Jack B. Rochester served in the U. S. Air Force from 1965-69. He has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature. Wild Blue Yonder: A Novel of the 1960s (CreateSpace, 296 pp., $11.95, paper) is his first novel, and it is a hum-dinger.
Rochester, the author of eleven non-fiction books, tells us that all that matters is the story, and he has a point. He also cautions his readers against thinking that the main character is based on him and the experiences are his. I have strong suspicions, though, that the hero, Nathaniel Hawthorne Flowers, is a near facsimile of the author.
When I looked at the cover and the title, I assumed I was about to read a novel about a jet pilot. I also assumed that the jet-like blotch on the blue cover was a jet plane. Maybe it is, but upon scrutiny, the blotch can be seen to have a peace symbol on it. I didn’t want to read a novel about a jet pilot, so I was happy I had allowed myself to be misled.
Flowers joins the Air Force for four years to avoid getting drafted and serving two years in the Army. His recruiter promises him that he’ll be a jet pilot and Flowers believes him, for reasons beyond me.
We follow him through basic at Lackland, to his advanced training, and then to California where he works in a locked room doing a top-secret code job. The emphasis of the story is on the music and the culture of the time and the area. The place is San Francisco, where Flowers is stationed and the time is the mid sixties.
At that time I was stationed at Fort Ben Harrison in Indiana. The old cliché—night and day differences—leaps to mind. Maybe he did the right thing to believe the recruiter’s lies.
Flowers gets to see the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and just about every other band of that era, and he’s exposed to drugs and free love, which he soaks up like a sponge. He does LSD and hangs out in the Haight Ashbury with his Air Force pals. There are lots of pretty girls, at least one of whom falls madly in love with him.
At this point in the book, this reader believed that the author told the truth—that this book is not his personal story. It would be too good to be true for such fantastic things to happen to one guy.
Flowers gets overlooked for a deserved promotion and writes a letter to his congressman, which makes his commanding officer really angry. But Flowers gets the promotion. At that point, I assumed the book was headed toward Vietnam and that our hero would get sent there as a reward for his letter writing.
It’s on page 100 before every single troop in Nate’s squadron gets orders for “Southeast Asia.” More than one third of the book has elapsed. Only Nate doesn’t get sent to S.E. Asia. That was a shocker to me.
The commanding officer is afraid that if that was done to Nate, he would use his connections to bring down more horror on the officer. So Nate is sent to Germany, where he becomes a reporter for Stars and Stripes. But none of the dozens of articles he writes ever gets printed.
This is frustrating for Nate, but it’s better than being in Southeast Asia. Nate discovers that he’s lost his Top Secret clearance due to his letter, so he serves out his enlistment at a dreary little base called Kleinelachen.
Nate gets called both a baby killer and a hippie when he returns home. He is castigated by a businessman for wearing his well-earned fatigue jacket, and he’s spat at as a baby killer. And the closest he got to Vietnam was Germany.
If you are looking for a subversive novel about the Vietnam War era Air Force, you can do no better than this one. I won’t act as spoiler, but some fantastical events transpire in Europe for Flowers and his buddies, which not only didn’t happen to the author, but likely never happened to anyone in the Air Force.
The novel is great and good fun and quite a philosophical journey through European music, literature and culture. I highly recommend it.
The author’s website is wildblueyondernovel.com