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Last edited by Bernie Weisz2260
July 28, 2011 | History

Doorgunner (Soldier of Fortune) 1 edition

Doorgunner (Soldier of Fortune)
Michael Williams

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Doorgunner (Soldier of Fortune)

Published April 1987 by Tor Books .

About the Book

Review Written By Bernie Weisz Historian, Vietnam War May 10, 2009 Contact: Pembroke Pines, Florida USA Title of Review: "A Huey Door-Gunner's Participation in The 4/1970 Cambodian Invasion" This refreshing "fictionalized account" of the experience of a door-gunner during the Cambodian Incursion of U.S. Forces during the last few years of America's debacle in Vietnam is first rate!. The book was put out by the people of "Soldier of Fortune" Magazine. I was a bit leery of it at first, but this book turned out to have a very powerful kick full of truisms and factual occurrences that actually transpired during the U.S. foray into Cambodia in April, 1970 that made my trepidation of this book unwarranted. Very often I have read fictionalized accounts of the "Vietnam Experience" that were labeled as such to avoid naming individuals or events that involved still classified details. This could very much be one of them. I tried to find more of the author's literary contributions, but apparently this is the only literary effort Michael Williams ever wrote. I e-mailed "Soldier of Fortune" about who Mr. Williams was, with no response.

Written in 1987, this book surrounds the glee and relief every American soldier in Vietnam expressed when then President Richard M. Nixon authorized an "incursion" into Cambodia in April, 1970. Across the hotly contested Vietnamese border were the Communist North Vietnamese sanctuaries along with their enormous caches of ammunition, medicine, rice, i.e. all the material that went down the Ho Chi Minh Trail for the enemy for usage against Americans! While Nixon and his emissary, Dr. Henry Kissinger had the attention of the media and the world on the Paris, France "Peace Talks", the "Policy of Vietnamization (turning the war from a joint "American-South Vietnamese" venture to solely the South Vietnamese alone e.g. "Asians fighting an "Asian War") and the complete withdrawal of American troops, American bombers and ground troops poured over the border to challenge the NVA in Cambodia, which up to this point had been "out of bounds."

While not wanting to be a "plot spoiler", Mr. Williams (a "nom de guerre"?) uses this slice of American history as the backdrop to this ultimately tragic story of a Huey door gunner. Regardless of the degree of fiction vs. fact in this story, Mr. Williams surrounds this book with a rich detail of actual occurrences that will greatly enrich the student of this conflict's knowledge and understanding of America's role in our longest standing war to date (1965 to 1973 with an estimated 60,000 Americans killed). Williams uses the main character, a door gunner named Carl "Willy" Willstrom" to express what it was like to handle the "M-60" outside the doors of a "HU-1 a/k/a Huey combat attack helicopter." The reader learns (and this is all true in all the multiple accounts of actual memoirs I have encountered in all my historical research) that when a "Huey" flew in search of the enemy in the double or triple canopy of "Nam, a door gunner would sit with his "M-60" gun pointed down outside the chopper doors, watching "the blur of the lush green jungle rush by, a scant 20 feet below the chopper's skids". This was called flying "lima-lima" (low-level flying) in chopper jargon.

The purpose of this was because below him sat the elusive enemy, "Victor Charlie", and by flying like this it made it almost impossible for the enemy on the ground to hit the chopper if it avoided the larger clearings and it kept it's airspeed up. Williams also talks about the South Vietnamese Air force in a very condescending manner, exclaiming through the protagonist that: "The control towers do a pretty good job keeping everyone straight, but mistakes happen. You 'specially gotta watch out for the VNAF (South Vietnamese Air Force) pilots. Those crazy dinks never check with the towers. They just take off any damn time and direction they want." Williams does a good job of differentiating between the difference between a door-gunner enjoying the "glory of the skies" juxtaposed with the American foot soldier, .i.e. "The Grunt" who had to hack and slash their way through the sweltering jungles bearing the Vietnamese heat, not to mention booby traps, leeches, spiders and snakes. Williams reminds us that his door gunner, "Willy a/k/a Weird Willy as his moniker" was able to enjoy the feeling of cool air across his face, the ability to get into the action of combat with a fair degree of comfort shooting at NVA units "hiding under that green curtain jungle" moving freely as he rode through the sky.

