Rolling Thunder (Wings of War) [Kindle Edition]

Rolling Thunder (Wings of War) [Kindle Edition]

by Mark Berent


Publisher Mark Berent

Published in Literature & Fiction/War & Military, Mystery & Thrillers/Mystery, Literature & Fiction/Contemporary, Mystery & Thrillers, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description


Rolling Thunder is a historical fiction novel about the disastrous role politics played during the Vietnam War. Fighter pilots and Special Forces warriors try to do their best but are hampered by President Johnson, SecDef McNamara, and their staff members who despise the military. Only an aging USAF general is on their side. His clashes with his Commander in Chief, Lyndon Johnson, are epic in proportion and startling in content.

Four airline stewardesses come under enemy attack when they are forced to spend the night on a fighter base in Vietnam.

Sample Chapter

1100 Hours Local, 19 December 1965

The Catholic Basilica

Saigon, Republic of Vietnam

On Sunday, Army Special Forces Major Wolfgang Xavier “Wolf” Lochert attended Catholic Mass at the Basilica in John F. Kennedy Square in downtown Saigon. The church was crowded for the 11 o'clock High Mass. Christmas was barely a week away causing increased attendance. Terraced rows of candles gave off a comforting glow. Incense smoke, shaken out of the golden thuribleby the bearer as the procession slowly walked the aisle to the altar, permeated every corner of the church. The organist played the Introit Hymn in muted tones as the Mass began. The familiarity of the beginning ritual encased Wolf in a sensation of comfort.

"Introibo ad altare Dei ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meum. I go unto the altar of God, to God, who giveth joy to my youth," the Wolf automatically translated, memories of his years as an altar boy in Minneapolis and of his two years at the Mary­knoll Seminary in New York flooding his mind. The Wolf followed the Latin from memory. He could recite either the priest's or the altar boy's part. For the next thirty five minutes the Wolf followed the Mass until communion when he began the words he had prayed tens of thousands of times through the years.

"O Holy Spirit," he intoned to himself, "soul of my soul, I adore thee. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I ought to do and command me to do it. I promise to be submissive to everything thou permittest to happen to me, only show me what is Thy will."

The Wolf almost wept with anguish at the penance he knew he was doomed to serve in his soul. He believed--ah God how he believed--and wanted to serve Our Lord, but regardless of how hard he tried, he could not overcome his great weakness, the weakness that prevented him from becoming a servant of God wearing the cloth of the Maryknolls. For the shameful truth was that the Wolf, Wolfgang Xavier Lochert, since he was old enough to comprehend the world about him, could not be submissive to anything that happened to him or around him. He questioned, argued, and ultimately re­sisted anything around him that he didn't agree with or approve of, be it a physical matter or a moral one. At each Mass and in his evening prayers he strove for and sought and prayed fervently for humble submiss­ive­ness. This submission to the Holy Spirit, he truly believed, was the secret of sanctity, and until he could obtain that state of grace, he was doomed to be His unworthy servant as a layman.

The big man knelt, forehead bowed over his knuckly hands, folded in prayer, resting on the back of the pew in front, his giant body in gentle repose among the smaller Vietnamese. He spoke again those words given to him by the Cardinal who knew and loved the Wolf since the days he had been the anguished man's mentor at the Seminary in New York. "O Holy Spirit..."

Scattered throughout the church in clusters among the Vietnamese and a few East Indians were scores of Americans and Europeans attending their first Catholic Mass in a combat zone. Built to retain early morning temperatures, the tall, vaulted cathedral with twin spires thrusting identical crosses 200 feet into the air imparted cool solemnity to those celebrating the Mass.

Outside, a company of white-uniformed Saigon police, the Quan Canh, called QC or, derisively, White Mice, by the American military, stood and lounged indolently around Kennedy Square, guarding the huge red-bricked cathedral against a VC terrorist act. Their white uniforms were immaculate and tailored. Each wore the type of aviator's sunglasses that are issued only to aircrew. Directly in front of the center double doors, four of the policemen stood facing outward from the white Madonna statue that rose twenty feet in the air from its round pedestal.

