…those who fought in Viet Nam learned about life and death, but most of all about themselves. In the story you are about to read, there is a universal truth: warriors don’t fight for their country or flag, they fight for each other, often going far beyond what their country asks. It was an honor to serve at the same time as these men. This story is about the nation’s best!
—Lance W. Lord, General, USAF (ret)
Jim Hooper’s tribute to his brother Bill, a Bird Dog pilot with the 220th Recon Airplane Company, is a classic story of war and close combat. From hell-raising antics in the clubs and bars to hair-raising combat operations, where death was often only inches away, this is a must read. For those who have never “seen the elephant”, this might be hard to understand; those who have will instantly identify with the actions of their fellow warriors. Flying an unarmored aircraft well within the effective range of every enemy weapon on the battlefield to protect the grunts in close combat takes a special breed of heroes. This book chronicles the exploits of such men.
—Gary L. Harrell, Lieutenant General, USA (ret)
I waited a while to read it, but took your book with me on a trip which would avail me time with no communications to intervene. Your book helped me pass an entire day without checking my watch or thinking I should do something else. The differing points of view in your story telling made my mind more agile and had me looking for the differences in each character. It also brought back a few memories of my own limited experience in SE Asia. The attitudes of men in combat toward others who are avoiding it was good for me to recall. The vast difference between those who fight and those who only want to look like fighters remains as stark today—and as hard for non–fighters to see at all. Please give my best to those heroes. Your book did them a good deed, and a great service to those who read it.
—Rich Comer, Major General, USAF (ret)
This is a story about the warrior spirit that has existed in our fighting forces since the birth of our nation. Jim Hooper has nailed this small piece of the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of the Bird Dog pilots of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. It is a moving tribute to the men that flew these small aircraft with skill, courage, determination and a whole lot of brass.
—Mike Seely, Brigadier General, (ret) 74th RAC 1965-6; 245th SAC 1968-9
I flew A-4 Skyhawks out of Chu Lai, and then Bird Dogs with the VMO-6 Fingerprints at Quang Tri for the second half of my tour. This is a magnificent job of presenting the deadly environment faced by everyone who flew in I Corps.
—“Nomad” – Jim Lawrence, Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (Ret)
I find I have to read parts over and over again because my mind fades away as I reminisce. The setting covers so many places I’ve been – Quang Tri, Dong Ha, Rockpile, Vandergrift (LZ Stud), Con Thien and others. Having been in a grunt unit and in 3rd Force Recon in I Corps, I felt truly a part of the pictures. A Hundred Feet Over Hell provided me with a ‘verbal flashback’ that made me breath harder and brought a tear to my eye. Hooper does a remarkable job of providing the sights and sounds of a unit in trouble.
—Tom Wilson, USMC
3rd Force Recon
I commend Hooper for compiling a wealth of information regarding Operation Rich – and confirming my fears of that day. In fact, I felt as though I was reliving it – my heart was pounding in my chest.
—Tom Coopey, Recon Platoon, 1-61
SMITHSONIAN AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE
The author’s brother, Bill, served in the U.S. Army flying a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog over the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, in Vietnam until he was seriously wounded while flying a mission. After a lengthy hospitalization and rehab, he returned home and told his brother Jim about his experiences and those of the men of the 220th Recon Airplane Company—the Catkillers. An established author and combat reporter, Jim Hooper began gathering documents, facts, and records while locating the men in his brother’s unit.
The book narrates the period from Bill Hooper’s arrival in the unit as an FNG (a traditional GI vulgarity—one of many terms, some slang, some official, defined in the book’s glossary) until the end of his final mission.
The DMZ abutted I Corps at the northern border of South Vietnam. Though this was U.S. Marine Corps country, an Army unit provided support for artillery adjustment, recon, and control of air strikes. In the rest of the theater, however, Army O-1 pilots did not act as FACs, or forward air controllers, for air strikes; the Army ran artillery, and the U.S. Air Force FACs ran air strikes. As an added attraction in I Corps, the battleship USS New Jersey maintained a constant vigil off the coast during 1968 and 1969 and could be called upon to add nine 16-inch guns to the almost continuous chorus of “Incoming.”
