionalism of those he worked and lived with throughout his tour. His growth as a young officer, his desire to continually achieve excellence, contribute to the organization, and lead soldiers is at the true heart of his account. Halfway through his tour, he informed his wife that he wanted to continue to serve in the U.S. Army. While she was not excited about the idea, she was incredibly supportive in his remaining twenty-seven years on active duty.
Overall, Taking Fire! Memoir of an Aerial Scout in Vietnam is a worthwhile book. It is an exceptional account of life as a pilot in Vietnam, and equally as powerful in showing the growth of a young officer in times of adversity. Porter provides a fantastic account of the highs and lows of a year of combat in Vietnam. It is a solid read that is entertaining, insightful, at times funny, and will easily appeal to those in and out of uniform. Not only is it a worthwhile read, but it is also an excellent selection for young leaders and could easily be used in any unit’s leader development program.
Book Review written by: Leland W. Waldrup II, Fort Belvoir, Virginia