Only two weeks had gone by since the terrorist bombing of an American soldiers' hotel in Saigon. The previous week, two hand grenades had been randomly tossed into the throngs of civilians at the Central Market killing six and injuring twelve.

As the Mass progressed past the canon and into the communion, several people left the cathedral early to return to work or to prepare a big dinner or, in the case of several demurely clad young co's (unmarried women), to return to the Tu Do street bars where they hustled Saigon Tea from G.I.s at an exorbitant price. Fully ten percent of the crowd of 375 exited the church.

No one took notice of the thin, mild looking young Vietnamese man, dressed in a white suit with black tie, who slowly walked out with the others. Inside, no one had called his attention to the fact that he had left his pew without picking up his large Catholic missal. A few seconds behind the young man walked his backup, an athletically trim, older Vietnamese called Buey Dan, who was the assistant tennis pro at the Cercle Sportif, strolled into the bright Saigon noon sun. The young man, who had deliberately left the missal, was unable to resist circling JFK Square to observe the mayhem about to happen. He knew that by doing so he was violating all he had been taught. Buey Dan, seeing this as he walked in the opposite direction, shook his head imperceptibly, thinking with a measure of intrusive sorrow, that this was not consistent with party lines, that he would have to send this young man to a VC line unit: He was too impetuous to work under cover in Saigon. Buey Dan knew he would make the transfer, but he did not want to.

The blast and concussion of the bomb, though fabricated with only a quarter pound of plastique, was echoed and ampli­fied and re-echoed and re-amplified vertically up midst the pillars and vaulted ceilings and statues and stained glass windows to such an extent that it sounded as if multiple bombs of diminishing power had gone off in a ripple. Horizontally, the blast and the three hundred or so roofing nails wrapped around the plastique were absorbed in the backs and sides of people in the pew and by the wooden bench back itself, but the velocity was still strong enough to drive splinters and nail fragments into the bodies and chests of those behind the pew. Two Vietnamese tots in flowered white dresses, who had been giggling at each other, had stood almost directly behind the horrendous blast and were decapitated. Three adults were killed outright in that row, seven injured. In the row forward from where the young man had left the missal, the four closest to the blast were killed as nails laced their kidneys and spleens. Eight people next to and forward of those killed were injured. Two were American G.I.s.

Major Wolfgang Xavier “the Wolf” Lochert dropped straight down as if pole-axed. He had not thrown himself to either side. He lay in a crumpled mound as the stunned silence was shattered by screams and wails, and the people on each side of his body scrambled over each other to get out of the now smoke- and dust-filled church. Only after his pew was empty did the Wolf cautiously raise his head to look around. Clasped in his right hand was a Mauser 7.63mm automatic, the personal (he referred to it as the ‘social’) weapon he always carried strapped to his outside right ankle. He surveyed the scene in a circle about him and spent long moments studying the overhead structure. Still crouched, he returned his automatic to its holster, knowing there would be no one now to shoot at, and rose to his feet. Many VC terrorist bombers set a secondary charge to go off within a minute or so of the first blast to catch the unwary still standing around or rescuers who came to help. The Wolf had determined that such was not the case at pre-Christ­mas day Catholic Mass.

He moved to help the wounded, reflecting that though he did not like crowded places of any sort, he had put that reservation aside to go to Mass this day. His expression was of total compass­ion for the wounded as he knelt next to the closest torn body. At the proper time that which was suppressed in the back of his mind would surface. Two of the Vietnamese priests knelt next to him as he tore strips of clothing from the crying and moaning wounded to expertly and dispassionately start to tie off bleeders. As the three men performed their tasks, the blood on the white marble floor stained the priests' robes as well as the knees and cuffs of the big man's pants. A squad of white mice, pistols drawn, entered the church shouting and waving their weapons about.