Here is where some of the most hair-raising fights of the war erupted. The DMZ had been created by treaty to be a buffer zone between the north and south, but the north simply ignored the rules and occupied the entire area, using it as a storage site for supplying its forces in their forays south. Their allies equipped the North Vietnamese army with some bodacious anti-aircraft firepower—multi-barrel guns ranging up to 57-millimeter cannon. Because the O-1s lacked armor, the aircrew’s only defenses were to fly very low over areas with thicker foliage, use the aircraft’s light weight and excellent maneuverability to evade the gunners, and hope artillery or an air strike was on its way.
Hooper examines various combat encounters from many points of view to build detailed composite pictures of events. And he delves deeply into the emotions and bonds that held the unit together, recounting amusing afterhours high jinks, the grim humor of wartime, and the washing away of a day’s stress in that universal solvent, alcohol.
Writing fearlessly and with an artfulness that few others have managed, Hooper has captured the ironies, the buccaneer’s ethos, and the rhythms of men at war.
Thirty years ago, Robert Mason published Chickenhawk, a classic personal account of Vietnam helicopter operations that is still as potent as a satchel charge. I’d rank A Hundred Feet Over Hell right up there with it.
GEORGE C LARSON
ON POINT MAGAZINE
U.S. ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE
Ask any grunt, whether he be Army or Marine, and he will tell you that air support was vital to keeping the enemy at bay. Many battles were won when American aircraft, referred to as ‘fast movers,’ would swing in low and drop their ordnance or napalm, often inciting cheers from the ‘ground pounders’ observing the action.
To achieve maximum accuracy, pilots known as FO’s, or forward observers, would fly at extremely low altitudes in small Cessna O-1 planes called Bird Dogs to observe enemy movements and relay their findings back to the Direct Air Support Center. These brave individuals did a remarkable job under extremely trying circumstances to deliver much-needed air support for those on the ground.
Jim Hooper has written a gutsy account of the ‘Catkillers’ in Vietnam. Their area of operations was in the northernmost section of the country called I Corps. There they dodged Communist antiaircraft and rifle fire. They did an extraordinary job of controlling air strikes for both Marine and Army outfits combating North Vietnamese Army forces crossing into South Vietnam via the DMZ.
An interesting addition to the book is the epilogue explaining what became of each pilot after his return stateside. Each individual has enjoyed great success in his respective endeavors, and many have commented how rewarding their tour of duty was with the Catkillers. The positive remarks by these Vietnam veterans help combat the perpetual myth that all who served there came home either a drug addict or a crazed killer. Hooper deserves a big thank you from Vietnam vets for writing this book and relating how these aviators served honorably during an unpopular conflict.
With today’s technology of satellite imagery, global positioning and unmanned aerial systems (UAS), Jim Hooper reminds us that in Vietnam reconnaissance was performed by real-live aviators flying low-level over enemy positions. From their vantage point above the battlefield, the Army pilots reported the current situation to friendly small unit commanders who were leading their formations in close combat with the enemy. These young pilots and their observers, performing missions along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), frequently flew through heavy anti-aircraft fire from Soviet-built air defense weapons.
Hooper’s style of writing quickly catches the reader’s interest. Much better organized and edited than most unit histories, Hooper’s book is highly descriptive. This is an account of close-up war fighting. It is a book about young aviators performing their missions in frail airplanes who withstood terrifying experiences on a daily basis. Pilots tell, in their own words, how they managed to cope with the situation and took off every morning, well aware that the enemy was waiting for them,
Denis L. Dolan
VIETNAM HELICOPTER PILOTS ASSOCIATION
A HUNDRED FEET OVER HELL by Jim Hooper is a very intense portrayal of the Army Aviators who flew the O-1 “Bird Dog” for the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company, callsign Catkillers …The story of incredible bravery and sacrifice of the pilots and backseaters of this unit and others like them have been lost in the literature of what has come to be known as “The Helicopter War.”
