Thursday 22 February 2024

Da Nang Diary (book review)

 Da Nang Diary 

By Col. Tom Yarborough


Published By Casemate, 356 Pages, Hardback

Whilst my wargaming interests are wide and varied, I have little interest in modern periods and Vietnam in particular has never attracted me. I also avoid elites and special forces in my gaming, preferring company/battalion level games. Another aspect of war I rarely touch is aviation, planes usually only acting as on-call artillery in our games, etc. With all this you could expect me to be rather negative about this volume which is about a Forward Air Controller working with Special Forces in Vietnam.

This book is a revised and expanded edition of Yarborough’s original manuscript published 1990, new facts have come to light and documents declassified allowing him to publish a more complete account. The author arrived in Vietnam in April 1970 and was assigned to 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron to fly air reconnaissance over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The book, which is copied from his flight log and a diary which he kept, details his flights, observations, feelings and thoughts. It is a very absorbing read.

 The author flew dozens of missions (some quite scary) until he was “convinced” to join the ultra-secret “Prairie-Fire” mission. This was a secret war, the existence of which had to be kept from the American public, being carried out by MAC SOG across the border in “neutral” Laos and Cambodia. Most regular FAC pilots flew at “relatively” safe altitudes and only rarely suffered from hits from ground fire. Prairie Fire FACs however flew at treetop heights, supporting those small teams of Special Forces and indigenous personnel who were sometimes in close contact with their enemy. This as you would expect led to many hairy moments and the author’s aircraft often returned to base with bullet and flak damage.

 The author goes into great detail about SOG operations and rescues and evacuations. He describes how he and his observer would call in fast jets, propeller aircraft or choppers to support his ground teams or to attack targets of opportunity. There is a great deal of technical, military stuff here, which will prove highly useful to the wargamer who wishes to add FACs or SOG operations to his Vietnam era games. The text is illustrated with period photographs from the author’s collection.

 Beyond the military stuff, you also read Yarborough’s thoughts and fears, his feelings at the loss of friends and comrades, his bitterness at the failings of those above operational level to see what was changing on the ground as the war developed and as the North began to turn the tide against America and its allies. The author in this expanded edition has also been able to add footnotes telling the result of incidents of which, at the time, he had no knowledge. He is also able to give the results of searches made by Joint Task Force Full Accounting who still search the jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to recover the remains of US personnel. These footnotes are a sobering reminder of the true cost of war.

 This is an excellent book, well written and dramatic, highly recommended if you have any interest in Vietnam, Special Forces Operations or close air support.


  1. It’s not especially my area of interest but, as you suggest, flying down low and “near where the action is” would certainly be dangerous. Credit to the crew for their bravery 👏👏

    1. A fascinating read, I got sent a copy to review otherwise I would have missed out on a good book.

  2. Excellent review Richard. Carl