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Eileen Bjorkman’s first book, The Propeller under the Bed: A Personal History of Homebuilt Aircraft, regaled general aviation enthusiasts with the tale of her father’s 50-year quest to design and a build an airplane to set a world record.
Her second book has just been published by Potomac Books: Unforgotten in the Gulf of Tonkin: A Story of the U.S. Military’s Commitment to Leave No One Behind, weaves together the history of combat search and rescue with the story of Willie Sharp, a Navy pilot who ejected from his disabled aircraft after being hit over North Vietnam.
On the morning of Nov. 18, 1965, Sharp had his target in his sights: A North Vietnamese rail yard suspected of running supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to Viet Cong soldiers.
As antiaircraft artillery began firing from the ground, Sharp released two Zuni rockets from his F-8 Crusader and flew back around for another pass. He felt a jolt, and — realizing he’d been hit — unleashed his remaining 10 rockets on the enemy below.
A glance at the aircraft’s instruments told Sharp that all three hydraulic systems had failed. Just then, an artillery shell smashed through the right side of the cockpit and the oxygen tank exploded, sending shards of metal into the pilot’s leg.
As he ejected minutes later, cloud cover made it impossible for Sharp to tell whether he was over land or over water. Over land, he’d almost certainly be killed or captured. Over water, combined Air Force and Navy search and rescue operations gave him a fighting chance.
Having flown in the backseat of fighter aircraft as a flight test engineer, Bjorkman is well-suited to tell the tale of Sharp’s unlikely rescue and physical, mental, and emotional recovery after Vietnam, according to the publisher. In addition to Sharp’s rescue, Bjorkman’s new book offers accounts of some of the most
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