A Backseat View from the Phantom

A Memoir of a Marine Radar Intercept Officer in Vietnam


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About the Book

As a 26-year old Marine radar intercept officer (RIO), Fleet Lentz flew 131 combat missions in the back seat of the supersonic F-4 B Phantom II during the wind-down of the Vietnam War. Overcoming military regulations, he and his fellow Marines at The Rose Garden (Royal Thai Air Base Nam Phong) kept sorely needed supplies moving in while moving combat troops out of Southeast Asia. His personal and accessible memoir describes how pilots and RIOs executed dangerous air-to-ground bombing missions in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos—quite different from the air-to-air warfare for which they had trained—and kept themselves mission-capable (and human) while surviving harsh circumstances.

About the Author(s)

Fleet S. Lentz, Jr., Col, USMCR was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in 1969 and received his wings as a Naval Flight Officer in 1971. Assigned to the Western Pacific, he served in the Vietnam conflict in 1972-1973. After the war, he served as executive officer VMFA-112 and commanding officer of Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron/Marine Aviation Logistics 41, both based at Navy Dallas. Lentz retired from the Marine Corps in 2000 with thirty-one years of affiliated time and 1500+ hours in the F-4. He also worked for thirty-two years in civilian commercial aviation at the management and executive levels, including twenty years as North American Vice President of Volvo Aero, headquartered in Bromma, Sweden. He lives in Centennial, Colorado.

Bibliographic Details

Fleet S. Lentz, Jr., Col USMCR

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 229
Bibliographic Info: 17 photos, appendices, glossary, index
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8207-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4080-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
Prologue: What Did You Really Do in the War, Dad? 5

Section One: My New World
1. Going Down 11
2. The Base 15
3. Rules of the Road 21
4. Liberty 33
5. Housekeeping 38
6. Staying Human 41
7. Task Force Delta? 45

Section Two: Hops
8. The Phantom, in Brief 51
9. First Hop 53
10. Bringing Back the Hose 60
11. Silence from the Back Seat 65
12. An ­Award-Winning Hop 68
13. Watch Dog and Beer 71
14. Night Tanking 75
15. Flying in Laos 79
16. The Cubi Special Missile Shoot 87
17. The MiG Mystique 90
18. The Bunker 95
19. Frags 100
20. One Wild Ride 105
21. The ­Ten-Degree Run 110
22. Angkor Wat /Ankle What 115
23. Drop the Hook 118
24. Upside Down and Embarrassed 120

Section Three: Special Times, Special People
25. Gracie L. Zoobreath 125
26. Me and Mr. Tones 127
27. Clipper Wins 137
28. Christmas 143
29. The Chapel 147
30. The Brig 151
31. The Shadow Next Door 155
32. Salts 157

Section Four: Things Changed
33. Squadron to Group 165
34. Operation Sunset 176

Section Five: Takeaways
35. Takeaways 183

Epilogue: Going Back 187
Appendix A. Map of Vietnam and Neighboring Countries 193
Appendix B. Glossary of Terms 194
Appendix C. Marine Corps Ranks 202
Appendix D. Brief Timeline of the Vietnam War 204
Appendix E. Brief History of ­VMFA-115 206
Appendix F. The Rose Garden’s Legacy of Leadership 208
Appendix G. Suggested Reading and Viewing 210
Appendix H. Brief Career Overview 211
Index 213

Book Reviews & Awards

• “[The] writing is superb and brings the reader…right into the SEA air war.” —Marine Corps Aviation Quarterly;

• “A stellar description of how it was: the boredom, odors, fear, exhilaration, and camaraderie experienced by those of us who were there.”—Colonel Joseph E Rice, Junior, United States Marine Corps, Retired

• “In the masterful prose of a true insider, Lentz spins a compulsively readable tale leavened with equal measures profundity, compassion, and industrial-strength Marine humor!”—Sarah Bird, author of Yokota Officers Club, Above the East China Sea and Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

• “The author describes his environment at the end of the Vietnam War in Thailand, an expeditionary base called the “Rose Garden” in intricate detail. This is the kind of book that you don’t want to put down because you want to know more about it. It captures the attention of a military history buff as well as the novice because it is kept understandable while winding through the tactical level, the camaraderie and loyalty under combat conditions and the tactics, techniques and procedures in combat air operations. … [Lentz] writes in a style that brings you into the cockpit with the Pilot and Radar Interdiction Officer (RIO). After reading and understanding better about the trusted relationships that developed between the Squadron Aviators, one gets a clearer view of how these life and death relationships endure.”—Daniel Schlimgen, Col. US Army, Retired