Fast Movers: America's Jet Pilots and the Vietnam Experience

John Darrell Sherwood, Author
John Darrell Sherwood, Author Free Press $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-684-84784-9
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Mass Market Paperbound - 336 pages - 978-0-312-97962-1
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A staff historian for the U.S. Navy, Sherwood (Officers in Flight Suits) offers this compelling presentation of America's fighter pilots of the Vietnam era. His study, though based heavily on interviews with and narratives of just 14 pilots, is by no means impressionistic. It is a presentation of personalities and mentalities in a military community that is becoming increasingly a band apart from the rest of the armed forces as well as from civilian society. Sherwood effectively conveys a central part of his subjects' Vietnam experience: frustration at not being allowed to wage all-out war. He describes in detail such fierce but futile campaigns as Rolling Thunder and Commando Hunt, which, Sherwood writes, ""[f]or its technological wizardry... had little impact on the Communists' ability to wage war."" Stress was a constant companion for the pilots. But few resigned their commissions or turned in their wings. Not everyone met the standards, and Sherwood is blunt in naming names. Nor was there a common pattern of behavior. Some fighter pilots were like Robin Olds, leader of one of the top-ranked F-4 wing, larger-than-life figures, charismatic iconoclasts. Others, like navy commander Roger Sheets, took pride in their professionalism. But all fighter pilots describe their common ground: the shared knowledge that they would do almost anything to help each other in need, manifested in high-risk rescue missions and again in the POW camps. It was the final element that cemented a community of warriors fighting what many saw as a senseless war. (Feb.)
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