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A true story from the battlefield that faithfully portrays the horror, the madness, and the trauma of the Vietnam War
More than half a million copies of Chickenhawk have been sold since it was first published in 1983. Now with a new afterword by the author and photographs taken by him during the conflict, this straight-from-the-shoulder account tells the electrifying truth about the helicopter war in Vietnam. This is Robert Mason’s astounding personal story of men at war. A veteran of more than one thousand combat missions, Mason gives staggering descriptions that cut to the heart of the combat experience: the fear and belligerence, the quiet insights and raging madness, the lasting friendships and sudden death—the extreme emotions of a "chickenhawk" in constant danger.

512 pages, Paperback

First published June 1, 1983

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Robert Mason

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 607 reviews
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68k followers
March 17, 2021
National PTSD

Chickenhawk is an old-fashioned sort of memoir, one with a moral that is as general as it gets. Bob Mason’s account of his time as a combat helicopter pilot describes a personal trajectory that countless others have experienced - from unflinching enthusiasm to eventual toe-curling embarrassment and regret at one’s naïveté and poor judgment. Mason is intelligent enough and honest enough to describe the detailed progression.

Mason had a boyhood dream to fly helicopters. The idea of ‘helping,’ perhaps even saving lives through his skill as a pilot was something that grew from a childhood fantasy to a young man’s ambition. As luck would have it, in the mid-1960’s the US Army needed enormous numbers of young folk as pilots for their new Air Cavalry which, the country was assured, would bring the annoying war in VietNam to a successful conclusion. He signed up and in so doing fell down the deepest rabbit hole of his life. As did many others.

Young men begin to mature, if they ever do, when they come to the realisation that their youthful ideals are just polite rationalisations for their own selfishness. The recognition that the stupidity, maliciousness, and inherent mendacity of the world are things they participate in fully regardless of intentions can come as a shock. It’s worse than when you found out that your parents were people who frequently made the same mistakes all other people make.

The world wants your idealism in order to exploit it. This is the way society works. Corporate, professional, religious or political life will exploit it reasonably well. But the military is the gold standard institution for the exploitation of the young. And nowhere is idealism better exploited than in the military in time of war. By the time you get what military life reality is, it’s too late to do anything about it. You’re stuck fast in a morass of madness.

This explains why young idealists - those who want to ‘give something back’ or ‘make a difference’ or ‘eliminate world hunger’ or just ‘serve’ - end up being among the most cynical and self-serving people in middle age. Their resentment in the face of reality is overwhelming. The world doesn’t want their idealism except for its energy, dedication, and unthinking acceptance of what is frequently just plain evil. Everyone is eventually ground down. Careers turn into open prisons in which prospects are limited to the ladder of institutional advancement, the next rung of which means not receiving significantly less pain but being able to dispense a little more to those lower down. This compensation is rarely satisfying.

Nguyen Cao Ky, former head of the South Vietnamese Air Force and Prime Minister in 1965, provides a chapter-epigraph in Chickenhawk. It seems to me particularly apt as a summary of both the lack of maturity prevalent at the time and an explanation for the kind of stunned national resentment that has been simmering ever since: “Americans are big boys. You can talk them into almost anything. All you have to do is sit with them for half an hour over a bottle of whiskey and be a nice guy.” As Mason says in a sort of commentary on Nguyen’s remark: “No one likes being the fool. Especially if he finds himself risking his life to be one.”

Could it be, I ask myself, that the elevation of a man like Trump to such political prominence in the United States is an unconscious but nevertheless purposeful symbolic cultural reaction of the country to its own insistently naive idealism? A sort of national PTSD? There are, it seems to me, worse explanations.
Profile Image for JD.
678 reviews283 followers
September 23, 2020
This is a book I have been wanting to read for a long time and it did not disappoint. Robert Mason takes you along for the ride in his helicopter during the Vietnam War flying slicks for the AirCav under fire and tells many funny and horrifying tales of his time spent in country. He describes all the events unfolding around him vividly and he really takes you back in time with him.

The book starts in his youth and his dream to fly, then this dream comes true when he becomes a helicopter pilot in the US Army and turns to nightmare as he is sent to Vietnam under-trained and unprepared to even fly his "Huey". We are introduced to the rich cast of characters that make up his unit and on the job they all learn hard and valuable lessons of fighting this new kind of war in the helicopters. This book is a must read for any Vietnam War or helicopter enthusiast.
Profile Image for Larry Bassett.
1,394 reviews290 followers
December 5, 2012
Add this one to my long list of books about the American War in Vietnam. I am the right age to have been drafted for that war, but was not due to a variety of deferments and a high lottery number. The short story is that I was considering fleeing to Canada if I was drafted but never had to make that momentous decision that would have significantly changed my life. I never came to that fork in the road so will always wonder what I would have done if I was actually faced with that choice.

The book was published in 1983, the year Robert Mason was forty-one years old, eighteen years after he was a twenty-three year old in Vietnam.
This is a personal narrative of what I saw in Vietnam and how it affected me. The events all happened; the chronology and geography are correct to the best of my knowledge. The names of the characters . . . have been changed . . .

