Coming All the Way Home by Fred McCarthy

Fred McCarthy’s Coming All the Way Home: Memoir of an Assault Helicopter Aircraft Commander in Vietnam (McFarland, 207 pp. $29.95, paper; $17.99, Kindle) is a superb memoir written by a very solid, complex, and accomplished man. As he was growing up in Washington State, Fred McCarthy envisioned becoming a Catholic priest. He attended Seminary for a few years, but in 1967, his yearning for adventure and a desire to fly caused him to leave the Seminary and enlist in the U.S. Army.

By his own admission, he was not the most talented G.I. going through Army training. As McCarthy tells it, he wasn’t the most tenacious trainee. Through sheer grit, though, along with a strong belief in himself and a solid moral foundation, he always seemed to succeed. Following his discharge in 1970, McCarthy moved back home, and became very active in education, politics, civic activities, and raising a family.

In December 1967, Fred McCarthy was sent to Soc Trang in the Mekong Delta as a Warrant Officer and assigned to the Army’s 121st Assault Helicopter Company. For 6 months, he flew Huey slicks, delivering troops and supplies to troops in the field. But that was not enough excitement for him and he volunteered to fly a Viking D-model Huey gunship to be able to engage the enemy directly. He got his wish and piloted a gunship until the completion of his tour in December 1968.

As I opened the pages of Coming All the Way Home, I was expecting to find a lot about McCarthy’s tour of duty in the Vietnam War—and a lot of action. I learned quickly that McCarthy, while proving himself to be a bona fide warrior, is by nature a teacher, historian, and philosopher. He spent 30 years of his post-Vietnam War life as a kindergarten teacher, private school principal, public school superintendent, and college adjunct professor.

In Coming All the Way Home he recounts snippets of combat, but also includes letters, poetry, history, psychological analyses, charitable efforts, and other noncombat activities. I wasn’t disappointed, though, as I found all of those sections interesting, educational, and a joy to read.

Coming All the Way Home is very well written and designed. In a few of the final chapters McCarthy presents a history of the wars that have been fought in Vietnam and his analysis of the American war. His reasoning is well grounded and well explained.

I highly recommend this book.

–Bob Wartman