Thanks for the feedback and thoughtfull analysis. I still remember the Clancy novel involving the Spratlys.
There is much truth in some historical fiction. Have you read W.E.B. Griffin's novels on WWII and the Korean Conflict? He is getting on in years and his later novels don't seem as good. However, the WWII and Korean Conflict novels present many real characters -- General MacArthur, his G2, General Willoughby and many others -- as other non-fiction reading has suggested to me that they were.
Griffin spiced his novels up with fictitious characters and with real characters disguised as fictitious characters -- he turned war correspondent Maggie Higgins, for example, into Jeanette Priestly, also of the Chicago Tribune -- but their interactions with the real people involved seem to have been quite in character and realistic.
I've been thinking about writing an article about the intersections of history and historical fiction but haven't yet got around to it.