January 2024

Moral Imperative: 1972, Combat Rescue, and the End of America's War in Vietnam

In 1972, America was completing its withdrawal from the long and divisive war in Vietnam. Air power covered the departure of ground forces, and search and rescue teams from all services and Air America covered the airmen and soldiers still in the fight. Day and night these military and civilian aircrews stood alert to respond to “Mayday” calls. The rescue forces were the answer to every man’s prayer, and those forces brought home airmen, sailors, marines, and soldiers downed or trapped across the breadth and depth of the entire Southeast Asia theater. Moral Imperative relies on a trove of declassified documents and unit histories to tell their tales.

Focusing on 1972, Darrel Whitcomb combines stories of soldiers cut off from their units, advisors trapped with allied forces, and airmen downed deep in enemy territory, with the narratives of the US Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, contract pilots, and special operations teams ready to conduct rescues in Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam. All of these missions occur against the backdrop of our withdrawal from the war and our diplomatic efforts to achieve a lasting peace. In detail, Whitcomb shows how American rescue forces supported the military response to the North Vietnamese’s massive three-pronged invasion of South Vietnam, America’s subsequent interdiction operations against North Vietnam, and ultimately the strategic bombing of Linebacker II.

About the Author

Darrel Whitcomb

Darrel Whitcomb is a 1969 graduate of the Air Force Academy. He served three tours in Southeast Asia as a C-7 pilot and an OV-10 / O-1 forward air controller. He later instructed in T-38s, and flew A-37s and A-10s with the Air Force Reserve. He attended the Army Command and General Staff College and the National War College, and served Air Force Reserve tours on the Air Staff and Joint Staff, and at the Air Command and Staff College, and Air Force Doctrine Center, retiring as a Colonel in 1999. He was also a career airline pilot with Delta Air Lines from 1977 to 2003 retiring as an international captain, and subsequently flew as a contract pilot on C-12s in Iraq in 2004. He logged over 16,000 hours with 2,000 hours in combat. From 1999 to 2015, he also served as an historical analyst and lecturer with the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency in Virginia.

Darrel is an avid writer of aviation, military, rescue, and personnel recovery history, with over 70 articles appearing in a variety of journals and magazines.  He has also published five books: The Rescue of Bat 21; Combat Search and Rescue in Desert Storm; Call Sign – DUSTOFF – A History of U.S. Army Aeromedical Evacuation from Conception to Hurricane Katrina; On a Steel Horse I Ride – A History of the MH-53 Pave Low Helicopters in War and Peace; and Moral Imperative,1972, Combat Rescue and the End of America’s War in Vietnam.

Book Club Session

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