I read a lot of books, but I don't keep all that many unless they are reference books. There are some , though, that I hang on to and have read over and over. I like the Horatio Hornblower books by C.S. Forester. I enjoy the Harry Flashman books (obviously) by Douglas Frasier. They and the books like them are always entertaining no matter how many times you go through them.
There are two books by a fellow named Robert Mason that I've read several times and never seem to give away.
The first is Chicken Hawk.
Chicken Hawk follows him through basic pilot training, on into Vietnam and during the course of his tour over there.
He wrote the book himself. It's a memoir, of a sort, and an excellent description of helicopter operations in Vietnam, as well as an insightful book into the psychology of military helicopter crews.
Vietnam is fading away now, as fewer and fewer veterans of that war remain each year. For people of my generation it was a formative event in our lives. For younger people today, it seems to have as much relevance as the Roman Carthaginian conflict.
The book has a value outside its setting though. Those who served will recognize the overall culture, no matter which service or where they were. People who didn't will get some inkling of the closed world the military lives and operates in.
Things did not go well for Robert Mason after he finished his tour in Vietnam.
He came back to the states, and was posted back to Texas as an instructor pilot. This is a hard assignment for an aviator coming out of an operational squadron. It was not a good place to send someone trying to readjust to being out of Vietnam and back in the United States.
He had trouble reconciling himself with his new environment. There were problems with alcoholism, and with stress related mental problems. His family life began to come apart.
At the end of his first year back, he had to choose between staying in the Army and getting out. Feeling he didn't "fit" anymore, he opted to leave the service.
The next few years of his life were not particularly good ones. I don't want to tell the whole story but some people, reading this, will recognize the pattern. Some won't.
Either way it's a good book. If anything, it's more gripping than the first book and neither of them are easy to put down. Chickenhawk went through many printings, was a best seller, and was published in the United Kingdom among other countries. Chicken Hawk Back in the World was a best seller, but can be hard to find except as a used copy. If you can latch on to them, you won't feel your money was ill spent.
Another book I've kept (and it's virtually impossible to find a copy now) is My Secret War by Richard Drury.
Although it's not a secret that the CIA operated T-28 fighter bombers over Laos and Cambodia during the war, it's not so well known that USAF pilots flew the aircraft on combat missions over the same countries long before it was released in the U.S. that they were doing so. They also operated the A-1 Skyraider in the same missions.
Richard Drury was one of the pilots who participated, and he wrote this book some years after leaving the Air Force and returning to the United States.
The first time I read this My Secret War, I was inclined to be a little suspicious about the validity of the story. It seemed to me that no military organization could operate in such an avant garde manner. Nor could I understand why any USAF pilot would want to operate under the horrific conditions that they found in Laos and Cambodia.
Some years later I read it again and this time I didn't have any doubt at all that it was a true narrative. After leaving the Air Force in 1970, he floated for awhile and then joined the California Air National Guard in 1975. He went back to SEA and flew for flying Tiger Airlines, then joined FEDEX , He is now retired and lives in California.
|T-28 operated by USAF over Laos and Cambodia|
|Captain Richard Drury with his A-1 Skyraider .|