Reviewed by Joni Bour

I enjoyed this book the way you enjoy the presence of your friend when your heart has been stepped on. I enjoyed this book the way sometimes even a can of soup tasted better when your Mom opened it and then later poured it warm from the pan into a bowl and sat with you a while. I like this book in the same way I like the "Corpsman's Bible" my great uncle gave me that he carried through France during his service in World War II. I hope the author won't be offended when I say let's hide this book so only you and I can read it. Don't let Steven Spielberg find it. This book is just too good for the big screen.

I wonder if you know what I mean. Have you ever read a really good book and then been excited to hear it would be turned into a movie? And then when you saw the movie you were disappointed? I don't want them to do that to this book. They would want to go in between the covers of those pages and re-write history and we can't let them do that. They would add people or leave people out, make it more graphic, throw in some drugs, toss in a few more bombs. But we don't want them to do that.

This book has all the things any good war story should have. It has war, no question about it; brutal destruction. But what John Michael Hendrix allows us as readers to do with his part of the war is to picture it without ourselves being bombarded with it. I have read books where every page is graphic with language and descriptions that make your eyes pop out. You may barely be able to get through it. I'm not suggesting that style of writing is wrong. The truth is what the truth is, however it may be described. But this author shows with his style that you don't have to make people's eyes pop out in order for people to see. I saw his fear and I felt his fear. I saw his friend killed by the enemy soldiers before he could be rescued and I could easily picture myself on my knees crying for that friend. I felt like Phil was my friend too. I hovered over the radio listening as they tried frantically to figure out a way to rescue another pilot who was downed and injured. I listened with horror as the pilot whispered into his radio the enemy was near. They were in the back of his ship. They were playing cards in the back of his ship. They were using the dead body of a fellow pilot for bayonet practice. His radio went silent. I prayed while reading that book, 32 years after it happened, that God would somehow spare this man a terrible death.

Even with such evil around him, the author was able to meet Patti, an Army nurse, an angel of mercy and he fell in love with her. Maybe he saw goodness where there was precious little of it anywhere else. They even got married in Vietnam. I understand they are still married some 32 years later. Throughout this book he speaks of Patti and her love for the wounded soldiers and how soldiers loved her. He speaks of the relationships a soldier has with other soldiers that transcend friendships in the peaceful part of the world. He speaks of Weird Bob and Bill, my two favorite men in the book. Weird Bob was a pilot who was probably not meant for war, but probably the fellow you would want to send in to help when everyone else is too afraid to go. He would go and get the job done. Bill was the author's gunner in the small scout helicopter they flew over Vietnam. Bill seemed slightly left of center. But I loved him the way the author did. Bill copes with being at war the best he can and maybe differently than others might have. But he survived and in the end that is all that matters to me. Weird Bob survived too. All three men came home and are living today, which makes my heart feel better after reading about so many who did not.

The author received three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, the Air Medal for Valor and was decorated four times with the Distinguished Flying Cross. He served three tours of duty in Vietnam. I consider one tour of duty in Vietnam remarkable. Three is beyond my comprehension. He never once talks about himself as being a hero or being anything special except the author, a helicopter pilot. He often says things like, "We always did our best to get them out." One time he spoke about flying extra low in a "hot" area even though his helicopter was out of ammunition, to try to draw the enemy fire away from the troops. I am not sure what the author would define as heroic or brave or selfless, but I know and you know. Read the book. It won't be one of those books you will lay down and forget to finish. I think it will be one of those books you tell your friends about. You may have a tough time describing it. So maybe you should tell them that I said, "Just go buy the book and read it. You will be glad you did."

EMAIL Joni Bour

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Posted 10/23/03