When Vietnam to Western Airlines was released on Veterans Day 2013, there was never a plan for a second volume. However, the reception this book received within the former Western Airlines pilot group was so positive that the seed for a second volume was planted within a few months. When several of the pilots who were reluctant to put their stories in writing at the time the first book was being put together saw the published book, their reaction to it was overwhelmingly positive. They realized that perhaps it was time for them to tell their stories.The passing of two pilots who had planned to write their stories, John Theorell and Dave Boaz, and a third, Doug Hellwig, who Bruce had pursued about writing a story, put a sense of urgency to the project.Considering what was involved in the collection of the stories and photographs for this second publication, it has been completed in record time.
This book is a continuation of the oral history of the air war in Vietnam, with stories written by the men who were there and flew the missions. The fact that they ended up meeting after the war as pilots for Western Airlines is the thread that ties them together.All the uniformed services who provided combat pilots, and all the types of aircraft and missions these pilots flew, are included in this volume. Thechronology of the book covers the air war from its beginning in August 1964 to its end in January 1973. Bruce’s respect and admiration for these men is obvious throughout, and it was only because they had a common bond that he was able to earn the trust required to complete this project.
The photo on the front of the dust jacket is an F-4B about to leave the arming area, ready for takeoff at Chu Lai Air Base in 1968. The aircraft is configured with 12 MK-82 general purpose 500lb. bombs and is headed for a Direct Air Support mission in Laos. The aircraft is from Marine Corps squadron VMFA-122 and this photo was provided by Denny Dolan. The photo on the back of the dust jacket is a Western Airlines B-727 flying over Mt. St. Helens in the early 1980s and was provided by Bob Homann.
Within a few years of the end of the Vietnam War, the American public was treated to a series of movies portraying Vietnam veterans in the worst light possible. Starting with The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979), to Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and even Forest Gump(1994), Hollywood depicted Vietnam vets as drug users/dealers, rapists, murderers, deserters, suicidal crazies or just plain stupid. But while the American public was having their opinions formed by Hollywood, little did they know they were flying around the country on commercial airliners with at least one, often two, and sometimes three Vietnam veterans in the cockpit.
In Vietnam to Western Airlines, veteran Bruce Cowee presents an oral history of the air war in Vietnam, which includes the stories and photographs of more than 30 pilots who all had one thing in common– after returning from Southeast Asia and separating from the service, they were hired as pilots by Western Airlines. As the chapters begin, Cowee tells his story and introduces us to each pilot, all of them volunteers who served honorably in Southeast Asia and, in most cases, never knew each other until they came home and went to work for Western Airlines. Each of the pilots featured in this book is the “real thing,” their stories spanning a nine-year period from 1964 to 1973, covering every aspect of the Air War in Southeast Asia. These 33 men represent only a small fraction of Vietnam veterans hired as pilots by Western Airlines, with some of their compelling stories having never been heard before, not even by members of their own families ... until now.
The stories in Vietnam to Western Airlines include everything from heart pounding, edge of your seat combat, to the human interest and even comic events that often happen in war. Through it all, there is an underlying theme: a group of young men in their 20s, thrust into situations of incredible excitement and danger, given an awesome amount of responsibility, and responding with performances that defy any measure you could come up with to evaluate them, only to return to an unappreciative and often hostile home front. It all makes an annual flight simulator evaluation or an FAA check ride seem pretty ho-hum. Vietnam to Western Airlines is a long-overdue tribute to the brave men who served in America’s most misunderstood war. In telling their stories, Cowee hopes not only to honor them but to change the stereotypes of these heroic veterans, as portrayed in books and by Hollywood, opening a fresh dialogue as we welcome back a new generation of young men and women from their service in the Middle East.