One French and two Vietnamese physicians pushed their way through the stunned crowd creeping back into the church to search for friends and family members. As the three doctors went to work, the Wolf stood up and walked toward the center of the three double front doors, eyes swiftly searching each face he passed. He paid no attention to the stares directed at his trousers, which looked as if they had ragged red patches sewn on them. Nor did he seem to notice the awed and fright­ened looks of those who saw his face fast becoming contorted and darkened with rage.

The White Mice and ARVN troops, supplemented by roving U.S. MP patrols, had begun cordoning off the area at the front of the church. The first ambulances, French bi-tone horns raucously making pam-paw, pam-paw sounds, threaded traffic of bicycles, pedicabs, and blue and yellow taxis to the carnage. A U.S. MP seeing Wolf's bloody pants rushed up, saluted, and asked if he were hurt. The Wolf, wiping his hands on his OD handker­chief, barely took notice as his eyes busily searched the surroundings and the gathering crowd trying to read the expressions on oriental and Caucasian faces. As he stood there, his back to the Madonna statue, a furtive movement, one he had been looking for, caught his eye. In a series of motions considered impossible for such a big and bulky man, the Wolf drew his social weapon and sprinted to one of the tamarind trees lining the Square. Darting behind the smooth-barked tree, he caught the thin Vietnamese young man in the white suit by the throat with his left hand and jammed the barrel of his Mauser into his right eye.

"Chinh may lam chuyen do, phai khong?" "You did it, didn't you," the Wolf spat in the struggling man's face. The Wolf knew his VC. He knew how they looked and smelled after a successful strike. The Wolf might not be properly submissive in the eyes of the Holy Roman Catholic Church but he was damn near a mind reader when it came to enemy thoughts and intentions. A natural born psych­ia­trist, he instinctively read body language and movements as if they were 72-point headlines. The Wolf nodded, "Tao biet may lam chuyen do, quan cong san." "I know you did, communist pig."

The Wolf hustled the thin man against the tree where he pinned him with his throat hold, slipped the Mauser into its holster, pulled a stiletto from his left sock, and eased it into the young man's heart through his stomach. There was no blood, the Wolf knew how to avoid arteries. The heart's aorta blood pumped furiously inside the chest cavity but could not squeeze out the small stiletto hole as the thin blade was withdrawn. The Wolf helped the dead man slowly fold to sit at the base of the tree. The position hid the stain from the voided bowels, but not that of the bladder so the Wolf carefully folded the man's hands in his lap partially covering that stain. Returning the stiletto to its hiding place, he stared at the slack face for a second, remembering what he had seen in the church. He grunted and placed his right hand flat on the dead man's head and with what remained of the church victim's blood on his thumb, he traced the sign of the cross on his forehead.

Straightening up, he felt he was being watched even though all the drama and activity was taking place over at the church. He wasn't worried, because he knew his actions, mostly hidden by his bulky body and the tree, had been fast, fluid, and not ostentatious. The Wolf knew he could melt away in the few seconds it would take any viewer to compre­hend exactly what had happened under the tree.

Yet, one man, standing in the doorway of an apartment building nearly two hundred feet away, knew exactly what had happened. Wolf didn't see the man but Buey Dan saw him and memorized the Wolf's face, body size, and motions. Buey Dan knew he had to someday kill the man who had just slain his son.

The MP who had enquired of Wolf's health swung around the tree, eyes widening at what he saw. He looked at the Wolf, nodded in comprehension, and returned to his post, telling himself he hadn't seen anything that belonged in an official report.