Movies and books about Vietnam always have the Huey choppers coming and going from LZs delivering and picking up supplies and men. They are often taking ground fire and sometimes coming down as a result. But this is my first book that I have read that puts the reader in the head of the helicopter pilot, on the ground and in the air. Bob Mason wanted to fly from a young age and had his pilot’s license before he graduated from high school. Vietnam made an impression on those who fought there; Mason is writing about events and feelings years later and it seems like you are right there.

Mason has been criticized for being too technical. There is a diagram at the beginning of the book of a helicopter with all the major parts named. There is also quite a bit of detail about how to actually maneuver a helicopter using hands and feet simultaneously. It is way harder than patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. But this is far from a “how to” book. But it does let you know that being a helicopter pilot in a war zone is a complex job. Apparently you volunteer to be trained as a helicopter pilot so you are in this incredibly dangerous occupation by choice.

How many ways can you say, “War is hell”?
The old man said nothing about Morris except that we ought to get some money together for flowers for his wife, but Sherman took it upon himself to give a little speech that night.
“Well, we’ve been pretty lucky up to now. It was only a matter of time. The other companies have taken a lot more kills than we have, so it’s our turn now. It looks like the overall ratio is one in five. One pilot out of five will get killed. We’ve only lost two guys, which puts us five away from the average. We’ve just been lucky.”
I hated Sherman. Now we were delinquent in our deaths. Running behind in our proper death ratio were we? Well we’ll just see about that. C’mon you guys, let’s go out there and die!”

I will have PTSD just from reading this book. Short scenes and events strung together. Moments in the lives and deaths of a group of men in a war. The big story is the war. The real stories are the individual actions and interactions between the men. And then there is some occasional sane thinking:
I had never heard of a gook or a slope-head or a slant-eye or a dink who did anything but eat rice and shit and fight unending wars. These tools and that waterwheel convinced me that there was a successful way of life going on around us, but all we saw were savages, backward savages fighting against the Communist hoards from the North. Why were all the men of this beautiful village gone just when the Americans were right outside? Wouldn’t people under attack by the Communists welcome the men who were there to save them? Or was I seeing the wrong way? Maybe the only people who wanted us around were the Saigon politicians who were getting rich from having the Americans here. The village was a long way from Saigon. And the people weren’t rich; they were just people.

Robert Mason had over 1000 helicopter missions during his year in Vietnam. Some moments were peaceful, many were not.

At the first sound of the returning ships, I went outside and watched. The Hueys snaked out of the mist and with increasing noise gathered on the field west of the camp. Huey after Huey hovered to a landing. The field became a complicated dance of whirling rotor blades, swinging fuselages, and swirling mist. The roaring rush of the turbines, and the rotors swing lazily as the ships shut down. The crew wandered up to the camp. They all had come back.
. . .
The ships were shadows in the early morning mist. We took off singly to join up out of the fog. Climbing over vague trees, we saw the earth disappear. Riker, who knew where he was going, told me to turn left. Just as I did we saw the phantom of a Huey cross immediately in front of us. I lurched back on the controls, but that was not what saved us from the midair collision. Luck had been with us.

As he began to suffer from the accumulated stress at the end of his tour, he found he was most comfortable when he was flying.
When I was flying, my life was in my own hands. When I was back at the camp, the army was in control of my destiny.

He suffers from textbook PTSD that eventually drives him out of the air, then out of the army. The nightmares go on and on, sleep comes with the help of alcohol. And his life spirals down.

Death is almost always gruesome as it is described by Robert Mason in this most gruesome book. There is the intensity of heroism too. Eventually there is the heroism of going on with life having experienced so much death.

This book is so distressing, more than most war books I have read. Lots of blood and guts and shattered bodies that were sometimes left to rot for several days so they could be more easily located in the tall elephant grass – by the smell.

Vietnam was a nightmare in so many ways. Now we have unmanned drones that kill from the air and humans that blow themselves up in a crowd.
Robert Mason writes about his experience of the brutality of a war he fought when he was young. He wrote about his time in Vietnam in 1965-66. For a while those fighting thought they were winning a war that would go on for years longer and claim many more victims.

Chickenhawk is, I think, a regrettable title for an unforgettable book. It captures the horrors of one man’s war, horror that is undoubtedly still with him these many years later. He flew men on his chopper to their death and lived to be haunted by it.

This book may be too raw to give five stars. Too many mangled bodies and destroyed minds. Too surreal a world for too many men. War is not the answer.
Profile Image for Steven Z..
574 reviews115 followers
April 3, 2015
One of the most iconic sounds that people relate to the Vietnam War is the “womp, woosh” of American Huey helicopters. Whether watching a film like Apocalypse Now or reading a book on the war those sounds will reverberate in the reader’s mind. During the war about 12,000 helicopters were deployed by the United States military. Of that number 7,013 were Hueys, almost all of which were US Army. The total number of helicopter pilots killed in Vietnam was 2202, and total non-pilot crew members who died were 2704. The most accurate estimate of the number of helicopter pilots who served in the war was roughly 40,000.
(www.vhpa.org/heliloss.pdf) As we think about these statistics we can only admire the bravery and fortitude of the men called upon to undertake the many diverse missions these pilots engaged in. One of the pilots, Robert Mason has written one of the most important accounts of the war available in his memoir, CHICKENHAWK. Mason’s account is probably one of the most accurate and realistic accounts we have about the American serviceman’s experience in Vietnam. From the vantage point of a helicopter pilot, Mason explores his daily life during his tour of duty. Mason’s approach to his memoir is simple, clear, and honest. As he completes basic training, advanced individual training, and two attempts at passing preflight training, he comments that he never “suspected that the army taught people how to fly helicopters the same way they taught them to march and shoot. But they did.” (23) He realized early on that if you washed out of the flight program you would wind up as a PFC in the infantry. Mason’s journey begins in 1964 and carries him through 1968, a time when the United States, under President Lyndon B. Johnson was ramping up the American commitment to save South Vietnam from communism. Mason’s insights echo those of historians that were written years later. Mason’s memoir was first published in 1983, and was reissued in 2005 with a new afterword describing how the war affected his life for decades following his service.

