Blades of Thunder: The True Stories of Army Helicopter Pilots, Crew Chiefs, and Door Gunners in Vietnam, Book One (TVV Publishing, 428 pp. $17.99, paper; $4.99, Kindle) is a work of love, admiration, and respect for men that author W. Larry Dandridge served with in the Vietnam War.
Initially published Blades of Thunder in 2015, Dandridge updated the book late in 2017 partly to earn money to support Fisher House in Charleston, South Carolina, which serves families of veterans undergoing treatment at the local VA Medical Center. He also voluntarily fills several advisory roles at the Center. For the retired Army lieutenant colonel, life has no dull moments.
Dandridge is an old-school raconteur who finds interest in personalities as well as events. His stories revolve around friends he made while learning to fly helicopters and then going to Vietnam together. During an assignment with the 121st Assault Helicopter Company at Soc Trang in 1968-69, Dandridge flew Hueys.
The book’s opening chapter describes his crash in a helicopter, his severe injuries, and his physical reconstruction. The chapter is a stunning opening for a long series of flying stories about chaotic situations and other adventures.
Amid the war scenes, Dandridge includes an award-winning leadership speech he presents that sets standards for any leader, military or civilian. This demanding kick-ass address puts everyone and everything in place. He counterbalances his authoritarianism with clever jokes.
The book’s many images include detailed captions that give the reader an on-the-scene feeling. Among the book’s eleven appendices, a collection of forty-four “Lessons Learned and Lessons Perhaps Not Learned” is the most noteworthy. In it, Dandridge evaluates warfare in thought-provoking lessons that cover issues from grand strategy to day-by-day tactics.
On the higher level, he suggests an isolationist approach by America to military intervention overseas. He summarizes many lessons at this level by labeling them “only partially learned.”
Most lessons for everyday tactics, which constitute the bulk of the appendix, conclude with “learned but…” and require “today’s aviators [to] benefit from reviewing such lessons.” Others focus on people and projects deserving special recognition.
As a fan of helicopter crews, I look forward to Book Two, which Dandridge indicates will be published by the end of this year.