To the uninformed, the word “reconnaissance” might imply a somewhat less dangerous mission. Not so with the 220th over the highly disputed terrain of the DMZ. Their brand of recon was done “low and slow” and often in the worst kind of weather in aircraft that were easy targets for every weapon in the NVA inventory. A “day at the office” in this unit usually began with low-level spotting of the NVA and calling in and adjusting artillery. However, unlike their sister units to the south, they were also trained and authorized to call in air strikes which required marking the target at great personal risk. Mix in bad weather, a unit in close contact, and it really gets interesting.
There is an old saying I heard when I first joined the helicopter fraternity: “airplanes fly themselves, helicopters just naturally want to crash.” While there may be a grain of truth to this, it hardly applies to those who flew with the 220th and her sister units. Stick, rudder, fabric, skill, hope and luck kept this unit in the air. A grease mark on the windshield helped them guide the rockets used for marking targets and they weren’t above firing their M-16s out the window and dropping hand grenades. Where did they find the men to do this? You know where, just look around at the next VHPA reunion or chapter meeting or…in the mirror.
Military Review Magazine
The “Catkillers” of the 220th RAC flew what could very arguably be the most dangerous sustained combat mission profiles of any aircrews during the Vietnam War. Their vulnerable old O-1 Bird Dogs belonged to a long-ago era, yet were pressed into service to provide the eyes for the fast-movers and artillery carrying the high explosives and napalm to the enemy. …piloting single-engine near-antique airplanes over some of the most heavily defended ground ever in the history of warfare is the definition of guts.
Author Jim Hooper has captured the essence of what his brother Bill, Catkiller 12, and his fellow pilots and airborne observers had to overcome in terms of the enemy, fickle weather, very rudimentary avionics and sometimes unenlightened leadership to carry the war to a capable and determined enemy. The book is at times gritty, often intensely personal, and always exceptionally readable. There is humor, angst, destruction and death at a very visceral level, written with an obvious passion.
This is a very good book and perhaps a better story, following the participants into their post-Vietnam lives and with their insights given from the clear perspective of looking back in time. This is a “must-read” for those with an interest in the Vietnam War.
Colonel Larry Mayes, USAF (ret)
3rd Bn. 3rd Marines Vietnam Group
The hell of which Jim Hooper writes was, for some of us, our hell, the DMZ 1968 and 69. Those little Cessna type airplanes buzzing above us are what this book is about. Their call sign was Catkiller and the pilots were US Army. The aerial observer in the back seat was a Marine and used the call sign Southern. The support those guys gave to 3/3 and other grunt units cannot be praised highly enough. They were our Guardian Angels. They gave us an overview of the situation that was impossible to get with AK rounds passing inches overhead. They warned us when the enemy tried flanking or envelopment movements. They adjusted artillery on our enemies in the next hedgerow or tree line. They brought in the Phantoms and Sky Hawks we requested and fired the marking rounds for the fast movers to annihilate the enemy who kept us from retrieving our wounded. And when we heard NVA guns above the DMZ and then the incoming rounds screeching down on us, it was the Catkillers who flew up there and directed the counter battery fire, airstrikes and naval gunfire to shut them down.
The author’s brother Bill Hooper piloted one of those Bird Dogs. The book details the complicated business of hovering slowly above NVA troops and vectoring in jet aircraft traveling six times faster while marking the target for the jets with rockets and making sure the jets knew where we were. If you ever wondered how all that happens this book will let you know. Then there’s the high plane low plane game they played with NVA artillery north of the Ben Hai River. The high plane flew at 6000 feet to spot muzzle flashes. The low plane flew at a thousand to draw their fire. How’s that for a stressful job? As the recipients of much NVA artillery this book explains what brave men did to get it shut off for us. Thank you, Catkillers.
