Lawrence J. Hickey
Author & Publisher
Author of Eagles Over the Pacific: Warpath Across The Pacific & Revenge of the Red Raiders
Tell a little about your background
I was born in 1944, and raised in Wichita, Kansas. My
father eventually rose to Project Engineer (ie: supervisor of engineering
for major company projects, ie B-47, B-52, AWACs) for the military division
of Boeing. I was around aircraft all my growing up years, including
working in the shops at Boeing during one of my summers. With Beech,
Boeing, Cessna and later Lear Jet plants in Wichita, it called itself
the "Air Capitol of the World." B-47s, and later B-52s were
constantly in the sky over the subdivision where I lived as they came
off the assembly lines at Boeing and then were flight tested from McConnell
A.F.B., which was about 3-4 miles south of my home. The flight path
for one of the main runways was only a couple of blocks from where I
lived. This was back in the days when there was no noise dampering on
jet engines, and the eight engines at full take off power on a B-52
going over at an altitude of few hundred feet was quite a memorable
experience. And it went on several times a day for many years. It was
something you couldn't forget, although it was just a part of everyday
When I was in grade school, the teachers had to stop
talking for a minute or so each time a bomber on a test flight flew
over. You couldn't talk over the noise. I remember laying in bed in
the middle of one night, when suddenly about 20 B-52s began taking off
one right after the other as fast as they could get off the field. At
that time, McConnell was also a Strategic Air Command base, and I just
laid there as the planes roared over and wondered what had happened
to scramble an entire SAC bomb wing in the middle of the night. Were
we at war with the Soviet Union? Would the nukes start falling on Wichita
soon? This must have awakened and scared the hell out of everyone in
town. The sound litterally shook the house. Apparently it was just an
exercise, because I never heard any more about it. Sure got your attention
though in the middle of the night, even though you were used to regular
single-plane test flights at night.
How did you get interested in WWII
I've always been interested in aviation. When I
was growing up, the WW II airmen were my boyhood heros. I built model
airplane kits, and became greatly interested in the correct markings
and insignia of these planes, and the history of the pilots who flew
them. For a young person, I built a pretty extensive library on the
subject. This has all just continued into adulthood, although I haven't
built a model kit since I went away to college. My books, with their
color profile paintings, hundreds of photos, and detailed historical
accounts are my expression of that now.
As a part of building my WW II aviation library, when I was 12, I ordered
a unit history (for $12.00) from a list of available unit histories
some book company was selling by mail order. I selected the 345th book,
without knowing a thing about the unit or its history. This was titled
"Warpath," which was published in 1946 as a kind of yearbook
of that unit's and experiences in WW II. When I got it, I realized that
that unit took many of the best photos I'd ever seen of air combat.
But the quality of the photo reproduction was poor, and the historical
cursory, so I resolved then and there that when I grew up I'd research
the history of the unit and do it right. Which I did.
Speak about your Vietnam Service, and its influences
I graduated from Rockhurst College in Kansas City,
Missouri in 1966, with a degree in History and Political Science. As
a civilian, in 1966-7 I spent a year in Vietnam with the Directorate
of Operations Analysis (Project CHECO), HQ 7th A.F., documenting the
air war for HQ, US Air Force. Got to travel extensively from one end
of Vietnam to the other, including visiting Army bases and field camps
and even a Special Forces' Camp, and flew about 20 combat missions,
mostly with the Forward Air Controllers but also once in a Skyraider.
One thrill was flying directly over the first US Marine combat beach
assault since WW II, which was part of Operation Hickory, the first
invasion of the DMZ. Early the morning of the invasion, I was flying
on a C-130 passenger flight from Danang to the Marine combat base at
Dong Ha, just south of the DMZ, to observe the air operations in support
of the battle, which also involved a large Marine force attacking directly
into the DMZ, trying to catch an NVA division between the two forces,
pin it against the Ben Hai River and wipe it out.
