In this episode of the Ready For Takeoff podcast we chat with airline pilot Phil …
Mark Berent received his pilot’s wings in September 1953, then flew the F-86 SabreJet and the F-100 Super Sabre in Germany, France, and the U.S. He even caught a ride in the “missile with a man in it”, the F-104, as recounted here. In the early ‘60s, the USAF sent him to Arizona State University to get an engineering degree. While there, the Vietnam War became more intense, and he volunteered for duty in Vietnam
In mid-December 1965 he arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam as a pilot in the 531st Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) in the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW). He flew over 250 missions and was reassigned back in the States to a desk job at the Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO) in El Segundo, California. Though he was able to fly the T-39 Sabreliner, he was not happy. The war tempo had increased. He made contact with Air Force Personnel and soon found himself at George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, upgrading into the F-4 Phantom.
On the 1st of November, 1968, he signed in to the 497th TFS at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in upcountry Thailand. There he flew over 240 missions both as a Night Owl and as a Wolf Forward Air Controller (FAC).
At the end of his tour in November 1969, he was again assigned to SAMSO and, once more very unhappy as the war was still going on. He immediately applied for a third fighter tour but was turned down. The reason being, at that particular time, one could not serve three tours in a fighter cockpit. He heard the State Department had opened up a new embassy in Phnom Penh Cambodia, and he applied for and was accepted into the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) with duty in the embassy as an Assistant Air Attaché. He spent two years there running around with the Khmer Air Force and flying the venerable C-47 Gooney Bird and the U-10 Helio Courier.
After Air Force retirement he lived three years in Germany and France running international sales for a California military spare parts manufacturer. In Paris he met his wife-to-be, Mary Bess. They married and moved to a horse farm in Virginia after he quit his sales job. Mark was inducted into the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame in 2012.
He wrote the Wings of War series, a five-part series that follows pilot Court Bannister, pilot Toby Parker, and Special Forces officer Wolf Lochert through their successive combat tours in Vietnam. Along the way, we see real events like Johnson and McNamara micro-managing the war, the outrageous abuse of American Pilots held at the Hoa Lo prison, and the claim of an attack on the Russian ship Turkmenestan.
Along the way, we see powerful scenes, such as Toby Parker’s metamorphosis, a scene highly reminiscent of an event in Berent’s life, recounted here, where he had a life-changing interaction with future Medal-of-Honor winner George “Bud” Day.
You really should read the Wings of War series in order, starting with Rolling Thunder. You can find the books on Amazon by clicking on the covers below, or by visiting Mark’s website.
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