—Jeff “TJ” Kelly, Author of DMZ Diary
Amazon Customer Reviews
I have read countless books about Military Aviation. My interest increased exponentially after Combat with TF Ripper in Desert Shield / Storm. I believe I am alive to be the curmudgeon I am now due to Military Aviators. Yet after all those books I knew nothing of Slow FACs flying tiny Cessnas. What a delight indeed to read another book about Catkillers. SFMF
I flew backseat in an O-1 Birddog with the 220th out of Danang-Marble Mountain. This account gave me goose bumps and brought me to tears. Could NOT have been more real.
David A Thompson
As being one unit of Marines these Catkillers flew over and protected, I was honored to have read these stories. Factual from a Marine corpsman’s point of view and an actual eye witness.
ANTHONY MILAZZO JR
I was aware of the O-1s from reading books about Vietnam by infantryman and long range reconnaissance patrol team members. This book provides the O-1 pilot’s perspective. I didn’t think, prior to reading this book, about the intense stress those pilots must have been under trying to save fellow soldiers from annihilation while coordinating various types of aircraft with various types of ordnance along with artillery. All this while trying to fly a slow moving plane, taking ground fire and often fire from antiaircraft batteries, trying to keep the endangered men in sight, communicating the location of the enemy with the ground troops on one radio frequency while talking to pilots flying attack aircraft on another, and trying to orient the plane so they could fire white phosphorus marking rockets precisely enough to mark the location of friendlies so the attack aircraft could drop their weapons in the best location without hitting their own men! This is a well written book and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a slightly different perspective of the Vietnam war.
Fabulous tale. Written in an engaging, clear fashion. Loved the way Hooper doesn’t idealize his brother but presents him and the rest of the Catkillers with all their blemishes. Great read, full of insights and eloquence about the realities of combat.
This is a fantastic book. Hooper’s writing puts you in the middle of the action. This is one book you will not put down willingly until finished. The men he writes about are truly heroes. They willingly (and sometimes against orders) put themselves in great danger to protect their brothers in arms on the ground. It surely speaks to the fighting spirit of the U.S. servicemen who gave it their all, not necessarily for political ideals but to support and protect the men on the ground. I will recommend this book to everyone I know that is interested in the history of our armed forces.
Very informative, I had no idea what our brave pilots supported the ground troops during battle conditions. This is a good account and well documented book. Could not put it down once I started to read it.
A great narrative about what really happened in Vietnam, far superior to any sterile self-serving After Action Report that the Army might have written. Easy to read style and a great format. I was an infantrymen on the ground that was always happy to see the Bird Dogs show up.
Louis A Pepi
All America asked was for these men to do their duty. Everything they did was extraordinary. These are rare young men who gave everything during a time when many gave nothing. They came home to catcalls and criticism. Shame on America. Terrific story and all true.
Richard A. Reep
I was a Marine in I corps during the time this book talks about and was amazed then at the courage it must have taken to fly those spotter planes. This is an amazing chronicle of a brave group of men.
I was there 1969-70. The FAC’s were a lifeline and radio relay for our Ranger teams operating inside the DMZ. The job they did was way outside the box. We loved them. This book is an excellent read whether you were in Quang Tri Province or not. Hard to put down. RLTW!!
Terry B. Roderick
A stirring account of the role of the spotter aircraft in Vietnam. They have all since been replaced with drones, but flying over a battlefield in a tiny, fabric-covered aircraft took unbounded bravery for the few that did it.
As an Army Aviator with over 1,500 hours in the Birddog and flown helicopters and the L-20 Beaver for my tours in Vietnam, I struggled to relate to these insane, skilled Aviators taking the O-1 Birddog thru fantastic maneuvers not in the “books” to accomplish their missions of directing artillery, Naval gun fire and air strikes…to survive in an aircraft that was not built to be in their environment. Flying upwards of 1,000 hours of combat time with total regard only for the troops on the ground, they all should have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Oh, and the use of their four wing loaded rockets to mark targets AND actually attack enemy targets…was bravery at its highest level. WHAT A FACTUAL STORY!!!