When we got to Dong Ha it was being shelled by 130mm
heavy artillery from across the DMZ. You could actually see the explosion
of the shells and smoke and dust boiling up as the rounds landed on
the base. So we were denied permission to land, and instead of flying
directly back to Danang, the pilot decided to make a pass directly over
the Marine landing, which was ongoing only a few miles away. He made
a bad mistake, however. After he flew over the landing force from south
to north, he kept going north for a few miles, keeping a couple of miles
off the NVN
coast. Where the coast began a dogleg out to sea, he began a wide right
turn to head back south to Danang. However, in doing this, he passed
directly over Hong Co, a small island of several acres off the tip of
the dogleg. I was taking photos of the island when I noticed a field
bomb or shell craters, and a pattern of sparkles coming from the jungle
next to the clearing. North Vietnamese AA gunners were trying to shoot
down this lumbering C-130 which was passing overhead at maybe 4000 feet
(it seemed like BB Gun range)! Our pilot immediately did a fighter plane
peal off, which threw all of us around, then beat a hasty retreat.
After we landed, the crew got out and searched for
holes in the plane, but there were none. We didn't have a scratch. I
often wondered what kind of a report the pilot filed after that flight.
I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't bring the subject up. He probably
could have been court martialed for what he had done, especially had
the plane been hit. Sure was an interesting and exciting trip for me
After authoring or co-authoring several major studies
on the effects of U.S. air ops in SE Asia, I returned to the US and
immediately moved to the Washington D.C. area to go to graduate school
at Georgtown Univ. A short time later, I went to work for the Defense
Intelligence Agency, and, after graduating from the Defense Intelligence
School, I was assigned to the National Military Intelligence Center
in the Pentagon for over four years. Among my jobs were Political Analyst
for South Vietnam, Enemy Order of Battle Analyst (Vietnam) and Corps
Analyst (for one of the four corps in VN). During this period, my main
job was to write articles on my area of expertise as appropriate for
the daily intelligence briefing for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, and also to write parallel articles for the DIA daily Intelligence
Summary, which was distributed to the top leadership in the U.S. Gov't
and military. Once I researched, wrote and then personnally delivered
a major briefing to the Chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in their
briefing room at the
Pentagon. Pretty heady stuff for a 24-year-old. For the last two years
in the NMIC I was the Political Analyst for North Vietnam, and was considered
one of the top experts on Vietnam at the Dept. of Defense.
Concurrently, I also spent three years as a member
of the Vietnam Special Studies Group, working directly with Dr. Kissinger's
staff helping develop the strategy and plans for what eventually became
the ceasefire in VN. As part of this process, under a direct order from
the President (and with one day notice), I did six weeks of field work
in Vietnam's Mekong Delta in early 1970, travelling to every hamlet
and village in my two study areas by boat, motorcycle, STOL aircraft,
helicopter and jeep. Survived an ambush deep in the Mekong Delta which
killed seven of our small party and wounded two others. The Province
Intelligence Officer was among the killed, the Province Chief was wounded,
and the deputy district chief literally died in my arms while I was
giving him first aid. This happened within three hours of arriving in
the province. When I returned from VN, I added the imput of other field
rearchers from the CIA on the project, and then wrote the final study
on which we were working, titled "The Situation in the Countryside,"
for the entire Mekong Delta region. This was then combined with studies
from the other three regions of VN
into one covering the entire country. During the last year of my intelligence
career I was also an advisor to the National Security Council Staff,
attending regular meetings on Vietnam in the old Executive Office Building
next to the White House.
At the ripe old age of 28, as the war was ending, I
resigned and moved to Colorado, where I really wanted to live and build
a business career. Since 1973 I've been a private businessman, living
for most of that time in Boulder, right at the foot of the eastern slope
of the Rocky Mts about 20 miles NW of Denver. I was President of a small
manufacturing Co. for about 20 some years, and concurently was involved
in real estate development, and my aviation history and publishing business.
At 57 I'm now semi-retired, spending a few hours a week managing my
real estate holdings, while spending virtually full-time on my writing
and publishing projects, including my "Eagles Over the Pacific"
How did you begin the
researching the book?
While I was going to college in KC, in 1963 I
started tracking down vets of the unit from a list of about 4600 WW
II names and addresses in the back of "Warpath." From then
on, everywhere I travelled, and all along the routes to anywhere I
drove on trips and vacations, I'd track down anyone still in that
area who had served in the unit, interview them and collect photos.
I also began corresponding with some people who were not where I could
reach them. Over the next ten years, I located and interviewed about
100 345th vets, including the first unit C.O. (and later the C.O.
of 5th Bomber Command), who lived in Colorado Springs, where I initially
moved in Colorado.
