We’re reviewing Michael D. Lazares’ Goodbye My Darling; Hello, Vietnam! (CreateSpace, 312pp., $15, paper; $3.99, Kindle) and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (CreateSpace, 282 pp., $15, paper; $3.99) together because they share author and editor—and because “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” contains some of the more exciting episodes that held this reader’s attention in Goodbye My Darling.
Lazares served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. He flew Loaches in his first tour and Chinooks in his second. Lazares then put in seven years in the Army as a flight instructor. He went into the Army Reserves, and retired after twenty-eight years of service. He then became an officer in the Tacoma Police Department. Because I enjoyed Good Bye so much, I will put his book Tacoma Blue at the top of my recreational reading list.
When Lazares first arrived in Vietnam, he flew for E/82nd Artillery in the First Cavalry Division. One of the many things that makes his books fun to read is his rough-and-ready attitude toward authority figures. Lazares has a genius for rubbing them the wrong way, as well as a great gift for relating stories about these incidents and about the many hair-raising adventures he had while flying.
His “Snakes in the Lake” story appears in both books. I found this autobiography preferable to the catch-as-catch-can, multiple author book, “We Gotta Get out of this Place,” because I prefer Lazares’ writing style to that of most of the other contributors to We Gotta.
I hasten to add though, that there are stories in We Gotta by authors other than Lazares that make that book well worth the price. “Bird Dog’n” by Carl Buick is one of those stories. “Cantelopes” by George Van Riper, a tale of overuse of Agent Orange, is another. For me to enjoy that tale, it had to be a good one, and it was. It even made me laugh more than once—aloud.
Both books contain many knuckle-chewing tales of flying with almost no fuel, darkness descending, clouds obscuring everything, and shots being fired from the ground by just about everybody and anyone.
Of these two books, the one I recommend as indispensable for those who search out helicopter books is Good Bye, My Darling because it is that rare book about a Vietnam War helicopter pilot that dares to give a back story, the boyhood origins of the author, and does it in a way that makes the book as interesting as the thrill-a-minute sections that take place during the author’s two Vietnam War tours.
These two books touch many of the same bases that earlier helicopter books touched, and that is a good thing. We witness defoliation missions. We meet Charlton Heston. We find out about ash and trash. We get to see again the VC barber of legend and history. There’s even a mention of my home town, Yakima, Washington.
The books are not all scary action episodes. Lazares is also capable of reflection, as when he flies over some French cemeteries and observes: “I was too young to appreciate the fact that if the French couldn’t defeat this primitive V.C., what chance did I have.” Good question.
Lazares is that rare Vietnam veteran who can produce a literate book about his tours of duty without being an English major or having any pretensions.
I have noticed that the books produced by Vietnam veteran fliers avoid most of the pitfalls of the grunt-written books. My theory is that fliers are smarter and their lives have turned out better.
It’s just a theory.