I’ve always been a fan of flying and when I went to join the Army, that’s what I wanted to do. I said to Sgt Dudley at the Isle of Wight Army careers office, “I want to be a pilot or a para“. With an eyebrow raised, Dudley invited me in for aptitude testing and my dreams of wearing raybans whilst skimming treetops in my chopper were coming true.”
Right, I’m going to be blunt, you’re too stupid for one but too intelligent for the other” stated the Sarge.
So a life in the Royal Corps of Signals followed! However my love of helicopters has never faded and my first unit and the one I went to the Gulf with, was 21 Signal Regiment ( AS ). The ‘AS’ stands for air support and amongst other things, it meant you got mess around with choppers and they were your taxi. Carrying on special occasions, your truck and trailer underneath.
Now many a great book about military aviation has hit the shelves but so far in my opinion, none as good as ‘Chickenhawk’. You frankly fly up front as Robert Mason puts you in nothing more than ‘the shit’. Mason dreamed of flying helicopters and the U.S. Army gave him his chance.
They sent him to Vietnam where, between August 1965 and July 1966, he flew more than 1,000 assault missions. He gives you a devastating bird’s eye-view of that war in all its horror, as he experiences the accelerating terror, the increasingly desperate courage of a man ‘acting out the role of a hero long after he realises that the conduct of the war is insane.’
It is a rollicking rollercoaster of a ride and one that will have you questioning the very existence of conflict. Luckily as most military men have, Chickenhawk is peppered with black humour that will raise a guffaw with forces type people.
What is also nice is that Mason now has a website up and running so you can check out some pictures of his mates and try and get an angle on the atmosphere. My edition of the book hasn’t got the pictures so it’s well worth a shufty.
It’s a vivid depiction of war as a military aviator but very much a personal story too. You can’t help but get lost in it all. Buy a copy, read it and revisit it again like I have.