Having flown as a backseater in the O-1s, I really understand what went on here. Very good book. My time was in I Corps, a Marine Anglico unit attached to the MACV, supporting the Army, the Vietnamese Marines and the Arvins. The book was well written and very true to life.
I will never again look at a Cessna small plane without thinking about how brave these men were in Vietnam. An excellent book, about a part of the Vietnam War overlooked. I highly recommend this book just so others could see what these men did for their fellow soldiers and their country. To the Catkillers, you are the bravest guys I’ve ever, ever read about.
This is a well done piece of history based on the pilots’ own words. It covers the years 1968 & 69 in an intense role in a very active area. All of the flying is in tiny modified Cessna aircraft called the O-1. The stories are amazing. Recommended.
This was one of the most fascinating and enjoyable books that I’ve read in years. And it was a great piece of history related to the Vietnam War era. The things that young men can do in the call of duty is always amazing to me. I’m just sorry the politicians wasted so many lives in a war they were not allowed to win. Thanks Catkillers, this was a great ride.
Hard to put down. A very well-researched and well-written book, with detailed and accurate accounts of many of the missions and those who flew them to save so many. Thank you Jim Hooper for sharing the story of these brave Americans.
Paul Le Hardy – USAF, Ret.
A graphic reminder to those who flew in Vietnam of the danger, excitement, frustration, political bs, hardships and humor experienced by most who served. Well written, hard to put down – a good read!
This book is excellent because it really does a wonderful job of describing how air support actually worked in Vietnam. Many times the author makes you feel like you’re in the pilot’s seat, wrestling with the analytical problems of calculating flight paths, altitudes, and ordnances for air strikes, or for walking in artillery until it hits the target. There are many, many stories of missions that give you a good flavor of what it was like to be there. I would recommend this book for all readers because it provides such a unique point of perspective.
This is a unique look at a group of aviators who literally brought a knife to a gun fight…each and every day. Having personally flown Cessna 180s and other low and slow taildraggers, I could never imagine flying one into what many have described as the “most concentrated air defenses every conceived”. This book looks at the whole cast of characters involved in this deadly mission, from aircrews barely out of college to the ground maintenance grunts keeping their 2 seat prop jobs in the air. The book touches on the struggle of facing death everyday, laughing out loud when the enemy misses, drinking because you have to just to do it all over again tomorrow and the lives of those who flew low and slow so that others may live. Truly enjoyed every page of it.
Extremely well written, takes you right into the cockpits of tough little airplanes with a war exploding all around you! Unlike many war reminiscences, this is not the tale of a single pilot. Rather it is collection of the memories of an entire unit, their fears, anger, and above all, comradeship. To round it out the author has gathered tales of the soldiers on the ground whose lives were saved by the actions of these daring forward observer/pilots. I have read many books about the heroes of aviation but none have grabbed me as much as this one. A keeper for sure!
Just finished reading ‘A Hundred Feet Over Hell’ by Jim Hooper, which I hereby give my ‘Best Book of the Year So Far Award’. A fabulous read for anyone interested in Vietnam War history and small airplanes. No sexy jets for these guys, but one of Wichita’s finest, a Cessna tail dragger capable of maybe 100 knots, with a 200 hp piston engine – virtually unarmed – flying at the front lines of a s***ty war. The book is absolutely top shelf, deserving a place next to the oral histories of the great Studs Terkel. Funny. Poignant. Awe inspiring. Deeply moving. And sometimes truly breathtaking to read.
I flew Bird Dogs out of Pleiku and Kontum ’68 – ’69. Reading this book took me back to my time in Hell. Most FAC pilots lived on the ragged edge, never knowing if they would make it home in one piece. Jim Hooper depicts our role in support of ground troops in such detail and clarity that I set the book aside several time to reflect on my personal experiences in Vietnam. That being said, Mr. Hooper honors the memory of all FACs, our crews, the men crazy enough to ride with us, and our wonderful Dawgs that we rode into battle. He portrays the individual with humility and, at times, humor. Using input from many sources from the Catkillers and those they supported, brings to life the real story of the 220th RAC and their mission.