Pulse and breath quickly returning to normal, his face smoothed somewhat, the Wolf started to casually drift down the tree-covered street away from the Cathedral and toward the jeep he had parked on rue Tan Thuyen. Two Caucasians, a man in his mid-twenties and an attractive lithe girl, slightly younger, angled quickly across the street in front of Wolf obviously intent on intercepting him. The man wore an expensive khaki safari suit with many bulky pockets. Slung around his neck were a Nikon 350 with telephoto lens and a Hasselblad 500EL. He was heavily tanned, had brown hair that curled below his ears, a square jaw, and a flashy smile that would melt the heart of the coldest spinster. The young girl wore light cream-colored slacks, low heels, and a high-necked, full-sleeve green blouse that accentuated her green eyes but de-emphasized her ample bosom. Her shoulder length deep mahogany hair was lush and thick. Wolf had briefly noted the handsome couple in church. Close up he recognized her as a girl he had seen in many movies. She was Charmaine, the dancer performing in Vietnam with the Bob Hope show.

The smiling man walked up to Wolf, right hand outstretched for a shake, "Hi, I saw you back at the church. You really helped the wounded. I took pictures. I'd like to talk to you about it." The man insistently kept his hand out-thrust. "You must be military and you must be known. Even if you are in civilian clothes, that MP saluted you. I saw how well you reacted back there. That's what I'd like to talk about. I'm from the California Sun magazine. My name's Shawn Bannister." His smile became strained as he kept his hand extended.

The girl with him, Charmaine, stood back a few feet watching the Wolf's face. Damn, the Wolf thought, flustered by her steady green eyes while simultaneously aware of the man's cameras. Did he snap a shot of me behind the tree, Wolf wondered. At first he was simply going to grab each camera and expose the film then take off, but the girl's eyes held him. He also knew he had to keep moving before the dead man was discovered and linked to him.

"Talk? Yeah, well, come on," the Wolf rasped, ignoring the outstretched hand. He strode by so quickly Charmaine and the man had to trot to catch up. Wolf turned right on rue Pasteur and walked the few meters to where he had parked the motor pool jeep. He told the two to jump in as he put the rotor in the distributor, unchained the steering wheel, started the engine, and drove off. The girl sat in back.

Speeding around and through the Honda scooter, pedicab, Renault taxicab, and bicycle traffic, the Wolf thought again of the film in the cameras and what might be on it. He decided to act. He jammed the jeep into a sidewalk parking slot. Without shutting off the engine, he grabbed the two cameras and twisted their carrying straps just enough to put firm but not fatal pressure on the man's throat. "Don't do that," the girl in the back seat half screamed. The Wolf ignored her as he quickly stripped the film from each camera, and threw the glossy strips into the gutter. Still holding the camera straps, he twisted them sufficiently to make the man's eyes bulge. The Wolf stuck his face an inch from Shawn Bannister's nose. "Whaddaya wanna talk about, scheisekopf?"


Excerpted from "Rolling Thunder (Wings of War) [Kindle Edition]" by Mark Berent. Copyright © 2014 by Mark Berent. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Mark Berent

Mark Berent

Lt Col Mark E. Berent, USAF (Ret), was born in Minneapolis, graduated from Cretin High School in St. Paul, and Arizona State University with a BSME. Berent began his Air Force career as an enlisted man then pilot training at Columbus and Laredo. He served three combat tours, completing 452 combat sorties, first in the F-100 at Bien Hoa then the F-4 at Ubon. He spent two years in Cambodia flying things with propellers and, through a fluke, ran the air war for a few weeks. He has logged over 4300 hours of flying time, 1084 of those in combat missions in the F-100, F-4, C-47 and U-10 over South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. He has flown 30 different aircraft. His decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star, Air Medal with twenty-four oak leaf clusters, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, Cambodian Divisional Medal, and numerous Vietnam Campaign ribbons. He also earned US Special Forces and Cambodian jump wings. Since retirement, he established international operations for the sale of spares for combat aircraft; flew foreign aircraft such as the Swedish Viggen and RAF Jaguar and Hawk; wrote numerous articles for the Air Force Magazine; and was a pilot/reporter for the Asian Defense Journal. He wrote five Vietnam airwar novels (Wings of War, see Recently flew his T-6 in airshows.

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