BAT 21

English: Lt. Col. Icheal "Gene" Hamb...

English: Lt. Col. Icheal “Gene” Hambleton (Bat 21 Bravo), who was shot down on April 2, 1972 and evaded capture for 11 1/2 days behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War. He was finally rescued by Navy SEAL Thomas R. Norris and ARVN Petty Officer Third Class Nguyen Van Kiet. During the rescue operation, four aircraft were shot down resulting in the deaths of 11-15 airmen and the capture of two more. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William C. Anderson

BAT 21

BAT 21

by William C. Anderson

Reading BAT 21 again, revisited personal wounds in my heart for several reasons, as I will share with you in this review. Perhaps a caveat to the story more than words on the pages but still part of the story and of interest to the reader.   

When Allison Kiessling of Waking Media contacted me to inform me that they were republishing her grandfather William C. Anderson’s books into e-book format, I was absolutely “blown away” to find out that BAT 21 was one of them. Ms. Kiessling contacted me as an aviation writer and book reviewer to review BAT 21. She did not know that I had a personal connection to the story. I accepted, after explaining my connection. My childhood best friend had also been on that same aircraft as Colonel Gene Hambleton the only survivor (BAT 21). Captain Robin Gatwood, USAF (also aboard BAT 21 EB 66) of Hickory North Carolina, we salute you and miss you always pal! Sadly, no other names of crew members were in the story.   

Indeed, I first read the book authored by Colonel William C. Anderson, himself a Vietnam Air Force pilot and therefore very much “in the know” about the complexities of search-and-rescue operations. This in my opinion gives enormous credibility to the technical side of the book, from the start.

I actually did a lengthy phone interview with Gene Hambleton in 1989 from his home in Arizona. So I can compare some facts that others seem to have missed along the line. Others are not worth mentioning, therefore I won’t. For example, the SAM hit just aft of the right wing-root, that happen to be exactly where Robin Gatwood, Electronic Warfare Officer (E.W.O.) was. He was the one who would have announced, “SAM launched” and his station was just aft of the right wing-root. 

It started Easter weekend 1972. All hell broke loose when thousands of North Vietnamese regulars streamed southward through the DMZ over running fire bases and continuing south. Sunday morning, April 2, 1972, Iceal E. Hambleton,  E.W.O. was aboard an EB-66 searching for SAM sites (surface to air missile launch sites) to electronically jam their guidance radar to protect the incoming flight of B-52 carpet bombers from Clark AFB in the Philippines. 

The EB-66 aircraft exploded and Colonel Hambleton found himself the lone survivor on a parachute floating downward targeting into the middle of a forward air controller orbit. The FAC were slow light aircraft which controlled inbound air support strike forces against the enemy. Hambleton was landing in the middle of thousands of North Vietnamese regular invading troops.

Colonel Hambleton, being an avid golfer was able to evade enemy troops, guided by air support and an imaginary game of golf. Hambleton’s superb memory of the golf courses he had played, each stroke orchestrated by the air controller above who was watching where the enemy was located. Each stroke hopefully would take him closer to his intended rescue and avoiding the traps (enemy and sure capture and probable death).    

This story is about the longest, the largest, and the most difficult search rescue behind enemy lines of anyone during the Vietnam War. During the operation, there were over a half-dozen aircrafts shot down and severely damaged, and the air rescue was finally called off. However, after eleven days. 

Reading BAT 21, perhaps, plants a question in the reader’s mind, as it has in my own, exactly why the upper echelon of military would let a “ballistic missile expert with a top secret clearance” one who helped develop the secret “wild weasel” program go on missions where there was a possibility of capture?  

This book was well-written and showcases the strengths and courage of some magnificent extraordinary men in a time of war. However, only those who have witnessed the horrors of Vietnam can fully appreciate the value of this book. The impact is to valid to a certain extent and it is still a good read for those who have not experienced war, however.

William C. Anderson brings home the gut-wrenching horrors of war and one can almost taste the fear that Gene Hambleton must have felt during those days running for his life, not knowing if he was going to live or die! Gene told me he never got over the fear he felt the minute he came eyeball to eyeball with the enemy soldier.

I recommend BAT 21, was a good read all three times I’ve read it…

JR Hafer, Aviation Writer

Unarmed EB-66B, EB-66C and EB-66E aircraft flew numerous missions during the Vietnam War. They not only helped gather electronic intelligence about the North Vietnamese defenses, but also provided protection for the daily bombing missions of the F-105s by jamming North Vietnamese radar systems. Early on, B-66s flew oval “racetrack” patterns over North Vietnam, but after one of the aircraft was shot down by a MiG, the vulnerable B-66 flights were ordered back just outside of North Vietnam.

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