CHICKENHAWK by Robert C. Mason


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The actual condition of being a helicopter pilot in Vietnam in 1965-66""--as narrated, in an unremarkable but sometimes effectively plain style, by Vietnam vet Mason. The narrative starts with the rigors of flight school, then moves to Fort Benning: ""When they announced that we must turn in all our underwear to have it dyed olive green, and that we were to paint our flight helmets the same color, we knew the time was near."" Once in Vietnam, Mason found himself digging ditches--setting up camp. But soon he was flying a ""Huey"" without guns (a ""slick""), carrying troopers into landing zones, dropping ammo. ""I learned how to function, even though I was scared shitless, by doing it over and over again. I had become efficient, numb, or stupid. I learned that everyone adapts and becomes concerned with the details of the job at hand, no matter how bizarre."" The numbness wasn't complete or lasting, however: Mason was horrified by the heaps of dead and wounded he began to carry regularly, unnerved by the constant flights under-fire; he suffered from dizziness, sleeplessness, became dependent on tranquilizers; R&R in Taipei or Hong Kong was little help--prostitutes no substitute for his wife back home. He also, predictably, became increasingly dubious about both the competence and morality of the war effort--with compassion for innocent local victims and (less convincingly) distress over the destruction of Vietnamese culture. As a personal story, however, Mason's chronicle is oddly unsatisfying and remote: when he mentions his postwar miseries (including a drug-smuggling conviction) in an epilogue, there's a strong sense that whole chunks of his character have been missing throughout. And when Mason occasionally strives for more evocative prose-reactions to Vietnam horror, the results are stale and flat. (""What's next in this carnival? I thought."") But, as a straightforward record of day-to-day, Vietnam-soldiering existence, this is a specific, detail-rich addition to the growing catalogue--with enough barracks dialogue and ironic portraiture (e.g., a supposed Vietnamese interpreter who knows only a half-dozen English words) to provide occasional relief from the flight-by-flight grimness.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1983
ISBN: 0143035711
Publisher: Viking