Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club: Naval Aviation in the Vietnam War (Thomas McKelvey Cleaver)

The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club is Thomas McKelvey Cleaver’s detailed account of air warfare over the eleven years the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. Cleaver recounts this history from the Gulf of Tonkin incident through just after the fall of Saigon in 1975 in a descriptive, analytical account.

Much of Cleaver’s book details the evolution in aircraft and combat strategy, involving accounts from a number of Naval veterans who provided first-hand details of flying in helicopters or airplanes and the challenges they had with the aircraft, as well as in dealing with the Department of Defense’s strategy throughout Vietnam.

Given our recent exit from Afghanistan, one of the most powerful and appropriate statements in the book comes from the introduction. Cleaver answers a question about lessons being learned from our time in Vietnam by saying “a five minute examination of the daily paper can quickly lead to the answer...” 

Cleaver, a Navy veteran who commanded ships that had been involved in Vietnam, brings a personal connection to this book. While it is a highly technical account of the conflict in Vietnam, it is a book that military historians and individuals who have an interest in aviation would have an interest in reading.