It really demonstrated the extreme bravery of the FAC’s and their absolute desire to protect the troops. Great flying stories.
I was fortunate enough to fly with the “Catkillers” 2nd platoon out of Phu Bai in 68, so for me reading Jim Hooper’s book a “Hundred Feet Over Hell” was like traveling back in time. The events and missions of these brave pilots is described in vivid detail. The combat detail is so well written that when the Veterans Administration denied me “combat status” for my disability claims, I introduced the book as “Exhibit A” in my hearing before the Board of Veterans Appeal. The VBA then granted me my “combat Status”. Thank you Jim Hooper.
AO 82nd Airborne
I was a crewchief on the 0-1 Birddogs with the 220th in 1968 so this book was fascinating to me. I highly recommend it!
Absolutely amazing what those brave young pilots did over there to help their fellow Americans. Couldn’t put it down. One of the best books about Vietnam I’ve read.
Found this book to be very interesting and a wonderful glimpse into this small facet of the Vietnam conflict. These men did their job above and beyond as they tried to support the ground forces against a dedicated enemy. The camaraderie and the shared adversity is clearly demonstrated in this book – the boredom of the “down” time and the rush of the combat missions. This was an eye-opening read and one that kept me focused on reaching the next page. Being a Nam vet myself, I must say that my hat is off to these pilots and their devotion to duty and to each other.
Roger S. Durham
The author has done a marvelous job of capturing the flavor of the day to day action in the northern I Corps area of operations in Vietnam. Most people do not realize the amazing flying and the crucial role the Catkillers played in protecting and aiding the infantry troops on the ground. This book brings to life the constant tension of day to day combat as well as some of the lighter moments. As the OIC of Dong Ha DASC for at least part of the time period described in this book I had first-hand knowledge of some of the events. These are “true stories unembellished by time”. A great read!
This book is powerful using the candid words and recollections of pilots flying slowly over the Vietnamese landscape to control air strikes. I had no understanding of the complexity of how these attacks worked or the incredible courage it took to fly through a hail of gunfire while making split-second decisions to save our troops on the ground. The book brings the Vietnam War into even sharper focus.
Tim F. Merriman
The book was about real situations and real heros. I had trouble putting it down. I served in Viet Nam and cannot imagine how these guys kept going up into these situations and doing it day after day. Great Book if you like true war stoies.
This book shows the courage of the Catkillers who flew around the DMZ to support the ground troops who were out numbered by the NVA. We lost a lot of good men trying to stop them, I know because I was there as an infantryman at the DMZ. These pilots risked being shot down every day and still flew to support us. I owe my life to them.
I’m only half way through this book but very pleased. It is as described, puts you right in the action. Lots of Vietnam military terminology used which takes some getting used to but you get the hang of it quick and it adds to the realism. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the Vietnam War and I recommend this to any pilot. As a general aviation pilot I just can’t imagine flying the small airplanes we fly in such an environment. Enjoy!
This is one of those books I finally managed to put down to go to sleep, but then decided to do just one more page. Or maybe a chapter. Or maybe just finish it in the process. And I put it down frequently to let things sink in. It is really up close & personal. I found myself grabbing other books and web pages on the Vietnam war to get a grip on the context and setting around the storyline. Well-researched, well-written.