Mason’s experience in Vietnam was much diversified. Even as a warrant officer he engaged in the activities of a typical grunt rooting out tree stumps, digging fox holes, filling sand bags, and building a perimeter for his assault division. Mason’s primary activity was flying a Huey helicopter that involved him in support of troops in the Bon Song Valley and Ia Drang Valley where in November, 1965 the United States won its first large scale encounter with the North Vietnamese. Though it appeared to be a victory, Mason questions what American strategy was as we killed the enemy at an increasing rate, but we would withdraw and not hold the land taken. Mason points out repeatedly, that later American troops would fight to retake the same territory as it had won earlier, but at an increasing cost for the United States. Mason’s buddy, Connors summed it up well, “Why the fuck don’t they keep some troops out there. This is like trying to plug fifty leaks with one finger.” (351) This is not the only thing that Mason questions. He did some reading before he went to Vietnam, Bernard Fall’s Street without Victory having had the most impact on him as it describes the political situation in South Vietnam, the corruption of the Saigon regime, and the lack of commitment on the part of the South Vietnamese peasants who just wanted to till their own soil. The poor training and refusal to fight on the part of the ARVN (South Vietnamese army), the fear in the eyes of South Vietnamese he came in contact with bothered Mason a great deal. The resentment between ARVN and American officers was readily apparent. At times when ferrying ARVN troops to a landing zone Mason had to be careful that once on the ground they would not turn and fire on his Huey. For Mason, there were many times that he questioned why he was in Vietnam.

In exploring the Vietnam War from the lens of a Huey pilot the reader will experience with Mason a myriad of situations. Mason provides an excellent description of how he learned how to fly helicopters. He also provides a useful amount of technical information about the problems that pilots faced and how they could maneuver their Hueys out of many tough situations. He engaged in spraying defoliants to eliminate ground cover for the VC (Viet Cong, South Vietnamese communists), not knowing what havoc these chemicals would reap in the future. Mason’s primary activities centered on transporting troops, wounded, and bodies to and from the battlefield, but he was also involved with relocating refuges, to training missions, as a mail courier, to picking up and delivering supplies to combat areas and rear compounds. But there were other missions of importance, the pickup and delivery of tons of ice so the officer’s club would be stocked and if any was not needed it would be traded for appliances from other units. Further, the transport of small groups of officers on their own “secret” missions, as well as using the Hueys to visit friends a hundred miles away. Some of these tasks were obviously would not be considered “militarily relevant,” but to maintain the sanity of people who have flown over 1000 missions they were none the less very important.

Throughout the narrative Mason supplies the reader the historical context of what was occurring on the ground in Vietnam. The intensity of Mason’s descriptions of his flights and what he observed provides the reader the feel and the smell of war. Supply shortages were constant in his unit, particularly chest armor that was a necessity for Huey pilots. Mason highlights it further after he transfers to another unit that is overflowing in chest armor. A recurrent them is the weakness of American intelligence, provoking Connors to comment after a fire fight that “the intelligence branch must have read their maps upside down, [and was] getting its information from smuggled Chinese fortune cookies.” (146) Early on Mason was led to believe the reason the French had been forced out of Vietnam was because they weren’t “air mobile.” Once the American Air Cavalry arrived it was supposed to change the course of the war. For Mason at times he believed the United States was winning, then doubts would creep in based on his experiences in combat. It led to a discussion with his co-pilot, Gary Resler as they tried to determine their attitude toward the war; where they afraid or “chicken,” or after seeing the constant pile of dead American bodies they wanted revenge, making them “hawks.” Their conclusion was a combination of the two, hence, they were “chickenhawks.”

