Chickenhawk, by Robert Mason, tells the story of a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. Mason had always wanted to fly and already held a private pilot’s license when he volunteered for the Army to fly helicopters. His flight training is recounted in the book. He is then assigned to the 1st Air Cavalry Division and sent to Vietnam in 1965.
Once in Vietnam, Mason faces battle. His memories are written vividly, and one really gets the idea of what was going on. In the second half, the stories become a little more episodic, less coherent. Mason also has his doubts about the war – both about its purpose and the way it is fought. It is obvious that even in 1965 it was clear to simple soldiers that the war could not be won by seek & destroy. The last chapter covers Masons time after return from duty. He openly writes about his post-traumatic stress disorder that made him an alcoholic and got him into jail.
This book is a must-read about the Vietnam War.
Thud Ridge differs in both author and aircraft. Jack Broughton had started flying at the end of WWII, seen combat in Korea, and was a Colonel and vice Wing Commander during the Vietnam War, flying the F-105 Thunderchief out of Takhli (Thailand) against targets in North Vietnam.
Broughton usually had a small tape recorder with him in the cockpit, and the book recounts several battles by the radio transmission and what happened around Broughton. Like Chickenhawk, this book does not give the “big picture”, but the experiences of an individual. Other than Mason, Broughton does not question the war itself (or at least doesn’t write about it), but makes it very clear that he also was not happy about the way his part of the war was fought. He especially addresses the target restrictions and target selections as obstacle to success.
Broughton even faced a court-martial. One of his pilots had attacked an AAA site with his cannon in self-defense. On the gun camera film, a Soviet freighter was clearly visible as being in the line of attack. To save this pilot from court-martial, Broughton destroyed the film. It is also interesting to note that Thud Ridge was first published during the war, in 1969.
If you’re interested in the air war above Northern Vietnam, you’ll have to read this book!