Hooper’s story was long overdue. I was personally acquainted with several of the pilots mentioned in this book. We went to flight school together, were in Vietnam at the same time, or flew for the same airline. What I really appreciated was Hooper’s celebration of a great little airplane that you didn’t so much fly as wrap around you. Ground-fire notwithstanding the O-1 was so much fun to fly. I hope the reader gets a sense of the selfless bravery of the pilots who flew this airplane and this mission. So close to the ground that the enemy had a face that could be seen, and he could see us. Hooper’s story took me back to a time in my youth when I was bullet-proof…
Francis A. Doherty
Just finished 100 Feet Over Hell. I can’t recall a book taking me through all the emotions I experienced reading it. Jim Hooper put me in that tiny cockpit as he wrote about the brave pilots as they flew their missions in support of the grunts on the ground. I have read many books about Vietnam, but none come so close to explaining the supporting role of the Bird Dogs and their ground crews. I highly recommend 100 Feet Over Hell.
Vance L. Mccrumb.
I have read countless books on the Vietnam War. From stories of SOG’s elite to the fighter pilots over Hanoi. I read them all. This was the first book I read on FACs and I must say it was one of the best books I have read on ‘Nam. Well written, full of action, humor, and morality, this book has it all! These guys flew unarmored prop driven Cessnas into North Vietnam and all over South Vietnam sometimes below tree top level to call in arty, air strikes and sometimes to fire their M16s out the windows during the heat of intense battles. And they all did it well.
A Hundred Feet Over Hell, took me back to a time that was always in my mind, but very seldom spoke about. I knew all the great pilots who risked their lives every day they were in the air and at times on the ground during the 1968-1969 period. When you read this outstanding book, you realize these were men who were “just doing their job”, but in reality, were heroes. They didn’t look for praise, just wanted to do whatever it took to protect their brothers on the ground. If that meant putting their lives in harm’s way, so be it. I’m proud to have served with these men.
A Hundred Feet Over Hell is the dramatic story of a few men who fought in a war that I am sure that they did not understand at the time. The book presents the Vietnam conflict as it was experienced, both the good and the bad, by the Catkillers. The conflict in Vietnam, like every other conflict in which human life is lost, will always be ugly, but the heroism of some of its participants and their will to survive against all odds is inspiring. Until I picked up A Hundred Feet Over Hell, I had never heard of the Catkillers. Now I will never forget them.
Jim Hooper has written a very “real” book. As an O-1 pilot with the Marine “Fingerprints” flying out of Khe Sahn and Quang Tri, I found myself relieving several moments of “sheer terror” followed by total elation. The book is heart-warming but still too fresh in my mind. Hats off to Mr. Hooper for finally writing a book about a forgotten segment of the war.
Peter H. Erenfeld
Jim Hooper’s excellent book illustrates who and what we really fought for over there. These young men risked their lives to save guys like me on the ground whom they’d never met and only knew that we were fellow Americans in danger. When I was first contacted about adding my story to this work I was pretty skeptical. I’d read too many glorified daydreams in print written by those who obviously didn’t understand what it was really like to think that this effort would be much different. Man, was I wrong! Jim has woven together real life accounts and insightful commentary in a truly masterful work. I have family members who started out only to read the parts where my story appears and wound up devouring the entire book in an evening while declaring it the best collection they’d ever read about the Vietnam War. I highly recommend this book to anyone who might be interested in a “realistic” portrayal of combat in the Vietnam theater rather than the typical drivel that has been created over the years by most of the mass media.
—Peter Van Haren, 2nd Platoon B-1/77 Armor, RVN 1968-69
I spent two years in Northern Vietnam near the area where the Catkillers operated. I flew UH-1B and Cobra gunships. We operated in a similar setting, but at least we were able to shoot back! Jim Hooper does what few authors are capable of doing – he actually puts you in the aircraft. As I read his book I was right back in the action. I experienced the sights, smells, and feelings that I hadn’t felt for over 40 years. It is a story that should have been told a long, long time ago. For those that have “been there, done that” you will be able to do it again from your recliner. I guarantee your heart rate will go up. If there was such a thing as a Medal of Honor with “V” device, it would be awarded to some of the O-1 pilots of the Vietnam War. This book deserves 10 stars.