Williams reminds the reader that defying death in the skies and returning to the comfort of an air conditioned base at night, exchanging stories of the day's adventures and enjoying the camaraderie of one's fellow fliers is the optimum way to fight a war. Other advantages were regular meals, relatively comfortable working conditions and extra money in the form of "flight pay". Williams expressed the feeling "Weird Willy" had in waging this war as a door gunner. Williams wrote that Willstrom "liked the look and feel of the "M-60", and for a moment he saw himself in a fantasy, manning his gun, delivering a withering hail of fire, beating back the surging Communist hordes. The flame-flashing barrel was a scythe of death, reaping it's harvest." Williams goes into painful descriptions of the grunts who jump out of Willstrom's gunboat. These were the men who bore the brunt of the fighting in Vietnam. Violence is rife throughout this book, at times graphic and horrifyingly gory. Rescue missions, troop insertions and extractions are excitingly detailed, all written with a fast paced dexterity of words.

Williams voiced a very common theme expressed throughout all memoirs of chopper pilots, that is the dual fear of being shot down at great heights and even worse, dying an agonizing death by flame, which in the helicopter business loaded with up to 2 hours flying time of highly flammable jet fuel was a very real threat. Williams revealed very interesting facts that a typical fictional account would be devoid of. He writes that a Huey, in communicating with his base, expected the "man on the ground" to respond with proper authentication codes almost instantaneously. It was known during the Vietnamese War that English speaking "Charlies" (sabotaging NVA operators) were able to find unit frequencies and attempt to screw up American operations with fictitious radio messages. Williams made it be known in his story that if a correct code answer wasn't timely received, the U.S. gun ship that was flying cover would roll in with guns blazing.

Another interesting aspect Williams accurately covered were the door gunners in Vietnam that were "skid riders". If you buy some of the old VHS tapes or newer DVD's through Amazon, you will see door gunners that actually stood out on the skids of their helicopter while flying with neither safety straps nor nothing connecting them to their ship except their feet on the skids and their hands on the gun grips of their "M-60"s. Williams also discusses the enemy's main weapon against the U.S. helicopter, the anti-air artillery of the Chinese Communist built .51 mortar. Williams explains that while these guns spewed their murderous assaults against American choppers, they were only effective up to 3,000 feet, and only in the daytime. On "flare drops" (marking enemy positions) gunboat helicopters would stay high and at night no "running lights" would operate. For a fictionalized account of this war, this book was replete with political statements that were rife with anti-Asian sentiment. Williams made it clear throughout the book that the populace of South Vietnam the U.S. was "trying to win the hearts and minds of" didn't care less if they were Communist or not.

Throughout the book, through various characters, Williams let it be known that during a heated battle of American/South Vietnamese vs. the NVA/VC, the ARVN (Army Republic of South Vietnam-the South Vietnamese Army) would "cut and run" instead of fight, and they would "slice you up" if you turned your back on them". Williams also felt that the average Vietnamese didn't want the American presence and that the only thing that kept the American war effort in high gear was the "military industrial complex" capitalizing on the money being made out of this war.[..] Williams details incidents of suspected VC prisoners being thrown out of helicopters and grunts using civilians for target practice and killing water buffalo just for the hell of it. He details the strange gibberish and bizarre customs of the Vietnamese were slightly less than human, comparing the situation to the U.S. Frontiersman and the American Indian of the Old West. It is interesting to read that while Williams described how bad "C Rations" were, he used a bizarre passage to degrade the Vietnamese: "Can't throw food at the dinks (overdone bacon). It's against the Geneva convention to use inhumane weapons on our enemy. Besides, if we threw our food at them, can you imagine what they'd be throwing at us? Man, that "nuoc " (dead fish blood sauce used by the Vietnamese as a condiment) is NASTY! I can't figure out how these people can eat that stuff".

Williams missed nothing in this book. He detailed why Vemamts would continue to reenlist for additional tours by explaining "the high" of combat which he described as "such intense emotional inflow and outflow, a swirling current of life force that was unequaled by any other experience" ever encountered. Williams described this high as a certain "essence" or an awareness of life as death stood by, that equaled a feeling no drug could rival. Atrocities are discussed, the practice of G.I.'s taking enemy body parts as souvenirs (ears and noses as necklaces and ornaments) and the use of heroin being widespread at this point of the war were all mentioned. There are 4 other books in this series which are all available through Amazon. They are 1. "Freedom Bird" by Dennis K. Philburn ISBN#:0812512103 2. "Striker One Down" by James N. Pruitt ISBN#:0812512170 3. "Missing By Choice" by Roger Victor ISBN#:0812512065 and finally "Valley of Peril" by Alex McColl ISBN#:0812512138. Even if they are half as good as "Door Gunner", it will be well worth your time to pick these up as part of your historical quest of knowledge of America's role in the Vietnam War. "Door Gunner" was a great read! Pick this one up! Highly recommended.

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History Created December 10, 2009 · 2 revisions Download catalog record: RDF / JSON

July 28, 2011 Edited by Bernie Weisz2260 Edited without comment.
December 10, 2009 Created by WorkBot add works page