Just Finished my 58th Book Review of the Year!!
“Wild Bill” Meacham was a “Slick” Pilot in country at the crescendo of the American Vietnam War, 1968. Having risen through the ranks from Paratrooper to Helo pilot, he came to the war with a will to be the best- but to get home to America too. In this book, his memoir of that hectic tour, he tells us about the day to day activity of a helo pilot in the ultimate helo war. The 101st was attached to the 101st Airborne Division- the guys that lifted the Airborne infantry battalions into their operations- so he was in on a lot of skirmishes that figure into other narratives. As his tour developed, he became accomplished at the demands to the trade- and of BSing with other soldiers in all sorts of Officers Clubs in constructive ways. Getting involved with some Special Forces types led to more than occasional special trips for LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) units- guys trying to insert far out and find VC/NVA bases, trails and formations. There’s a lot of tick tock- there’s a lot of taut screaming on radio nets, there’s said partying in American Bars all over the country- and there’s a lot of tactical information about both famous and obscure actions that will engage readers of Military History, although general reader might just enjoy the atmosphere.
Do I think the author might have embellished a passage or two? Perhaps. Do I think he’s careful to remind readers of the physical and mental strain of the pace of operations and how this was now tea party? Yes, yes he does. Flying the UH-1 was a Challenge all by itself- the third generation insertion Helicopter- and the first one deemed really robust enough for “Hot” landing zones. The non-American reader may marvel at the casual massive use of Helicopters in this war- the US often in this period using more Helos in a day’s work in Vietnam than all their NATO partners might have possessed at the time. Even when Wild Bill is flying into some dodgy circumstance, the LRRPs popping their Yellow smoke in some clearing while Bill can see the NVA in their khaki uniforms closing in all around them- I can’t help but think that a similar SAS team in Malaya, Borneo, or Oman would be required to evade beyond site and range of the enemy and do their exfil in a manner safe for the Westland Wessex that could rescue them. Meacham’s barroom diplomacy with Navy Airmen, Air force fast mover jockeys, and even, (gulp) the USMC Air wing get’s him air support service that would beggar the rest of the ASEAN alliance- all because we just slathered that place in ordnance. A story that starts as a celebration of power comes to an end with an emotionally charged few chapters that really bring home the human cost of this war and the scars and angers that some vets carry to this day. Entertaining but thought provoking at the same time-a good thing for a book.
There are adult themes and adultish scenes that make this better for the Junior reader over 12/13 years with a taste for real Vietnam History. For the Gamer/Modeler/Military Enthusiast this is a really intriguing resource. The Gamer gets a lot of Scenario development information- both for large formation insertion and retrieval- the battalion and company size operations that were bread and butter for the 101st Division- and for the SpecOps infil/exfil episodes. The modeler gets a few curates pics from the Author’s collection- and tonne of cool ideas for diorama development particularly about the LRRP ops- with some rope ladder and various other rigs employed for tree top hovers… Once again it is the Military Enthusiast who gets the most- from all aspects of the book, becoming an officer from the enlisted ranks, learning how to fly helicopters, managing one’s emotions in a war zone in the face of enraging indifference, and finally surviving it all with your wits still about you and more of a career ahead – the kind of kernels of understanding you want from a book. A good book on the Vietnam Helicopter War from the inside.