We’d like to welcome author John Aubrey Anderson to War Through the Generations and the Vietnam War Reading Challenge. He’s kindly written up a post about his interest in the Vietnam War, his connections with the war, and how it inspired him to write The Cool Woman, which some of you have read for the challenge.
Please give him a warm welcome.
As part of a school project, my granddaughter was required to interview a Vietnam War vet . . . she chose me. Her questions served to remind me . . . that I was relaxed about going to Vietnam because that was my job, that I wept when we buried one of my best friends in Arlington National Cemetery, and that my best memory of that part of my life is of returning home to my family.
The reality of the hell of war cannot be captured in the written word — be it fact or fiction. Nonetheless, I chose the chaos of the war in Vietnam as the backdrop for my fourth novel, The Cool Woman, because I wanted my main characters in an environment that would help “refine their thinking.” I tell much of the story from the cockpit — a vantage point familiar to me.
We launched our B-52 missions out of Guam and Thailand, which means we operated in a relatively safe environment. However, a sign in the parachute shop at one of our bases offered food for thought to anyone who believed pilots had an advantage over the guys on the ground. It said . . .
IT’S BETTER TO BE DOWN HERE
WISHING YOU WERE UP THERE —
THAN UP THERE
WISHING YOU WERE DOWN HERE.
Combat flying, for all the obvious reasons, offers a myriad of opportunities to experience life-changing moments. For too many pilots in Vietnam, those moments came while they were strapped in a crippled aircraft over a jungle full of bad guys — or, worse yet, over downtown Hanoi — watching the slipstream tear pieces off the airplane and listening to a chorus of other pilots yelling, “Eject! Eject! Eject!”
When a pilot was forced to bail out, the execution of his rescue became the responsibility of the A-1 fighter pilots of the 1st Special Operations Squadron — call sign “Sandy.” The 1st SOS was based at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base (NKP), and aviation historians have described the missions flown by the pilots of that unit as the most hazardous in the annals of aerial combat. When asked to describe the “Sandy” operation, one pilot said, “They go door-to-door in Hanoi, looking for downed pilots.”
In The Cool Woman . . .
Second Lieutenant William P. Mann, the orphaned son of a Tuskegee Airman, is staid, sober, and single when he reports to pilot training. Twelve months later he has a new bride, an acquired taste for beer . . . and an expressed disdain for God.
Bill Mann joins the 1st SOS in the fall of 1971. As far as the young fighter pilot is concerned, he’s in Vietnam for one reason . . . to amass a combat record that will propel him toward the general officer ranks.
The Cool Woman’s story follows Mann and those close to him — in Southeast Asia and at home — while he spends the first six months of his tour proving that the pilot who insists on being his own North Star is forever lost.
In May of 1972, we find the gifted young aviator passed out on the floor of a Bangkok hotel bathroom. He’s a borderline alcoholic, his new bride is divorcing him, and he’s hours away from learning — there is something worse than dying.
Thanks, John, for sharing your story with us.
FTC Disclosure: Links will take you to an Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase is required, though appreciated to cover postage and shipping costs of challenge prizes.