Ronald C. Richtsmeier
This book captured my attention right off. You do not have to be a pilot to appreciate what events are told in the book. Hooper has a knack of telling his story for everyone. I was a Bird Dog pilot in the 221st RAC in IV Corps 65-66 and a Mohawk pilot in I Corps 68-69. The book expertly describes the Bird Dog mission as I knew it. I recommend “100 Feet Over Hell” to anyone interested in the way it was in Vietnam.
I loved “A Hundred Feet Over HELL” by Jim Hooper from the first page. I spent hundreds of hours as an aerial observer in the same area flying out of Dong Ha and Camp Carroll for the 108th Artillery, the 1st Bn 5th(MECH), the 1st Arvn Regiment and the 101st Airborne. This book is riveting and I couldn’t put it down. I knew the terrain intimately and the stories brought back many memories of that area and the DMZ, the people and wonderful soldiers I met and served with. The professionalism and bravery of the aviators and their “backseats” put the rest of us to shame. The author worked hard to put together not only a comprehensive timeline of events, but fleshed it in wonderfully with personal stories and vignettes and even was able to find some of the grateful “ground pounders” whose lives and limbs they saved. It’s a great book, and one of the few that talks about northern I Corps other than about the Tet offensive at Khe Sahn.
Michael W. Potter
Jim Hooper has captured the essence of combat flying. The bullets seem to rip through the cockpit; the radio chatter with the grunts, support aircraft and other FACs are true to life. These men hung their lives on the props of single engine aircraft to support the infantrymen. 100 Feet Over Hell ranks in the top five combat books I have read. I flew Hueys in Vietnam, these guys had larger gonads than most.
Great read. Gives excellent insight into the mind set of soldiers from that era. These guys were a true “band of brothers” as well as great Americans. Hope someone makes this story into a movie. It reveals a fascinating aspect of “close air support” in Vietnam that few people know about.
William D. Goodner
I was honestly sad that the book came to an end. This will forever be one of my favorites I’ve ever read.
William R. Davis
As a combat veteran of the 101st Airborne Division in the very same I Corps region as the setting for the book, I thought I was familiar with combat operations. After reading “100 Feet Over Hell”, I was able to see the war from a much different perspective. All we knew about Bird Dogs was that they were a radio call sign for artillery. Jim Hooper gives vivid descriptions through the eyes of his brother and fellow Bird Dog pilots. The absolute hell that the Bird Dogs went through to provide artillery support for us grunts on the ground was something I didn’t appreciate until reading this book. It is very well written, well presented and well researched. Jim Hooper is a professional writer and his talent shows throughout this book.
I was with the 2nd Bn 3rd Marines during the time frame covered by this book. Our AO was the area described by Jim, northern I Corps. His descriptions of places and events are so vivid that I felt I was back on Foxtrot ridge. If you were there you need to read this book.
If you were in VietNam as a “grunt” or an aviator this is a book you need to read. It’s both a history and a tribute to a unique group of young men who did incredible things with their small, slow planes while supporting our troops on the ground. Jim Hooper has done a great job of assembling the experiences of his brother’s unit and presenting them in a way that the reader can appreciate the dedication and professionalism of each member of the Catkillers. As a VietNam vet who had the privilege of working with both Army and Air Force aviators, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it highly.
Very few books capture my attention enough to read them through without stopping. A Hundred Feet Over Hell is one of those. Jim Hooper has skillfully crafted the 220th Catkiller story by seasoning first person accounts from those that served as Catkillers with his own third person narrative to add context only when necessary. It’s a blend that does justice to their incredible story of skill, courage, sacrifice, humor and sadness set in the backdrop of the Vietnamese DMZ during the late sixties.
As a retired military professional and Army aviator of a more recent era, I am simply amazed and deeply impressed at the hair raising feats these Army FACs and their Marine observers accomplished over and across the DMZ on a daily basis with their small and frail O-1 Bird Dogs, a few marking rockets, M-16s, grenades, radios and a map. It’s the stuff of legend and a proud legacy for all current and future warriors to be inspired by. I highly recommend this book for your reading and library collection. You won’t be disappointed.