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Chickenhawk

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The author is at his total best when he’s recalling his maneuvers getting in and out of “hot LZ’s” (to you and me, that’s landing zones where the enemy is shooting at you) and I could probably read about every single landing and takeoff detailed in here ten more times and not feel it’s been a waste of time. Add this one to my long list of books about the American War in Vietnam. I am the right age to have been drafted for that war, but was not due to a variety of deferments and a high lottery number. The short story is that I was considering fleeing to Canada if I was drafted but never had to make that momentous decision that would have significantly changed my life. I never came to that fork in the road so will always wonder what I would have done if I was actually faced with that choice. How extraordinarily touching it is that these men who have suffered so much still want to make us better...If I sound just a little overwrought, I defy you to read this straightforward, in many ways underwrought, narrative and feel any differently...filled with the grim humor of men under pressure, filled with details..." Yeah, as long as we have helicopters, Phantoms, and B-52 bombers, I thought. I said ‘Maybe the war is almost over.’”

As a child, Robert Mason dreamed of levitating. As a young man, he dreamed of flying helicopters - and the U.S. Army gave him his chance. They sent him to Vietnam where, between August 1965 and July 1966, he flew more than 1,000 assault missions. I had long wondered what it was like for those who were in Vietnam and this account, by Robert Mason, a helicopter pilot, gives us a good look at the conditions which the troops over there had to work under, as well as the author's questioning of why they were there and how to tell friend from foe. So many shades of grey. The troops on the ground undoubtedly had it far worse than the helicopter pilots did and the accounts of bodies piled up or soldiers missing limbs, was a constant refrain. Vietnam was a nightmare in so many ways. Now we have unmanned drones that kill from the air and humans that blow themselves up in a crowd.Mason has been criticized for being too technical. There is a diagram at the beginning of the book of a helicopter with all the major parts named. There is also quite a bit of detail about how to actually maneuver a helicopter using hands and feet simultaneously. It is way harder than patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. But this is far from a “how to” book. But it does let you know that being a helicopter pilot in a war zone is a complex job. Apparently you volunteer to be trained as a helicopter pilot so you are in this incredibly dangerous occupation by choice.

I read this as a young pilot about to embark on a career flying military helicopters. It should have put me off for life. Robert Mason tells a gripping account of the relentless courage and heroism amidst the insanity of the Vietnam war." - Tim Peake This is one of my favourite books of all time. It was loaned to me very graciously, many years ago, and once I got my own copy I have never stopped re-reading it. Mason's honesty about his ambitions (not really a very gung-ho warrior) and subsequent realization that all the smart-ass antics in the world weren't going to save him really endeared him to me. I cried at the end the first time, and most times since. It’s one of the advantages of being an officer. We get “nonspecific urethritis.” Enlisted men get the clap.’”

He suffers from textbook PTSD that eventually drives him out of the air, then out of the army. The nightmares go on and on, sleep comes with the help of alcohol. And his life spirals down. December 1965 is described in chapter six, "The Holidays". Mason and a similarly experienced pilot, Resler, who became one of Mason's closest friends from Vietnam, began flying together. I most certainly appreciated the new “Afterward” Mr. Mason inserted some 20+ years later after the first edition of this book. To all the Vietnam Veterans who served and believed they were doing good (regardless of your personal views later and regardless whether those views are “for” or “against” the war) I thank you – God Bless you! Welcome Home! Unaffected, straightforward... His descriptions of flying air assault, med-evac and ammo-resupply missions make exhilarating reading...an important addition to our growing Vietnam War literature.

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