In 1974, through this effort to contact unit vets,
several of them decided to hold a reunion in Colorado Springs, and used
my contact lists as the basis for locating their vets. The first reunion
of the 345th B. G. was held in a motel right out the back door of the
apartment I was living in, and they officially set up their reunion
assocation, which eventually numbered over 1200 men. Obviously I was
always busy with my tape recorder during their semi-annual reunions
over the next few years.
Warpath Across The Pacific
When was "Warpath Across
the Pacific" Published?
Since I had business experience, and knew how to
do marketing, I decided to finance the publication of the resulting
book myself, and borrowed the money to publish the first edition so
I could do it the way I wanted, not the way an editor and/or publisher
thought it ought to be done. So, in 1984, I published my version of
the 345th history, "Warpath Across the Pacific," which is
presently in its 4th edition, and which many reviewers and readers consider
the best history of an air unit in combat ever written.
Why do you feel particularly qualified as an author?
With a history degee, a background of researching
and writing about combat aviation during wartime, plus my extensive
intelligence background, [Vietnam Service] I feel uniquely
qualified to apply all of theseelements to my WW II research and writing.
I also know how to sort out the history from the "war stories,"
while still perseving the authentic content of the latter to provide
insight into the personal experience of the story. I never create material
or elaborate on it beyond the documentable facts. However, I think that
I have a talent for weaving all the different source threads of the
story into an account which is both dramatic, and intensely interesting.
Have you traveled to places where the 345th served?
I've never been to Australia, New Guinea, or the Netherlands
Indies. My experience of the Philippines is a stop over for gas and
and aircraft servicing at Manila. Since a small part of the story of
"Warpath Across the Pacific" involves French Indo-China (the
part later known as Vietnam), I obviously am familiar of that country
from personal experience. I'd also visited Hong Kong for a few hours,
which briefly figures in the story. The truth is that I'd never been
in a B-25 when I wrote the book, although I've since flown in them a
How did you locate veterans of the 345th BG?
I could write a book on the process of writing
the book. Tracking down key people to the story was a major challenge.
When you're trying to cover hundreds of events and episodes over a period
of four years, much of it in combat, it was essential to find key eye-witnesses
to many specific events. I used some innovative techniques to find some
of the people, long before today's internet world. Eventually, eye-witness
information and/or detailed official documentation was found on every
one of those events. The completeness of the account amazes even me
to this day.
Speak about the book's accuracy and reception by readers
The reason the book so accurately reflects the
entire history of the unit is that I interviewed not only the officers
and pilots, but people from the cooks to the C.O.s. In fact, the first
interview I did back in 1963 was a cook in the unit.
One interesting irony turned out to be the fact
that one of the people I ultimately wrote about had briefly touched
my life many years before in a tragic way. When I was a boy, about 10
or so, two B-47 bombers had a mid-air collision on a test flight and
crashed about four miles east of my home in Wichita. I was in the car
in our driveway with my dad and sister waiting for my mom to come out
so we could go to a movie when suddenly two huge oily smoke clouds billowed
into the sky behind the roof of our house. My dad, who was on Boeing's
crash investigation team, knew immediately that a B-47 had gone in.
We watched the huge plumes of smoke for a short while until my mom appeared,
then went to the movie. Afterwards we drove out to one of the crash
sites. It was now after dark and we could see the crash scene was still
blazing fiercely, even though we couldn't get close to it due to all
the emergency equipment and security. Both crews had been killed in
the crashes. A few years later, my Boy Scout troop camped on the farm
of one of the crash sites, and all of us ended up hauling home all sorts
of small pieces of debries as souvenirs.
Only when I was well into the research on "Warpath
Across the Pacific" did I realize that one of the Squadron C.O.s,
who later became the third 345th Group C.O., Col. Chester A. Coltharp,
was the pilot of one of those B-47s that I'd watched burning and collected
souvenirs from as a boy.
One of the greatest satisfactions I received from
the many favorable reviews and comments about "Warpath," came
at the publishing party in held here in Boulder, in1984. Several veterans
picked up their copies, then went off by themselves for a few hours
to find and read sections concerning the time they were in the unit.
Late in the afternoon, they came back as a group to talk to me and said
that they didn't understand how someone who wasn't there with them could
have possibly told their history so accurately and authentically. They
just shook their heads and said until they actually saw it, they couldn't
believe it could be done. Every one expressed the same sentiment, even
though they represented different time periods of service, and different
job descriptions. They each said that it was dead on with their experience
of the events portrayed. That was the ultimate compliment to me.
