In Bingaman’s stellar memoir, his boyish obsession with flight blossoms into a grueling but rewarding career with the U.S. military, leading him into the uncertainties of war.
Bingaman returns to his Iowa roots in this collection of anecdotes, reminiscences, and breathtaking impressions of clashes and close calls among fighter pilots and their peers. Recounting first his time in England as an American airman in a NATO squadron, the narrative covers his time in Oregon, the Midwest and Vietnam, detailing the operations—particularly the idiosyncrasies and frustrations—of military programs and the officers that oversaw them. In the Cold War shadows cast by Eisenhower and Khrushchev, Bingaman changes locations multiple times, taking his family with him. In Vietnam, as the war unfolds, he finds himself caught between the dangerous requirements of his occupation and an American bureaucracy with strenuous demands but too little regard for the human costs. A careful combination of career savvy and compassion helps Bingaman keep his wits sharp as friends disappear around him and the political situation grows thornier; he manages to survive a war he judged to be “a complete misfortune” and in which the White House wasted arms, effort and men. Well-paced and written in economical prose, Bingaman’s retelling of his past is at once richly personal and broadly historical, sacrificing neither breadth nor depth to convey specific bits of information as well as the zeitgeist of the time. In addition to several black-and-white photographs, there’s a profuse amount of technical vocabulary and jargon in the volume—e.g., “Don, as Kingpin three, leading our element, lost his wing man on startup, a ground abort, and I filled in as Kingpin four”—though it doesn’t derail the fundamental human interest driving this account of the formidable constitution and patience required of someone who aspires to high-level military service.
A sensitive, astute contribution to the history of the armed forces.