on 25 June 2003
This is the story of how a boy, like so many others before and after him, left his rural home to fight for his country and really didn't and couldn't possibly envisage what horrors lay in store in Vietnam. What makes it more readable is the fact that he clearly is not a trained writer, so we are left with a very lean, stripped-down and hard-hitting narrative. He has a conversational style and you can picture him sitting across a table from you for a couple of hours and telling you what he did and saw in Vietnam. He arrives as a fresh, green Huey chopper pilot recruit, eager to so his bit for Uncle Sam. He leaves scarred, disillusioned and horrified and his life is never the same afterwards. If you've never read about the Vietnam War(I have read more than 30 books about the conflict) before, then start here. He is honest and you do get swept along by the vividness of his story. Highly recommended.
on 26 June 2000
I first read this book about 15 years ago and was absolutely stunned, both by the story itself, and how it was told.
Robert Mason's writing style is so matter-of-fact that everything rings true, and is superbly entertaining at the same time. The reader feels that he can fly a helicopter himself, so convincing are the descriptions about the training, the flying controls, the night-time formation flying, etc.
If you were a teenager in the 60's (like me), the Vietnam war is usually remembered through the newsreel bulletins of the time, with their footage of B-52 air strikes, burning Vietnamese villages and so on. Robert Mason's book tells the same story of what was (ultimately) a terrible waste of time, money, and, not least, human life. However, this book transports you to Vietnam itself, so vivid are the recollections. Mason's descriptions of the people involved in the conflict, mostly North & South Vietnamese and American, gives a completely authentic insight into their mentality at that time. On the one side, Communists, fanatical in their fight against Colonial/Imperial rule, who built tunnels under the enemy and would walk or cycle into battle, and on the other, the (mostly) Americans, who had the best military technology in the world and could fly anywhere in the country by fast jet, military transport or, more likely, in a Bell Huey helicopter, as flown by Robert Mason, and described so brilliantly in Chickenhawk.
My own first copy of the book, bought so many years ago, was lent to a friend and never returned. It's replacement, now also a few years old, has been read and re-read so often that it is well worn and dog-eared. It's a great book - perhaps it's time I got it off the shelf again!.
on 31 May 2002
It took me the best part of a year to find this book and believe me it is worth waiting for. The only problem is that before you notice the book is finished and you want to know more about this man and his saint of a wife!
I found myself laughing and amazed at the meandering route this mans life has taken. From the drug smuggling to moving a girlfriend in with him and his wife! And going to prison when life finally was looking up. All in all I think if we wait just long enough he will astound us once again with his experiance's. On a more serious note, the problems that were caused by serving, on this man and others like him should entitle them all to at least a medal.
Robert Mason. Write faster!!
on 27 May 2007
First person narrative of combat seems to fall into two courts, the first being self indulgent and blinkered, the other insightful and wide ranging. Mason's book is a vivid, moving and harrowing account of his life as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, a strange world many miles from home. From his initial delight at being selected to become an Army pilot, through the frustrations of learning to fly, the joy of passing his pilot's course through to his arrival in Vietnam, Mason writes with pathos and honesty.
His rapid disillusionment with the War, the homesickness for his love Patience back in America, the near misses with death, and his descent into a mist of drink and drugs to keep him sane enough to be able to continue working in such a harsh environment and moving and well written. There is a definate edge of sadness about Mason's story, and it is possible to see from his first hand accounts of fighting and military decision making, why Vietnam ended in disaster for the Americans.
If you are looking for an academic study of the War, then this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a blunt, honest and harrowing account of one mans personal experience then you MUST read this book.
There is no attempt to glorify war, indeed Mason makes much of his own ignorance of the realities of combat. This is not meant to a political text either, and there is nothing about the reasons for the war.
In the genre of first person reflective narrative of war, this should become one of the classics, and is up there with the Great War's Old Soldiers Never Die. A truly fascinating read, and one that should be on the book shelf of anyone with an interest in military history.
on 31 October 2002
Not only a must-have for any "Vietnam" book lover, but a great insight into the terror of that war through the eyes of a gifted pilot. An excellent book for any would-be helicopter flyer. Mason's technical expertise in relating the almost-impossible task of learning to fly a helicopter will meet with the firm approval of anyone who has tried this for themselves. He builds the accounts of his training & subsequent missions under heavy fire & ludicrous command descisions into a spell-binding narrative that has you in the co-pilot's seat with him, as his life rockets towards the ultimate tragedy of his own personal breakdown... A book I have read many, many times, with a firm fan-base amongst all I've loaned it to. EXCELLENT! *****
on 29 October 2003
I read this book on advice from my father, who himself had read it on numerous occasions.
He told me that it told the story of what the war was really like from a huey pilots view, after my 2nd time reading it I still can't get enough.
Robert Masons account of his tour in Vietnam is as real as it gets, no holds barred, he tells it like it is. I found myself so caught up in the book, at times laughing out loud at the insanity of military life, other times feeling so depressed at his hopeless situation.
His accounts of the men he served with (the preachers), and the conditions they served under were burned into my memory, this book has it all.
If you don't read any other books on the subject, read this one !
on 16 June 2005
Chickenhawk is possibly the most moving book i have ever read and possibly the most honestly written.
If you want to try to feel vietnam from a book then this is it.
The last page stunned and shocked me , read this book you will not be disappointed.
on 15 September 2007
Unlike other reviews, I do not feel I need to qualify my comments with precision- this isn't a great book about Vietnam, or war, or flying- this is a great book, plain and simple. It's a rollercoaster ride, with highs of excitement, lows of despair- all told with a breath-taking honesty- you WILL care about the author. Two female friends of mine with no interest in the military read it and were thouroughly moved. I read quite a bit, and I rate this as highly as anything I've ever picked up. If you read this, you won't be disappointed.
on 18 October 1998
Chickenhawk begins in the summer of 1964 as the young and dreamy rookie pilot, Charles Mason, began training to become an Army aviator. By July 1966 he returns to the States a wrecked man, after spending a year flying helicopters in Vietnam.
When I read the book I was immediately struck by Mason's down-to-earth and unpretentious style in communicating just what was going on, not only around him but also in his mind. It's certainly a brave story. Mason freely describes his gradual mental decline when confronted with the lunacy and tragedy of the war.
Readers with historical or aviation interests will not be disappointed. Throughout the book there are subtle clues as to why the Americans would ultimately fail. In terms of helicopters, Mason conveys a wealth of information and mission detail that gives the reader a real birds-eye-view of the war.
I highly recommend Chickenhawk, not as a war story, but a human story. Few readers will fail not to be touched by this man's experiences; it's a lasting testimony to everything that is wrong about war.
on 26 March 2005
Read this book and change your life.
I have a hole inside me, it was formed as I turned the last pages of Chickenhawk for the first time. Mason's story is written with such honesty and clarity that the you immediately empathise with the fresh faced young Mason, and you feel great for it. As the story progresses, Mason's descent into horror hooks you, and by the time you realise what's going on, it's too late. You're no longer a spectator. Mason has paid the highest tribute to the men who suffered in Viet Nam by allowing us to experience the horror, in ways that are too real, too uncomfortable. I have never been more grateful to an author. This book changed my life. I have NEVER met anyone who has read it that hasn't felt the same way. I cried when I finished "We Were Soldiers Once and Young", but I got over it.
I have NEVER got over Chickenhawk. If there's only one book on your shelf, make it this one.
Thank you, Robert Mason.