11 August 2005
, Maverick and Wings of the Eagle are probably the three finest books written by Vietnam era helicopter pilots. Others have tried, but for one reason or another have missed the mark. Jerry Boyle's Apache Sunrise belongs with the three autobiographies mentioned above.
Here is another totally honest memoir by a Vietnam vet who speaks for thousands of others who shared similar experiences, traumas, fears and emotions. It's “our story” told by one of “us” and that's what makes it special.
Boyle, a 31-year-old cashiered ex-cop, finds himself struggling through a failing marriage and unemployment at the mid-point in his life. In desperation he decides to enlist in the U.S. Army. A licensed pilot, he pursues his love of flying by opting for army aviation. However, his age and 20/60 vision in one eye put the skids to his plans.
Fortunately, a kid who saved him from drowning eight years earlier during a parachuting accident is now a decorated Vietnam vet and an Army recruiter in southern California. With his help, Boyle is able to obtain the necessary waivers to enter the service. He makes it through basic training at Ft. Polk and successfully completes the aviation warrant officer program before being assigned to the Cobra transition course at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Georgia.
Along the way, he is warned that when he gets to Nam he should avoid assignment to the 1st Cav. Division; especially it's Apache Troop 1/9th. But as luck would have it, that's exactly where he ends up.
The remainder of the book chronicles Boyle's tour with Apache Troop, covering his transition from an FNG “front seater” to a seasoned aircraft commander. Boyle successfully weaves humour, tragedy and heroism (never his own) in to the day-to-day life in a combat zone. I especially like the way he portrays himself as a bumbling, stumbling newbie always on the verge of screwing up (although the reader know this is far from the true). His humility is refreshing and lends credibility to his story.
He even volunteers to be the troop mess officer, a duty that no officer in his right mind would ever willingly ask for. But Boyle, who was a cook in a Reserve outfit in his younger days, had an ulterior motive. He quickly turned the troop mess tent located on a firebase in to an eatery where patrons didn't mind standing in line.
All is not fun and games, of course. Boyle and his troop leader make a controlled crash in Cambodia and nearly have to spend the night. They are rescued at last light by the 1/9th “Blues,” among whose numbers is BTL's own Kregg Jorgenson. And this not Boyle's only brush with death. He doesn't really get in to his own heroics, but then real warriors never do. However, a Silver Star, three DFC's, five Bronze Stars and two Army Commendation Medals for Valour attest to his courage and his service.
Apache Sunrise is a damned fine read. I liked it! Boyle has a gift, which he has shared with us. It couldn't come at a better time of the year.
Buy Apache Sunrise
This article was originally published in Behind The Lines magazine. VietnamGear.com has reproduced this article with the kind permission of Gary Linderer.
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