Three brutal years into the Vietnam War, the CIA and the United States Air Force thought it would be a good idea to “sheep dip” a handful of soldiers, some who had never fired a gun, and drop them onto a sacred mountaintop in Laos surrounded by the enemy. Here they would set up a radar navigation system to guide bombers toward their targets. This military operation is the title of Sam Lightner Jr.’s historical novel, Heavy Green: The Collision of Two Unlikely Missions in America’s Secret War, a gripping saga about the commitment, courage, and acumen of soldiers on both sides of the war.
In 1966, the Army of North Vietnam moved as much as 200 tons of arms, manpower, food, and equipment every day along what the Americans dubbed the Ho Chi Minh Trail—a series of thousands of paths, rest stops, and dummy routes designed to confuse their enemy. These convoys passed through the kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia, whose neutrality was supposed to be respected and where the communist forces were virtually invisible, camouflaged under the thick canopy of the jungle, the mist, and the rain.
The United States government decided to stop them.
Lightner originally intended to write a non-fiction account of climbing the face of Pho Pha Thi alongside a running account of the battle, but access to the mountain was restricted. However, he had been climbing in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam for more than 20 years and knew the landscape, the people, and their legends well enough to create a work of fiction that tells the story with intimacy and fidelity.
The result is a novel that juxtaposes the horrors of war against the seductive beauty of the jungle and mountain. Lightner’s love of the land and his meticulous research combine to make Heavy Green an enthralling look into America’s hidden past.
Sam Lightner Jr. is the prolific author of fiction and non-fiction, including All Elevations Unknown, which was widely praised for its depiction of battles fought on the island of Borneo during World War II. An avid climber, Lightner has been published in Outside magazine and most international magazines on climbing. He’s also been the subject of a feature in National Geographic. He lives in Wyoming.