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.