Taking Fire

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We’re excited to announce that Taking Fire: Saving Captain Aikman: A Story of the Vietnam Air War is now available! In this book, authors Kevin O’Rourke and Joe Peters tell the story of an unbelievable and dramatic rescue of an U.S. Air Force pilot in Vietnam.

As the air war heats up in the spring of 1972, so does the risk for Air Force aviators who are discovering that Hanoi has used the years of the bombing moratorium to greatly strengthen its formidable and sophisticated air defenses. In the two-week stretch from June 21 to July 5, the Air Force will lose more than twenty places while only taking out four enemy MiGs.

The worst of these worst days for the Air Force may have been June 27, 1972, when four USAF F-4 Phantoms with eight crewmen, four pilots, and four weapons system officers were shot down.

What follows is the account of the rescue of one of these shot-down crewmen, a seriously injured pilot, by the Air Force’s guardian angels: crews assigned to the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Is is through this mission that we meet many of the significant characters and events of air rescues in Vietnam. In what seems to be a conspiracy of fate, a highly decorated cadre of airmen came together to bring one of their own back to safety. This singular rescue link together a litany of aspects of the war, the rescue service, and the remarkable men and women who served in Southeast Asia.

In this exciting story about the little-known Air Force Special Tactics unit, O’Rourke and Peters describe the heroism of the men in the U.S. Air Force Pararesuce during the rescue of Captain Lynn Aikman. To learn more about this story, we talked to Kevin O’Rouke:

When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer? What is it about writing that appealed to you?

I like the idea of being able to tell a story that might have an impact upon the reader. To reveal something to the reader that perhaps was unknown to them before.

Captain Lynn Aikman
Captain Lynn Aikman

What fascinates you about revisiting the past and bringing it to life in a book?  

Well for this book, Taking Fire, Saving Captain Aikman, it was just a great story. I’ve always thought that it was a story that needed to be told. I was also afraid that it would be lost with the passage of time. Much of what is important in this story is relevant to issues that our service people, our nation and the world confront today.

Also, I never liked the way Vietnam Veterans were treated in both film and television. I don’t think Oliver Stone’s Platoon, Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket or the1980 TV Miniseries of Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War should not  define a generation of American’s service and experiences in Vietnam.

When and how did you become interested in Military history?

Ever since I can remember I’ve been fascinated by airplane and living close to a military air base as a child I saw a lot of them. As I got older my curiosity I started to go to the school and public library to read about the aircraft I saw flying into Hanscom Air Force Base. Needless to say many of these aircraft that I observed had served in World War Two and Korea, soon I became a military history buff while reading about the histories of these aircraft and the pilots that flew them.

How much research did you do for the book? 

Over 30 years I interviewed the principals of the piece several times on both audio and videotape. With the advent of the Internet it became easier to do research as libraries achieves came online. The same was true with doing photo research much could be obtained online rather than journeying to Washington to visit the DoD photo archives. In general, the Internet accelerated the research process.

How long did it take you to write it?

I originally began this project in 1981 and have continued to work on it over the years. However, in 2005 I revised the original treatment while working towards a network tv pilot production pitch. In 2008, Joe Peters and I began to develop the treatment into a 70 thousand-word manuscript. So this iteration has been a five year process.

What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?

Chuck McGrath
Chuck McGrath

This book is about “real” people. The kind of people that you might meeting in the line at the supermarket or sit next on the subway. As Chuck McGrath once said to me,”Everyone (in USAF Pararescue) did their job, they did it right and we got a man back”. These guys (pararescuemen) a extremely professional, but yet equally as humble about their abilities and experiences. Chuck McGrath and the men he served with are “real life” heroes, not some reality show creation, but rather the “true gen”.

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2 thoughts on “Taking Fire

  1. Taking Fire is the best Vietnam era search and rescue book I’ve read to date. Chuck McGrath, Chuck Morrow, Dale Stovall and all of the men of the 40th ARRS are my heroes. I was fortunate to fly missions with these combat search and rescue giants. Taking Fire gave me many details about specific missions that I never knew. A great job of telling these rescue stories. I did find a few errors though. On page 150, 3rd paragraph from the bottom of the page talks about the mini-gun. The sentence reads: “If electricity somehow gets cut to the weapon, it does not function at all.” True, the gun will not fire using the triggers if electricity is lost to the weapon, but as long as the housing cover is still in place, manually rotating the barrels will cause the weapon to fire. Many have caused the weapon to fire by not removing the housing cover before manually rotating the barrels to clear the weapon. Also on page 151, second paragraph, it talks about PJs Chuck McGrath and Chuck Morrow giving tuna fish to Cosmic 16B “Woody” Clark. It has been a long time and memories can be tricky, but I gave “Woody” the tuna fish and a can of peaches. “Woody” said he’d eat the tuna first as his mother told him fish was “brain” food. I still have “Woody’s” dog tags. I asked him for them when I pulled him into the helicopter. My name is Dennis Chriswell and I was the flight engineer on “Woody” Clark’s rescue mission.

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