Robert Kirk's words painted vivid images forever embedded in his memory.

"Cobra 1 made a final run around the pattern and turned on final," said the retired teacher-turned-author during a book reading and signing presentation Saturday at Phelan Memorial Library. "Kilmer lined up on the gun's approximate position. It was just two dark to see the gun's exact location. However, with a 500-pound bomb, close was good enough."

Though fiction, the 14 stories of U.S. fighter pilots doing their best to protect ground troops "have origins in real events and with few exceptions the author was part of every story," according to the preface of Kirk's "Warriors at 500 Knots."

The Friends of the Phelan Memorial Library-sponsored event was part of the library's festivities to honor veterans on Memorial Day. And Kirk, who served on the Hesperia Unified School District's board of education after retiring as a teacher at Mojave High School, was the main attraction.

In 1969, just after a young Kirk started his teaching career, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and became a F-4 Phantom II pilot assigned to an airbase in Da Nang. During the time the Oklahoma native served, he flew 197 combat missions over South and North Vietnam and Laos.

Kirk said he wrote the book, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the beginning the Vietnam War, for several reasons. He wanted to thank vets for their service and share what he learned. Most importantly, he wanted to give honor to those who served in one of America's most misunderstood of wars.

Kirk shared facts that dispelled several Vietnam War myths:

Some 91 percent said they were glad they served.
Drug use among soldiers during Vietnam was no higher than that for others in their generation.
The majority of Vietnam veterans assimilated back into society.
About two-thirds of those who served in Vietnam enlisted (rather than were drafted), which was about the same as during World War II.
Eight-six percent of those who died were caucasian not minorities.
Most of those serving were high school graduates and some had college educations.
Those serving in Vietnam saw more combat time than those serving during other wars.

Not only was the war misunderstood, but fighter pilots are often portrayed inaccurately, he said.

"When I saw 'Top Gun' I almost threw up," Kirk said about how fighter pilots are commony portrayed. "In my opinion they haven't made a good Vietnam movie yet."

According to Kirk, the F-4 Phantom was a very special aircraft. It held an altitude record of 98,500 feet and could go as fast as 1,400 miles per hour.

"It could fly over twice the speed of sound, at Mach II," he said. "It was just a remarkable airplane. It was incredible."

Book reading event guests included Fourth District Supervisor Gary Ovitt, Honorary Mayor Ellen Sullivan, Lt. Col. Niles Bughman, who served with Kirk, Kirk's wife Vicki and son Mark, who formerly served as Ovitt's chief of staff.

According to Kirk, a total of 1.3 million Americans have died serving their country during war time and about 10 times that many more were wounded.

"I think the greatest generations are the ones fighting the wars right now," Kirk said.