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Review: William Peterson: Missions of Fire and Mercy Until Death Do Us Part

By Remy Benoit

Missions of Fire and Mercy.

I am of an age that saw the transition of helicopters, which, as kids, we all looked up to see with excitement, become the choppers of the American War in Viet Nam with all the mixed emotions that very name carries with it.

I have never physically been in one, not one much for flying, but I just spent a year with Bill Peterson and his crew flying in one over, and into, the green. It took me several weeks to read this book as Bill's words, descriptions, adrenaline highs, terror, doubt, pride all seized my heart, soul and mind and I could hear the blades cutting through the air; feel the vibration; smell the cordite and fuel; and taste the very soul of their missions of fire and mercy.

I had to stop, put down the book awhile to process it all, even though I write with veterans of Viet Nam all the time. Bill's words are so open, so on target, that the reader has to come down from the mission.

That is real writing; that is Bill's truth that he is sharing with readers.

The crew took the soldiers into cold or hot LZ's, knowing they would come back for them, perhaps later that day seeing their fear going in; carrying some out grievously wounded; bringing some out for whom the war, for whom life, was over. They flew in with adrenaline highs to stay alive; to shoot at the enemy from the air; to feel the impact of the enemy shells on the skin of their flying machines. They knew, absolutely knew, each time they went out that this could be the last mission; that they might crash and burn, crash and explode, be shot out of the air as they went on these missions of fire and mercy.

They lost their buddies, their fellow crew members; they made bonds that would last for a lifetime. They manned their flying ships, hating the enemy; questioning the impact of the war on the Vietnamese; bewildered, and yes, angered, by the ineptitude of those in Washington running the war, doctoring kill rates, white washing the Five O'Clock Follies.

They rejoiced at letters and packages from home; they sweltered in the heat and humidity; and they carried on, each and every day, revving up those engines, taking those birds on missions only with the thought of protecting, supplying, transporting those consigned to fight their way through the boonies, the jungle, the night that belonged to the enemy.

They sought cover as their base of operations was leveled and they lost the few precious personal possessions and letters they had; the witnessed first hand the nightmare of Khe Sanh. And each morning, they got up before dawn, revved up those engines, and went at it again.

I simply cannot recommend this book highly enough if you want to know; really want to know, really want to feel what it was like to be in one of those metal birds: flying over, into the green, defying enemy guns, defying death each time you rev up an engine and take to the air; each time you come down to drop off soldiers or supplies; each time you drop down to pick up soldiers running on their own, being carried by the buddies with their innards spewing out of them.

Purple Heart Awards, 36 Air Medals, Presidential Citation, Vietnamese Cross of Galantry tell you something of what Bill knew; but what is open heart, open soul is what Bill shared with a refugee from Viet Nam, a woman who became an American citizen, years later, who brought him coffee, breakfast, and perhaps some healing for both of them. What bond did her time starving in the jungle and his in the air form between them?

If you want truth, if you want reality, if you want to know war and what those we send come to know when we send them, the open your heart, your soul, and your mind to what Bill Peterson has to tell you. It just might change your thoughts on oh so many realities only those who have been there know; it just might make you work harder so less get to know those horrors. So less live forever after with post-traumatic stress. Live or die with the legacy of Agent Orange of the chemical du jour.


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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