Guts N' Gunships, Mark Garrison

Guts N’ Gunships has been mentioned indirectly several times here over the years. If you are not familiar it is one of many books about the helicopter war in Vietnam. This one is told in a unique and, I think, charming way by a man who had been reliving the story nightly for nearly 50 years before putting into print. It isn’t high literature. His conversational narrative lends charm and truth to the horror. I’ve been in training for the last couple of weeks. The drudgery of V1 cuts and RNP approaches has left me fantasizing about helicopters again and I gave the book yet another read. It’s perfect for a casual sit down. The chapters are each just a few pages long. For much of his life Mark was practically a professional drinker (now sober). You get the impression that each chapter is about the equivalent to one slowly consumed beer as you listen to him shoulder to shoulder at a bar.

This morning, after finishing the book for the 3rd time I was curious if he was still alive. (Sorry but I think I’m not alone in being a bit more morbid recently.) That search was inconclusive but it brought me to a 21 Gun interview with (now Dr.) Garrison recorded a year or two ago. Read the book first if you can and then listen to the interview. It opens with a combat recording that picks up all three combat transmissions (FM=guys on the ground, VHF=“slicks” and UHF=“Waldo”, the lead in Mark’s (‘Pigpen’s’) Gunship flight). It brings a particular chapter from the book to life. Mark gives himself a bit of an Indiana good ol’ boy persona when he tells his story which belies a cool professional behind the stick. (Not that the two can’t coexist.)

But there is a funny rub to the podcast that totally matches the personality Mark writes for himself. Mark is on the phone (or Skype) in the interview. In the background you can hear what sounds like Mark’s wife gossiping nonsense on another phone. Actually it’s his parrot. A very well-trained bird with, like ‘Pigpen’, lots to say. Well, anyway, I know I am sharing with you a very specific experience. One you are unlikely to repeat but if you have an hour to kill and you like helicopters, the interview will not disappoint. If you have two hours to kill, read the book. It is funny, scary and almost totally absent of any self-pity.


Just what I needed!
Started summer vacation today…

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Thanks for the recommendation!

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Thanks for that, will have to check it out. “Chicken Hawks” was my first love in this genre, if you haven’t read that one.

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Have read listened to it twice. Thanks for the heads-up on the podcast.

I have this too, never knew about the podcast thanks

A long time ago…I was in Junior High School (for the Millennials, Junior High School was what we used to call Middle School)…I read a book by a Vietnam Huey pilot - think he did two tours. Remember he talked about “Slicks” and “Gunships”…something about their O’Club with a skull over the bar that they would make the mouth move when they were singing…he went back to the States, got out of the Army and got hired as a basic helo instructor at Fort Something-or-other…did that for a while before the PTSD kicked in…although they didn’t have that term for it at the time. Ring any bells?

Sailors… :roll_eyes:

Fort Rucker!

Could it have been Hugh L. Mills and the book ”Low Level Hell” ?


So…that must be where this whole “Ruck Sack” –that Army guys are always going on about–started? :slightly_smiling_face:

I’ll have to look up the book…sounds sort of familar…but a long time ago.

EDIT: Don’t think so. The book I read, he was flying Hueys.

I believe that was “Chickenhawk” by Robert Mason. It is probably the most famous of the Huey books.


That’s It!!! I remember that title!

Thanks smokin’!

EDIT: My memory is off - must have read it in college.

From Amazon: " More than half a million copies of Chickenhawk have been sold since it was first published in 1983."

(I was a Sophomore in 1983)

Think the book I read in JHS was a novel about flying Hueys in Vietnam.

a small collection of worthwhile reading

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@gadget, that’s an incredible list!

Vietnam era helicopter combat would make the ultimate combat flight sim I think. The terrain is beautiful. The flights are short but harrowing. The numbers of units involved within the bubble are small. The flying is challenging even without the combat. And the combat itself would be somewhat plausible.


yup - i dont have them all, therefore havent read them all
the ones i do have had several goes, they are all such brilliant stories.
some absolute must reads in there;

  • Low-Level Hell
  • To the Limit
  • Taking Fire
  • Snake Pilot
  • Apache
  • Hellfire
  • Warthog
  • Hammer from above
  • Joint Force Harrier
  • A nightmares prayer
  • Sweating the metal

Note: not to detract from Guts n Gunships, I don’t have it (yet) therefore haven’t read it
but have heard good things from some of my flight sim cohorts, so its ON my must read list…

being hoping someone would do the vietnam map in DCS…
just so the F4 & A6 & OV-10 Bronco (when they come about) would have somewhere nice & tropical to unload
as well as give the hueys a happy home


I am halfway through “Low Level Hell”. Another good one, thanks! I will probably slowly nibble through half your list eventually.

And I agree about DCS or some other sim. Using X-Plane, I’ve been sandboxing techniques in both the Hughes 500 and Bell 412. DCS lacks the fidelity and look to even try. The Quatam River scenery has LZs cut through high forests that mimic some of the Slick experience. They are Canadian trees, not 3-canopied Jungle, but fully loaded on a hot day with an inch of left rudder remaining, some of the challenge is there.