John Brennan’s Vietnam War Helicopter Art, Vol. II (Stackpole, 200 pp., $20.39, paper) is a masterpiece of photo-collecting artwork. Warning: If you don’t already own Volume I, you’ll rush to buy it as soon as you finish this new one.
By gathering photographs from more than 300 contributors, Brennan has put together a memorable collection of helicopter titles and nose art. This coffee-table sized book contains large and vividly clear pictures, along with short anecdotes from crew chiefs and crewmen that describe their aircraft and service records, as well as reminiscences about life in the field.
In a Forward, Michael Veronica eloquently sums up the book’s purpose when he writes: “Machines take on a personality of their own and gain names of endearment or names commemorating people, places, and actions relating to the war or to popular culture of the time. Through these names comes artwork, a way to make a visual and emotional connection with the craft that takes a crew into harm’s way—artwork like UH-1H Proud Mary for the Creedence Clearwater song; UH-1D Little Annie Fannie for the cartoon character in Playboy magazine…and Easy Rider for the Peter Fonda movie of the same name.
My favorite helicopter in the book is a UH-1C crewed by Jesus Mota with a painting of an open-mouth snake spitting out a missile. Written below is DIE BASTARDS, DIE COPPERHEADS, JESUS IS ABOARD AND WE IS SOME MEAN SUMBITCHES.
The delight generated by the book comes from the fact that, as often as not, the men fighting the war were guys drafted off the streets, children of the counterculture doing their duty. Brennan looks back in a way that makes everything exactly right—even though it wasn’t.