Mason provides the reader insights to his thinking about his personal feelings. He left his wife, Patience, and young son, Jack in the United States, and he integrates his personal letters to his family throughout the narrative. His feelings of guilt are present as he is honest about his activities during R & R in Saigon, Taipei, and Hong Kong. It should be obvious that Mason suffered from PTSD before he left Vietnam. Constant nightmares, anxiety, and fear centered on the murder of VC prisoners, the use of napalm and the damage it caused, and the casualties he witnessed drove him to use medication after his missions in order to complete his tour of duty. In addition, he pours his heart out about what he witnesses and cannot cope with. Chickenhawk, though written over twenty years ago provides lessons for future soldiers, and it is an exceptional Vietnam memoir that has stood the test of time.
Profile Image for Mike.
1,107 reviews150 followers
January 18, 2012
Chickenhawk I had to raise my rating on this reread to 5 Stars. This is the story of a helicopter pilot and his experiences from training to combat in Vietnam. He has a great eye for the successes and failures of the new air assault tactics as they are developed and employed. The heart-pounding trips into hot LZ’s come through clearly. He was involved in the Ia Drang Valley battle so vividly described in the book and movie of We Were Soldiers Once...and Young: Ia Drang - the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. He was in the sister unit of the “Snakes” and he went into LZ XRay in that battle. He also has a great eye for some of the humorous, ludicrous and crazy aspects of men in war. Perhaps without intending, it has a “Heart of Darkness” tension as we watch him go from a diligent new pilot to a jaded combat veteran. He goes from trying to learn some Vietnamese to looking at the natives he was supposed to be protecting as less than human. His callousness is not reserved only for the enemy but eventually surfaces for the wounded and dead grunts he pulls out of the LZ’s. I would not describe him as a heroic figure but he is certainly brave. You get a gut-wrenching view into the expansion of U.S. combat involvement in the Vietnam War and the soul-destroying strategy of “search and destroy”. You can begin to understand the despair and subsequent descent into alcohol and wild behavior as they keep going back to take territory they had already taken before, with constant loss of friends.

We'd already taken Happy Valley, but we had to go back out to patch up a few holes in the victory. Somebody forgot to tell Charlie he lost, so he was still out there shooting down helicopters, the dumb fuck....In two days we flew 12 assaults into the same areas we had taken several times before. To add insult to injury, the VC fought even harder.

This is a very good account of fighting men in war, a short but exciting read.

Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,209 reviews548 followers
February 26, 2019
Others have said it better about this memoir. Written in the years just after it occurred. And which I failed to read in the more than 50 years between. Because it's too close to home.

Robert Mason added an update as of 2004.

And I just have to add several issues that others sure haven't in regard to details in this telling. I STILL know at least 4 men who use the phrase "swave and deboner". Said AND spelled exactly like that. In fact, I heard it last week- just outside a conference room after a MRI between two of them.

Green snakes and 31 out of 33 species being poisonous. And having the "eyes" and cognition as that man did who knew he just got bit- so laid down in the deep grass to sleep and to die.

Technical prone reading lovers might like this one as much as the fighting men will.

For me too sorrowful and terrible to not skim read in parts. And remember those who I loved who never came home.
Profile Image for Gerry.
246 reviews34 followers
June 20, 2015
This book is more of a memoir following the tour of duty that Mr. Mason served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966. After having read "Chickenhawk" I was rather compelled to follow the life of Mr. Mason; I am glad that I did.

Mr. Mason makes no apologies with the exception of effects that some of his choices he made which impacted that of his wife Patience and son Jack during the period of October 1966 to August 1992 in this memoir. Within his personal disclosure of PTSD and physical effects we see simple statements like "...I thought these problems would all go away..." and "...fighting internalizations, talking to self, nodding off, seeking people I've never known..." are all to familiar to myself personally. It is here that I attribute my personal link to his experiences and I have yet to discover whether these within hold a key for my own related issues. However, the story of the human condition continues as one who has read "Chickenhawk" the story that follows is rather tortuous at times. Mr. Mason's self worth depreciates to a value to which I acknowledge within myself; he was and is worthy of much more of course - but if you wear the shoes and have lived his existence then one comes to understand these "internalizations" that continuously haunt him. There were frustrating points in this book that I had to overcome but I read every page and every word out of respect for what he went through and was able to effectively visit my own view of "self worth" within the descriptive pages within.

Patience (Mr. Mason's wife) is a stoic woman; the sort of character and courage that existed in her (then) and I speculate that still exists within her today was a source of inspiration for me as I continued to read. Mr. Mason acknowledges and gives full credit to his wife, best friend, and lover who gave to him her all and never stopped doing what needed to be done - even as she worked a paper route to keep the family together. Part of this brought water to my eyes at points as I considered all of her efforts. Mr. Mason also acknowledges his short comings and concern for his son, the life he wanted to give and yet the life he was predisposed (to some extent) to provide for - he (Mr. Mason) never lost sight in the bigger picture though of his personal responsibilities to those around him. Even his worst decision (among other unfortunate ones that he made) were chosen with the intent to "better" the overall existence. Mr. Mason acknowledged fully his short comings but he makes amends, and tackles these issues with an appropriateness of time availability and somehow changes the existence of his life.

As a teenager I recall quite vividly the Vietnam Veterans that were still in there 20 something years during the 1970's. The 1970's were a confusing time for many and as a teen then I realized there was an intentional arrogance in society to ignore the period of 1964-1975 for the U.S. involvement of Vietnam. Many good boat people would be camped at Camp Pendleton California in this period of time having escaped barely with only the shoes on their feet and clothes on their backs. The Vietnamese refugees that ended up on American soil in my view have become as important a community of people of this overall society that any of any group of people throughout the course of American History and I for one am thankful they exist and are thriving in some places within the nation as Americans that have "Value and a Purpose" (to put it into a phrase of yet another Vietnam Veteran I know who is doing and has done tremendous work to this day for others affected by this war.) The Vietnam Veterans I knew in the 1970's would show me scars on their body, tell me stories of the events of battles - all I could do was listen, I did; and, later I served in the USMC myself.

