Horses and Helicopters by Jim Downey

The title and subtitle Jim Downey chose for his book—Horses and Helicopters: A Son’s Tribute to His Father and Their Shared Military Service (iUniverse, 115 pp., $13.95, pape; $3.99, e book)—perfectly describes his intentions. The son is James R. (Jim) Downey III. His goal is to identify areas of the world where his and his father’s paths crossed during their military careers. The father—James R. Downey, Jr.—served twenty-seven years in the Army (1927-55); the son served twenty years in the Air Force, from 1958-78.

The first third of the book chronologically presents the paperwork left by the elder Downey after his death in 1986. It is mainly excerpts from a career’s worth of military records and orders, some of which are difficult to decipher, a fact recognized by the author. The father spent much of his early career in China and the Philippines, areas where his son later traveled. This opening section also includes paperwork related to life’s ordinary activities.

The son, who goes by Jim, devotes most of his part of the book to a questionnaire he received from the 366th Fighter Group Association in 1994. The questions focused on his experiences during his three Vietnam War tours of duty when he crewed aircraft while stationed at Danang (F-4C), Udorn (HH-53), and Korat (A-7D) Air Bases.

Jim Downey’s opinionated answers provide many enlightening and humorous anecdotes. He proudly remembers the selfless esprit of the HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter crews and support personnel, which he rates as “the best managed” with “the highest morale of any squadron I ever worked with.”

USAF  Jolly Green Giant in the Vietnam War

He less-happily recalls frequent rocket attacks at Danang, but confesses that afterward he appreciated the lessons they taught: “Things I thought were important were not that important anymore,” he writes.

Downey berates the VA for its lack of understanding and medical support related to the effects of Agent Orange, to which he was exposed while working with C-123 Ranch Hand operations

Overall, the book does not clearly link the travels of father and son. Nevertheless, it is a distinctive approach to recreating the long military service—1927 to 1978—performed by two dedicated members of one family.

—Henry Zeybel