Document created: 16 May 01
Published Aerospace Power Journal - Summer  2001

Viper-7: Forward Air Controlling in South Vietnam in 1966 by Charles L. Pocock. Butterfly and Viper Publishers, 910 Forest View Road, Monument, Colorado 80132, 2000, 414 pages, $23.50.

George Orwell said, "We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." In 1965 Charlie Pocock was one of those rough men although he probably didn’t realize it when he arrived in Vietnam as a forward air controller (FAC).

Self-published and softbound, Viper-7 is for warriors, leaders, and historians. The author took the call sign Viper-7 as chief FAC at Song Be, north of Saigon in III Corps. An Air Force captain and transport pilot with four weeks of training in the O-1, he brought traditional American values and high expectations to the challenge of combat.

Pocock’s rough-hewn memoir takes the reader through wild adventures in the air and on the ground. He becomes a brother to the special forces and their Montagnard soldiers, smashing Vietcong units to bits with airpower. On the ground, fate brings him in regular, face-to-face contact with the enemy, whom he must kill before he himself is killed. Readers will quickly discover that Viper-7 is an evening around a campfire listening to original and captivating war stories.

The book provides vivid history of the early years of American involvement—the good war days—when cooperation and teamwork flourished. Pocock trusted the system to provide a reasonable boss to follow and able troops to lead. The system obliged. At first, missions are clear-cut and doable. During a year of having to subsist on marginal food (saved by peanut butter) and bad water (he lost 40 pounds because of diarrhea), Pocock takes the war aggressively to the enemy. He is shot up and shot down.

Meanwhile, the American presence in Vietnam grows substantially. Pocock shares his view of offensive airpower and his intense dedication to the Green Berets’ mission with the other FAC at Song Be, Lt Howard Walker Kaiser, to whom the book is dedicated. A synergistic bond develops between them—deeper than the ones found among the usual brotherhood of warriors.

Kaiser is killed, and, eventually, Pocock brooks the worst of the human condition in some of the people around him. Strategic questions grow like black clouds on the horizon. On Pocock’s final day at Song Be, a midair collision kills his replacement.

As a Vietnam veteran, I empathized with Pocock’s confrontation with civilization when he returns to the United States. A flight attendant on his Freedom Bird asks him if flying in Vietnam frightened him. He says to himself, "I wonder what she’d say if I told her I was the meanest [SOB] in this valley or any other valley."

Viper-7 is more than a war memoir. It’s a study of leadership and character. If you don’t believe the "leaders are born" theory or if you can’t relate military core values to mission accomplishment, read this book. If you’re looking for a polished manuscript with all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, don’t bother. An editing trip through the book could make Viper-7 an airpower classic.

Col James E. Roper, USAF, Retired
Colorado Springs, Colorado


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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