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“Angel’s Truck Stop” by Lt. Colonel Angel Pilato, US Air Force (Ret.) was first published in 2011 and is now in its third edition. It was updated last year to include stories from some of the airmen Pilato writes about in her memoir.

Angelica Pilato at 25 being sworn in at the Air Force’s Detroit recruiting office.

Known as “Angel,”  Lt. Colonel Pilato served five and a half years in the US Air Force at the time of the Vietnam War, the last year (1971-72) at Udorn Air Base in Thailand.

Her memoir is an engaging mix of a personal history, wartime adventure, and a look at the difficulties faced by a woman officer in a male institution.

Pilato attended Officer Training School in San Antonio, where she was taught, among other things, “military protocol, etiquette, and how a WAF [Woman in the Air Force] should conduct herself in formal and informal situations.”

The next stop was Open Mess School in Ft. Lee, Virginia, where the sergeant assigned to assist her “tried everything he could to get me to sleep with him. I kept saying no, which to him seemed to mean, ‘Try again’…. In 1967, no policies existed against sexual harassment or hostile work environments. The unwritten policy was simply, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.'”

Angel Pilato today, living in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

After graduating from Officers Training School as a lieutenant, she was assigned to Offett Air Base in Omaha, and was subsequently assigned to run the officers’ club in Seville, Spain.  However, when she got there, the base commander in Seville took away her club-manager assignment, gave it to a male officer with no food experience, and made her a keypunch operator.

Since Pilato was a Food Management graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology, she questioned the decision, only to have the base commander flatly state, “I’m not going to have any woman run my Officers’ Club. It’s as simple as that.”

Fortunately, the commander’s tour soon came to an end, and a new base commander made her the club officer. Eight months later, she was assigned the post of club officer in Bitburg, Germany.

The F-4 Phantom Fighter jet (such as this one in Bitburg) was “the hottest fighter at the time — the one every fighter pilot wanted to fly,” Pilato writes.

After Lt. Pilato was able to make the Bitburg Officers’ Club more profitable, the wing commander rewarded her by letting her take a flight in an F-4. Once the jet was airborne, she was allowed to take the stick and do a couple of rollovers. Pilato called it “a thrill of a lifetime.”

The Udorn Officers’ Club, which came to be known as Angel’s Truck Stop.

From Germany, Pilato, now a captain, was posted to Udorn Air Base in Thailand where she managed the Officers’ Club. Pressured by the wing commander, the lieutenant managed to add a fancy patio to the club. The project forced her to hire laborers under false pretenses — as if they were parttime cooks and servers — to do the job since no construction-worker positions had been authorized. Nonetheless, the commander was pleased.

Article in the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Udorn was home base for fighter pilots heading to North Vietnam and Laos. She writes about the “bravado and confidence” felt by pilots “flying the hottest planes on the planet.”

Many of the men had “tealocks,” as lovers were called in Thailand, even if the lovers weren’t Thai. Pilato over time had several, including two wing commanders, and eventually had to reluctantly fly to the Philippines for an abortion when the father-to-be declined to marry her while overseas.

Perhaps the most emotional section of ‘Angel’s Truck Stop’ tells the story of Capt. Roger Locher (center), who was shot down over Laos and hid for 23 days until he could be rescued. The rescued pilot’s arrival back at Udorn was celebrated throughout the air base. Famished and thirsty when found, what he wanted first was a Coors beer and Spam. 

Capt. Marty Cavato made his own moving appearance in the book and for the latest edition contributed an account of his own.

The fighter pilots heading for Communist targets generally gave little thought to the lives they were taking. Getting themselves and their crews home safely was their main concern. Capt. Cavato, however, provided a heartwarming exception.

“The altitudes and speeds we flew and the usual presence of a jungle canopy prevented us from actually seeing the enemy,” the captain wrote. But on one unusual day, “we were startled by what we saw on the road.

“It took a while for it to sink in — there was an enemy column in the middle of the road.” To Capt. Cavato’s surprise, the soldiers took no shots at the aircraft but just kept marching. “Then another thought came to me: they’re marching home.

“In less than a month I’d finally be heading home…. I pulled our F-4E up sharply and turned west. I finally told my [radio operator], ‘They look tired. They’re marching north. They’re going home. I’m tired too. I’ll be going home soon too. Let’s just let them go home….’ As time goes by, I think about that column of soldiers more often. I got home, and I hope they did too.”

“When a man becomes inebriated, any modicum of mild-mannered virtue that he might have had turns into mayhem and mischief.” — Lt. Colonel Pilato

A captain and a lieutenant colonel attempt to dunk Capt. Pilato in a bowl of ice water after losing out in an Officers Club raffle.

The North Vietnamese were using Russian MIGs, and when the US pilots shot one down, it was cause for a major celebration. As a prank, the crews began driving trucks into the lobby of the Udorn Officers’ Club — jamming a truck in the doorway on one occasion. All this led to the club being nicknamed Angel’s Truck Stop. The phrase “Shit Hot!” painted on the truck was a common fighter-pilot expression meaning “wonderful.”

Despite periodic rowdiness by pilots in the club that made her job more difficult, Pilato generally retained her poise. Officers could get smokes in the club, which prompted this photo captioned: “Should a gentleman offer a lady a Tiparillo?” The line is from one of the cigar’s commercials.

Pilato had arrived in Thailand excited about her assignment, but the deaths of airmen she knew, her reluctant abortion, and the chaos of her work led ultimately to her hating the war and her role in it.

Angel’s Truck Stop is a must-read for anyone interested in the treatment of women in American society, especially in the military. The memoir is alternately humorous, grim, and uplifting. <>.