Naval Aviators and the Vietnam War

353 pages

May, 2004

ISBN: 9780814798423




John Darrell Sherwood is an official historian with the U.S. Naval Historical Center. He is the author of Officers in Flight Suits: The Story of American Air Force Fighter Pilots in Korea and Afterburner: Naval Aviators and the Vietnam War, both published by NYU Press. He is also the author of Fast Movers: Aviators and the Vietnam War Experience.

All books by John Darrell Sherwood

View the Table of Contents.
Read the Prologue.

"An exceptionally well written, well documented, fast-moving account."—Washington Times

"This is a book written on multiple levels, and well worth reading."—M.S. Naval Institute Proceedings

"This book is a welcome addition to the history of naval aviation and fills a much-needed void by detailing the later years of the Vietnam naval air campaign."—Sea Power

"Makes for lively, vivid, and informative reading. I would include it...on my list of the top ten books on the air war in Vietnam."
Air Power History

"John Sherwood has done a fine job in giving us a first-rate account of a confusing but critically important period in Naval Aviation history."—The Hook

"As a collection of individual studies and 'war stories,' Afterburner should find an interested readership." —Military History

"With a 45-degree dive angle set, 450 knots of airspeed building, and my altimeter unwinding like crazy, my scan went rapidly between the bombsight and flight instruments. . . . When I looked over my shoulder at the target, I could see where the bombs had hit and exploded."

Through stories like this diary entry of a fighter pilot, John Darrell Sherwood brings forth the personal accounts of 21 naval and marine aviators in this chronicle of the second half of the Navy's air war over Vietnam.

Despite spending over 200 billion dollars and dropping almost 8 million tons of bombs on Southeast Asia, the U.S. was unable to score a definitive victory in the air war. Afterburner takes us inside the day-to-day operations of the air war, particularly during the most intense year of the campaign: 1972. During that year, North Vietnam launched the first large-scale conventional attacks on strongholds in South Vietnam. Sherwood shows how the U.S. fought back with some of the most innovative air campaigns in its history, including Nixon's Linebacker bombings and the Navy's mining operation in Haiphong Harbor. From duels with enemy MiGs to the experiences of Commander C. Ronald Polfer, who became the voice of reason among American POWs in the Hanoi Hilton's Room 5, the detailed stories in Afterburner make these historical events come to life.

Sherwood compiles and analyzes an incredible breadth of information about the details of each of the Navy's operations during the air war and then relates the key parts of the narrative through the eyes of an pilot or flight officer involved in each action. Through tales of courage and fear, triumph and horror, Sherwood reveals the lives of common aircrews who performed extraordinary service. Their experiences illustrate the personal nature of war—even from the air—and show that the air war in Vietnam may have begun as a slow burn, but by 1972, it was more intense than an F-4 afterburner.


  • "This is history at its best. Sherwood provides at once a whole new understanding of the final stages of the air war in Vietnam and a thrilling volume of valor and adventure in naval aviation."-,

    —John Lehman, secretary of the Navy 1981-1987, and author of On Seas of Glory: Heroic Men, Great Ships, and Epic Battles of the American Navy

  • "At times as thrilling as a Tom Clancy novel, Afterburner is more compelling, as the story told is non-fiction. I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the Vietnam War, Naval Aviation, or simply the heroism of Americans at war."-,

    —James Reckner, Director, The Vietnam Center, Texas Tech University

  • "Sherwood's history of the Navy's post-1968 air operations in Southeast Asia and the culture of naval aviators who flew those missions is a must read for military professionals, scholars, journalists, and the interested public."-,

    —Charles J. Gross, author of American Military Aviation: The Indispensable Arm

  • "Sherwood not only provides an excellent overview of the Navy's air operations, but more important, he gives the reader a cockpit's eye view of this epic struggle. Anyone interested in understanding the naval air war in Vietnam as it was really fought needs to read this book."-

    —Congressman Randy Cunningham