I give this book 4 stars only because there were some parts I believed sort of dragged on; but, I acknowledge it was important for Mr. Mason's existence to retrieve from memory those events and provide a description to paper for those interested in his story and for himself most importantly to attempt to expel the demons. If you read "Chickenhawk" then I would encourage you to follow up with this great book on the life that followed.
Profile Image for Fred.
573 reviews73 followers
August 16, 2018
Excellent Read.
Book - Chickenhawk is Robert Mason's narrative of his experiences as a "Huey" UH-1 Iroquois helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. The book chronicles his enlistment, flight training, deployment to and experiences in Vietnam, and his experiences after returning from the war.

Movie - Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys is a 1994 American documentary produced, written, and directed by Adi Sideman. The film profiles members of the pedophile/pederasty organization North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) who discuss sexual relationships between men and boys below the age of consent.

Book and movie seem like 2 different plots.....

Also reminds me of the "Platoon" movie & "Fields of Fire" book.

A definite read that the Vietnam helicopter pilot may not have been on the ground but the horrors of the war followed him home forever to the United States.
Profile Image for Terri.
529 reviews252 followers
January 12, 2012
What a terrific book. So much more than I expected. More than a memoir, more than a war book. It feels like a window back through time to the jungles of Southern Vietnam where we find a war that is hard to understand and even harder to justify.
While I found myself disliking Robert Mason, his book and his brutal honesty is hard not to respect. He could have shaved much detail from this book and still had a hit on his hands, but he gave everything he had to Chickenhawk and it became a special piece of literature. He presented the world a rare and unshielded veiw of the Vietnam War. The best non fiction on Vietnam that I have read to date.
Profile Image for Travis.
114 reviews21 followers
April 20, 2009
I first read this book years ago, and it is without a doubt one of the best war memoirs on my shelf and one to which I regularly return (as I just did for the third time, to read during a lengthy trip abroad).

The book recounts the training and duty tour of Robert Mason, a helicopter pilot who served in the air cav during the height of the Vietnam conflict. Many consider it the best book written by a Vietnam vet and I would be inclined to agree (the only close contender would be the sniper memoirs of Carlos Hathcock, penned by Charles Henderson). Chickenhawk is compelling from start to finish.

For one thing, Mason's book contains one of the few really interesting accounts of military training written to date--in Mason's case, of his helicopter flight training. In fact, the first section of the book is so vividly descriptive of the mechanics and procedures of military flight instruction that you finish it believing you could almost fly a helicopter yourself. (To appreciate fully Mason's accomplishment in rendering this experience so fascinating, one need only contrast it with that of Marcus Lutrell's recent "Lone Survivor," which manages to turn what should be an equally fascinating account of Navy seal training into one of the most annoying and sleep-inducing chronicles of push-ups and special ops ever written). And once Mason starts recounting his actual combat experiences, you simply can't put the book down.

Partly what makes Chickenhawk such a unforgettable read is that Mason makes no effort either to doctor the facts about his time in Vietnam, his love of flying (even in combat), or about his own flaws and failures. This is no boastful attempt to paint himself a hero (though among the heroes of that war, Mason is surely one), but a gut-wrenching look into a soldier's soul and the soul of a nation at war. The result is one of the most stunning books about war ever written--and I've read hundreds. And I will certainly read this one many times more.
Profile Image for Chris Steeden.
427 reviews
June 13, 2019
The author, Robert Mason, was sent to Vietnam between Aug-1965 and Jul-1966 and flew more than 1,000 assault missions. He had joined the army in 1964 to be a helicopter pilot. This book, as he notes, ‘is a personal narrative of what I saw in Vietnam and how it affected me…Instead of dwelling on the political aspects of the war, I have concentrated on the actual condition of being a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.’

Straight out of flight school and into the jungles of Vietnam. No pressure then and a totally alien environment to the Americans going out there. ‘From our vantage point Vietnam looked very big and very green with its thick covering of jungle. It looked like a great place to have a guerrilla war, if you were going to be the guerrilla.’

The description by Mason of the conditions and his time out there are so real that you can feel the sweat dripping down your back while scanning the jungle for Vietcong and snakes. There are some truly horrific moments. There is one particular story of a Jeep being blown-up that had me squirming. It is true horror. Casualties of War. As his tour continues, he describes many incidents where his skill as a helicopter pilot has been pushed to its ultimate limit. Other horrors do follow.

War isn’t always like that, ’Boredom was breeding widespread depression. With apparently no one to fight, the Cav was just twenty thousand men sitting in the middle of Vietnam in their mildewing tents, wondering why they were here.’ It is not always a case of having to go into ‘hot’ landing zones to drop-off or pick-up soldiers. The soldiers he picked up could be alive, wounded or dead.

Halfway through the title of the book is explained. Mason has many stories of close calls. It is amazing that he makes it through to write a book about it. There is a toll. A toll to his mind, to his mentality. The strain and stress have taken their toll. How do you get through what he has seen? What he has had to do? ‘My days were good; my nights were hell’.

