In That Time by Daniel H. Weiss

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Daniel H. Weiss’s In That Time: Michael O’Donnell and the Tragic Era of Vietnam (PublicAffairs, 192 pp., $26) is a stunning book. It contains only 176 pages of text, but is well written and presented.

Weiss, the president and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is an accomplished researcher and writer. He has produced a nicely constructed offering that threads a historical narrative of the Vietnam War into the story of Army Capt. Michael D. O’Donnell, a helicopter pilot whose chopper was shot down by enemy fire in Cambodia while extracting a secret reconnaissance team on March 24, 1970. The crew and passengers went down in flames in dense jungle surrounded by the NVA.

Weiss follows O’Donnell and his family from birth to his loss. Then he shows how his parents, sister, and girlfriend dealt with the fact that he was officially missing in action. O’Donnell’s remains were not identified until 1995. He was buried in 2001 at Arlington National Cemetery in a common grave with the remains of the five men he tried to rescue and his 170th Attack Helicopter Co. co-pilot John Hosken,

His story is told in conjunction with a very compact presentation of the history of the  Vietnam War. Though not a member of the Vietnam War generation, Weiss, a former college president and author, is a proven researcher. His Vietnam War history is dispassionate and un-cynical—even clinical.

His telling of Mike O’Donnell’s short life story is special, mainly because of the fact that he was a poet. During O’Donnell’s teen-age years and his short foray at college, music and poetry were driving forces for him. He enlisted in the Army with the draft breathing down his neck. He made it through OCS and helicopter flight school and in Vietnam served a UH-1 Huey helicopter pilot with 170th ASC at Pleiku and Dak To.

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During his time in country O’Donnell wrote a good number of poems (and some song lyrics) that he wanted to assemble under the title “Letters from Pleiku.” One of his poems came to be known after his death by its first line, “if you are able.” It has been widely published, including on the home page of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial website run by the 4th Battalion/9th Infantry Association, and on the Fallen Warriors page on the Blue Star Mothers’ website.

I enjoyed this book. I recommend that it become a staple in high school curricula as a resource during the study of the Vietnam War.

–Tom Werzyn

Inside the President’s Helicopter by Gene T. Boyer

Retired Army LTC Gene T. Boyer’s Inside the President’s Helicopter: Reflections of a White House Senior Pilot (Cable Publishing, 416 pp., $24.95, hardcover; $17.95, paper) tells the story of a “dirt-poor” kid’s journey from a working-class Ohio home to the cockpit of Army One.

A veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, Boyer survived being shot down while flying in Vietnam during his 1966-67 tour, during which he put in more than 7,000 hours of flight time, including 376 combat hours in the air. After his Vietnam War tour of duty Boyer returned to the White House unit. In his book, written with Jackie Boor, Boyer provides readers a rare and unique behind-the-scenes perspective on the lives of five American presidents (Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan), diplomats, and celebrities he flew around the world. Throughout this book, Boyer offers a wide range of compelling, humorous, historical, and insightful stories from his time as Army One’s senior pilot. From risky landings in the mountains of Peru, to flying President Nixon off the White House lawn on August 9, 1974, following his historic resignation, Boyer’s anecdotes present some of history’s best-known and little-known events through the lens of an insider few in Washington even knew.

The author’s website is http://www.genetboyer.com/

—Dale Sprusansky