Beveled by interludes of poetry, Schulz’s biting memoir tells of his eight-plus years as a supersonic fighter pilot.
Schulz offers snippets of his youth in Missoula, Mont.—where he excelled at sports to the point of being offered a shot at playing professional baseball, then proceeded to be a quarterback for the University of Montana football team while majoring in journalism—but the thrust of his story pivots on his combat missions during the Vietnam War flying his beloved but freakishly dangerous F-100 jet fighter. Early on, in both his searchingly sincere poetry and his controlled narrative, readers will sense the ambivalence he brought to the conflict: “The main U.S. headquarters base at Ton Son Nhut is the grubbiest place I have ever seen; filthy, and old and dingy inside….My first thought was, why would anyone fight over a place like this?” He continues to ponder this question throughout the book, but he’s intent on conveying what it was like to be behind the controls of such a volatile machine as the F-100, a touchy supersonic jet with an overwhelming arsenal of deadly weapons—cannons, bombs, napalm, etc. Nicknamed “widowmaker,” even the plane itself was murderous due to its difficult handling. As the war carried on—this book focuses on the early-to-mid 1960s—Schulz begins to experience a pride in protecting American troops, and he flew his missions with a certain bravura. On 107 of his 275 sorties, he returned with his jet shot up. “Mine was neither a heroic stance nor a form of bravery; it was merely a mindset,” he says, “an attitude based on preconditioning...hyper-extended to a form of unreality by the pressures of combat, cordite and loss—and more than a little anger.” He recognized his recklessness—“I loved being in combat, and loved to join with my metal partner as we roared down the hottest battles”—in time to stay alive; later, he found a measure of remorse: “And I’ve known a strange and special breed of men, / and lived with facts / that would appall me / now—but didn’t then.” Sprinkled into the mix are vignettes of his fellow pilots, vulnerable love poems to his wife, which serve as counterweight to the mayhem, and not enough about his 21-year career with Voice of America.
An intimate, creditable wartime memoir set against the sound and fury of the Vietnamese sky.