I was not quite as enamoured with the book as a lot of other reviewers but thought it was well worth reading. It is real. Very real and a lot of the situations are just crazy but so is the aftermath. It is not one of those wham bam war books with tales of heroism and hedonism. There is a lot of thought here which makes it an important book in the literature on the Vietnam War. Originally published in 1983.
Profile Image for Monica Mac.
1,343 reviews18 followers
June 28, 2018
This book was a recommended read by a member of my book club and I am glad I took the time to read it, even though it wasn't my usual reading material.

I had long wondered what it was like for those who were in Vietnam and this account, by Robert Mason, a helicopter pilot, gives us a good look at the conditions which the troops over there had to work under, as well as the author's questioning of why they were there and how to tell friend from foe. So many shades of grey. The troops on the ground undoubtedly had it far worse than the helicopter pilots did and the accounts of bodies piled up or soldiers missing limbs, was a constant refrain.

All in all, I think the book did a good job of describing conditions, as they were for this particular man, in his particular job. It certainly didn't shy away from describing the good, the bad and the very ugly, that's for sure. I am glad it also went on to describe what civilian life was for the author after he came back from Vietnam - the fact that he is still married is a bit of a miracle and I think his wife was aptly named.

This was not an easy read by any means but I think it is an important one if you wish to understand a little more about this most misunderstood war.
Profile Image for Tasha .
1,010 reviews37 followers
January 10, 2012
A great, great memoir of a vietnam huey pilot. mason really puts you right in the action with amazing detail, personal (emotional and physical) experiences and some humor thrown in for good reading. I keep wavering between a 4 and 5 star read. I still may change it. I thought his writing was brilliant as it really put you in the jungles of vietnam, provided experiences on so many levels (emotional, physical, and personal to him) and even in glimpses of the vietnamese people. really a powerful read. My struggle between a 4 star and a 5 star is the technical aspect of the flying of helicopters. Initially it went over my head and I kind of skimmed through it. But as his experience as a pilot grew, I grew with him (at least in my imagination) and could follow more of the descriptions and images of the technical flying scenes with greater detail, thanks to mason and his writing style. So, I guess I'll call it a 4.5 star read for the time being.

1/10: ended up giving this one a 5 stars. The 4 star rating just doesn't do this one justice. The story sticks in my head like a great 5 star read does, so up it goes.
Profile Image for Philip.
1,355 reviews67 followers
December 15, 2020
This book is a classic for a reason; THE best book on the Hueys' and their pilots' roles in the early days of Vietnam. It actually reminded me a lot of "American Sniper," in that it's the story of a good soldier in a bad war who has trouble readjusting to the real world.

IMHO, it could have been a bit shorter in places, and I could have done with less on the technical and tactical aspects of flying a helicopter - but I'm sure folks who've been there liked having that stuff. For anyone who doesn't know, the whole "Grunt Six" story and the battle of Ia Drang was the centerpiece of the book We Were Soldiers Once...And Young, (which was made into the film "We Were Soldiers"), so if you see the movie again sometime, think of Mason as the Greg Kinnear character.
Profile Image for Patrick .
446 reviews43 followers
November 26, 2019
A stunning book about the right stuff in the wrong war.

As a child, Robert Mason dreamed of levitating. As a young man, he dreamed of flying helicopters - and the U.S. Army gave him his chance. They sent him to Vietnam where, between August 1965 and July 1966, he flew more than 1,000 assault missions.

In Chickenhawk, Robert Mason gives us a devastating bird's eye-view of that war in all its horror, as he experiences the accelerating terror, the increasingly desperate courage of a man 'acting out the role of a hero long after he realises that the conduct of the war is insane,' says the New York Times, 'And we can't stop ourselves from identifying with it.'

Profile Image for Jeffrey.
135 reviews
May 9, 2018
A classic. Following Robert Mason into the early days of Vietnam as a young man determined to fly, you are also swept into the flood of technical information and skills necessary for a helicopter pilot. The intelligence and awareness necessary to master flying a helicopter, much less under combat circumstances, is daunting and terrifying. Mason takes you into it, though, as a young man carrying out the duties that he is taught as he tries to learn from his instructors and guides. But as the days tumble by, you also begin to feel the toll of the accruing stress and strain, watching comrades and enemies dying, some by design and some by sheer happenstance. I can see why so many helicopter pilots have read this text, as Mason describes the terrifically challenging circumstances that he deals with for combat landings and take-offs, as well as all too human appreciation for the breakdown in the military and on a person's soul from struggling through such a terrible conflict.
Profile Image for Michael Burnam-Fink.
1,470 reviews219 followers
March 3, 2014
One of the greatest of the Vietnam War memoirs, Chickenhawk absolutely covers the joy of flight, the terror of combat, and the insanity of Vietnam as a whole. Robert Mason always wanted to fly, and the Army would give him a helicopter in exchange for a little stint in the Air Cav. Of course, nothing is easy, and that tour meant a year of heat, mud, mortars, whorehouses, hot LZ and crazy officers. It's hard to say what I love more: descriptions of the crazy tricks used to push a Huey to its limits and beyond, brief encounters with a Vietnamese way of life as yet unspoiled by war, or Mason's slow descent into a nervous breakdown, brought on by too many 10 hour flying days dodging tracers. In many ways, Vietnam was a helicopter pilots' war, and this is their book.
Profile Image for Athan Tolis.
309 reviews572 followers
February 24, 2018
I’ve never flown a helicopter, but after reading Chickenhawk I reckon I have the experience.