A couple of years after the book was published
I was made an honorary member of the 345th B.G., and I was also made
an honorary life member of the 500th Bomb Squadron Association. To this
day, some 17 years later, I've never found anyone in the 345th who felt
that the book did not accurately portray their experiences with the
unit. A couple were bent out of shape that they weren't mentioned by
name in the book, but that's about the extent of discontent. I had to
tell them that I wasn't publishing a small-town phone book, and that
having some 1700 out of 4600 who served in the unit mentioned by name
in the book's narrative, acknowledgments and appendices was pretty good.
You can't please everyone.
I've had many, many letters and reviews telling
me how good it was, best book on a military subject in the English language
published that year, etc., etc. In fact, the only reviewer who had reservations
was one expressed in a review in Japan, where the reviewer thought that
it was an anti-Japanese book which exaggerated or even fabricated the
negative role of the Japanese in the story. Obviously, I didn't take
that one too seriously. I'm far from anti-Japanese, but the facts are
the facts. Every episode of torture, brutality and execution in the
book are thoroughly documented by Allied intelligence reports, forensic
evidence or war crimes trial transcripts.
The book must have a profound impact on readers
Many family members of vets who died while with
the 345th have contacted me, because much of the info in the book on
casualty events was never provided to them. Without exception these
people have expressed great appreciation that the info on the deaths
of their relatives and loved ones was published and thereby their sacrifice
for our country was acknowledged. One of the most touching incidents
that happened was when I received a letter from a then newborn baby
daughter of one of the POWs. She provided, in very moving and personal
terms, how much knowing what had happened to her father during the war
meant to her. The whole series of events told in the book had very tragic
consequences for her family, and she'd never understood what had caused
all that. Now she finally knew, and she profusely thanked me for giving
her information and insight into these events of which she'd never known.
In the case of another story involving one of the surviving
POWs, I first talked to the man's wife when I finally located his phone
number. He was not home at the time, so I told her who I was and what
I wanted. She assured me she would convey the info to him, but stated
that she didn't think I'd find out anything from him. She said that
he would not talk to anyone about it, not even his family, and she doubted
that I had a chance of faring any better. However, she expressed hope
that he'd finally talk to someone about what happened to him. When I
got ahold of him that evening, the result was the opposite. He told
me everything in great detail, and answered all of my questions, many
of which were quite personal. He then provided photos and very detailed
and unexpected documentation of his experiences, which I considered
one of the "must have" stories in the book.
First I was astounded that the book became a classic
in the field (I recently saw a signed first edition advertised on Amazon.com
for $500.00. Should have saved a few extra copies. I knew it was good,
because I had a very large aviation library to compare it to, but I
would have been happy just to have earned back my printing costs, much
less anything for all the production expenses and my time. The book
was truly a labor of love. I had no idea it would ever sell beyond the
2000 copies of the first edition. Since it has been both a critical
and financial success, I've plowed all the income from it back into
other projects relating to 5th Air Force units, plus added a lot more
from my personal income. When I finished "Warpath Across the Pacific"
it was so much brain damage I swore I'd never write anything like that
again (I was still working a full time job). However, so many vets requested
that I do further histories that I eventually forgot the pain and suffering
of doing a book like that, and started out again. I'm now nearing completion
on five more books of comparable or better quality, although it has
taken me much longer than I ever imagined.
Speak about your research archives and collections
I do have rooms of material, not just on the 345th,
but on most of the other 5th A.F., plus Japanese units. Largest archive
in the world on the subject. 30,000 photo copy negatives of photos from
many hundreds of vet collections. Have photos of probably 60-70% of
all the aircraft that flew with the 5th A.F. during its career, including
encyclopaedic coverge of about 8 Groups (this means nearly every plane
that flew with the unit during its history). Don't forget, I've got
"Warpath..." style histories far advanced on the 3rd, 22nd,
38th, 43rd and 312th B.G.s, in addition to the 345th. Plus very heavy
coverage of many of the fighter units as well. I Am
doing serious planning on where all this goes.
List of publications by Lawrence J. Hickey
Books by Lawrence J. Hickey and co-authors published by International Historical Research
Thank you for the interview Mr. Hickey
Visit International Historical Research
Associates (IHRA) to order Hickey's books and learn more.