A debut memoirist reflects on his life in flight, both as an attack pilot in Vietnam and a civilian, and the split-second choices that changed everything.
Gibson emphasizes that he tends to have the U.S. Marine mindset of self-esteem, verging on braggadocio. Yet he practically begs a reader’s pardon up front that his book is not much of a polished, coherent narrative but more of a chronology of disconnected short pieces. It is a conversational account of his life and times as an aviator, most notably flying for the Marines as an attack pilot in Vietnam. Determined to go aloft, Gibson originally intended to join the Air Force, but something as simple as choosing a different parking space led to his seeing a Marine recruiter instead—part of a recurring theme throughout the passages, on and off the battlefield, of how a seemingly minor turn of fate can alter an entire lifetime. An ardent patriot, Gibson flew combat missions as the country’s mood turned against the Vietnam War, witnessing the sacrifices and brotherhood of America’s fighting men—and yet also the grudges felt by ground troops against the pilots hurtling overhead, who were assumed to be somehow in a “cleaner” arena. He does not bang a drum much over political controversies but offers a scenario whereby Ho Chi Minh could have hastened the conquest of South Vietnam and Saigon by several years, cutting short the excruciating casualties on both sides; thus, no more talk about Ho as a military genius. In peacetime mode, Gibson pays vibrant tribute to the vintage 1946 Taylorcraft airplane he long owned and flew and to the joys of looping. He amusingly and belatedly realizes (courtesy of his voluminous reading) that an officer against whom he once played bridge was the legendary Marine ace pilot Donald Conroy, immortalized by novelist-son Pat Conroy in The Great Santini. Gibson need not apologize for his memoir’s organization. This is a fine, highly readable series of remembrances. Could a big-city book editor (probably a secret Ho admirer) have tightened up these recollections into a more smoothly greased manuscript? Maybe, but Gibson earns his medals anyway for vivid stories well-told.
An engrossing logbook of an American soldier/aviator’s career and thoughts.