The author is at his total best when he’s recalling his maneuvers getting in and out of “hot LZ’s” (to you and me, that’s landing zones where the enemy is shooting at you) and I could probably read about every single landing and takeoff detailed in here ten more times and not feel it’s been a waste of time.

So this is first and foremost a story of derring-do and an ode to flying. Anti-war it may be, but I’m pretty sure “Chickenhawk” has inspired generations of pilots.

It’s that good!

It’s anti-war, that said, and never better than in the following passage from pages 445-446:
“While the First Cav slipped unceremoniously back to An Khe, the 101st decided to end the operation with a parade. There would be no spectators except for the news reporters – unless you want to count the men in the parade as spectators, and of course they were.
Hundreds of bone-weary soldiers gathered at the artillery emplacements and began the five-mile stretch back to the airstrip. They marched, in parade step, along the dusty road. Insects buzzed in the saturated air. No virgins threw flowers. No old ladies cried. No strong men wept. They marched to their own muffled footsteps.”

And it’s cynical, witness this passage from page 361:
“The platoon leader, a skinny second lieutenant, came over and shot the sh1t for a while.
‘Find anything,’ Riker asked.
‘Just some old campsites.’ The lieutenant patted his blouse for cigarettes. I offered him a Pall Mall.
‘We hear the VC don’t want to fight the Cav.’
‘Can’t blame them, can you?” said the lieutenant. “Every time they do, we clobber the sh1t out of them.’
Yeah, as long as we have helicopters, Phantoms, and B-52 bombers, I thought. I said ‘Maybe the war is almost over.’”

And it’s about anti-heros. Its very title, comes from pages 242-243:
“’Do you ever think about quitting?’ Gary asked.
‘Me too. Sometimes. Guess that makes us chickens.’
‘Maybe. But we do go fly, don’t we? That’s got to make up for feeling chicken.’
‘Yeah, I guess it does.’ He paused. ‘And when I’m flying the assaults, I start feeling brave, almost comfortable in the middle of it all. Like a hawk, maybe.’
‘I do, too. When I’m in the middle of it. But times like now, I’d quit at the slightest excuse. So what am I? A chicken or a hawk?’
‘You’re a chickenhawk.” Gary smiled.
‘Yeah.’ There was silence. Yes, I thought. We’re both scared out of our minds. It felt like we were near the end of our wait on death row.”

What sustains the book, what connects the flying and the thinking is the author’s humor. You’re reading a book about war, devastation and rotting human flesh, but most of your time reading “Chickenhawk” is spent laughing out loud.

A lot of it is in the style later perfected by Quentin Tarantino, whereby improbably good, complex English is put in the mouth of people in everyday situations, like this dialogue from page 80:
“’Just remember,’ said Farris, ‘of the thirty-three kinds of snakes over here, thirty-one are poisonous.’
‘How do you tell them apart?’ asked Resler.
‘I think that with those ratios, you could afford to come to a prejudicial, sweeping generalization – like, kill them all.’ Farris turned and left.”

A lot if it is pure slapstick, like this little gem from page 118:
“’You can’t get the clap, Mason. You’re immune.’
‘What do you mean “immune”?’
‘It’s one of the advantages of being an officer. We get “nonspecific urethritis.” Enlisted men get the clap.’”

All the humor notwithstanding, you can’t help noticing that the book gets darker as it progresses. You’re not only witnessing the author’s flying and derring-do, you’re also there as he is being broken as a human being, succumbing first to the various temptations, suffering the consequences and losing his mental health and of course eventually dragging his family into it.

You won’t be envying his wife, Patience (how poignant is that!) by the time you’ve finished “Chickenhawk.” And you won’t think war is glorious.

Regardless, you may well feel this urge to go fly.

I did!
4,756 reviews50 followers
September 11, 2022
A young man joins the army in order to learn to fly helicopters. As a result, he winds up in Vietnam, where he reveals, that even in the early days of the war things weren't going well. While the army was banking on the helicopter to act as cavalry, they didn't really know how to fully take advantage of them.

Seemed like Washington wasn't actually too interested in winning the war.
Profile Image for Rob Kitchin.
Author 44 books90 followers
August 1, 2012
Chickenhawk is widely touted as one of the best accounts of the Vietnam War from the perspective of a soldier serving there. And for good reason. Mason’s narrative is well written, engaging, and often gripping, having the feel of an authentic account given its matter-of-fact, conversational, and unpretentious style that details both highs and lows, often portraying Mason in a poor or ambivalent light. He captures in detail the everyday training, missions, conversations, action, frivolity and mundanity of Army life. Over the course of the book, one comes to know Mason intimately, his buddies, and the drama and trauma experienced. One thing is clear, Mason and his ilk were performing a role not of their making or choosing, undertaking incredibly brave and foolhardy adventures, all the time blind to the politics playing out both in Nam and at home. And they paid the price in multiple ways – either through injury or death, or post-traumatic stress disorder, or social isolation or family break-up on their return. Chickenhawk is a powerful account of a soldier following his dreams to fly helicopters and finding himself on the front line. The only weakness is around the wider, contextual framing - I would have liked the account to have some further discussion of the conflict, the unfolding politics guiding what was happening, and an overarching sense of the battles and how Mason’s missions fitted into them. Other than that, Chickenhawk is a compelling read.
Profile Image for Aaron George.
11 reviews
February 8, 2013
This is one of my favourite books of all time. It was loaned to me very graciously, many years ago, and once I got my own copy I have never stopped re-reading it. Mason's honesty about his ambitions (not really a very gung-ho warrior) and subsequent realization that all the smart-ass antics in the world weren't going to save him really endeared him to me. I cried at the end the first time, and most times since.
Some other reviewers have stated that they felt it a bit repetitive, over-simplified and, despite the action, somewhat slow. I agree that it is a simple, bare style but would argue that is what makes it so difficult and rewarding to read. Without doubt being a helicopter enthusiast, or better yet, a fellow pilot will help because of our appreciation of how risky mountain helicopter operations can be even without the gunfire. You can feel how agonizingly vulnerable a 2 minute engine start makes you, or how slow 120 knots is compared to bullets.
We all say we could never do something like this, but the truth is that we could and we would if the shit really hit the fan. And then, like Bob Mason, we could spend years trying to figure out how everything got so....well, shitty.
Profile Image for Giordano Makholm.
8 reviews3 followers
March 20, 2018
A precise chronological depiction of life as a helicopter pilot leading up to and during the Vietnam war. I'll remember passages of extreme violence and gore, and how common these eventually become. Sporadic action but constant fear, and hilarious dark military humor, from kids who had no business being there and only started to understand much later.

I found it unfortunately a bit repetitive: stand-by, pick-up grunts, repeat. Maybe that was the point. A year of flying into hot landing zones must've gotten old quick. In any case, at odds with anything from Tim O'Brien who is a better writer. Maybe also too detailed for me in regards to the intricacies of flying helicopters, all of which went way over my head. Just like helicopters.
Profile Image for Steve Rezabek.
9 reviews
May 19, 2017
If you are interested in history, war or aviation, this book is a must. I am a pilot so I understand many of the details being told and the logistics and complexity of what they were doing in their helicopters. Mr. Mason does an amazing job of covering the hardships they faced and the progression to get where you need to be to survive. I now have a new appreciation for the men (and woman) who served in Nam, and am embarrassed for the way they were treated when they came back home. I will never look at a Vet the same way. Robert Mason helped me live that experience through his style and gripping memoir of that war.
Profile Image for Raegan Butcher.
Author 15 books116 followers
April 25, 2008
Excellent continuation of Chickenhawk. I was very impressed with the author's descriptions of the prison camp where he did his time; it was almost exactly the same kind of prison as one of the places I was incarcerated and Mason does a superb job of capturing the look and feel of it. He nails every facet of that existence, with humor and humanity. First rate, all the way.
Profile Image for James.
297 reviews64 followers
March 26, 2010
Perhaps the best book about service in Vietnam,
so many of the books about Vietnam are literary frauds,
but this one rings true from start to finish.
Profile Image for Bernie Weisz.
127 reviews5 followers
April 24, 2011
Title of my Review: "From Seasoned War Vet to a Prison Cell!" Written By Bernie Weisz Vietnam War Historian contact: Bernwei1@aol.com

"Chickenhawk:Back in the World's" picks up exactly where Mason's first book left off. Briefly, Mason starts off relating that upon his return from his 1 year tour of Vietnam as a chopper pilot (Sept. 1965 to Aug. 1966) he became a helicopter instructor pilot. This ends quickly after Mason is tormented by severe P.T.S.D symptoms, hallucinations, panic attacks, depression and insomnia. As a result of this, he quit his position and left the military. In the backdrop of authoring his best selling book, Mason slipped into drug and alcohol addiction as well as adultery. His wife, aptly named "Patience" stayed with him and eventually authored her own book about surviving the demons of P.T.S.D., from the viewpoint of a spouse. Mason takes on one failing job venture after another, ending with a financial fiasco creating a company manufacturing mirrors. Doubting that his book will ever sell and on the verge of financial ruin, Mason meets two misfits that con him into coming with them on a small ocean vessel called the "Nemaste", bound for the Colombian Coast to pick up 3,500 lbs. of marijuana to smuggle back to the U.S. Graphically recounting the Caribbean voyage, Mason and his crew picked up the dope and upon reentering U.S. waters were busted by the waiting U.S. Coast Guard. Mason received 2 years at Eglin, a minimum security prison in Florida. It is in Eglin that Mason learned that "Chickenhawk" was a best seller. "Back in the World" ends with some major revelations of Mason's feelings about the Vietnam War, his thoughts of what the causes of P.T.S.D. are and the announcement of a fictional book he penned, entitled "Weapon." Mason has some very unusual stories and anecdotes in "Back in the World". He writes how the U.S. government in his opinion manufacturers crime. Mason gives us proof of this by telling a story of a man he met in jail named "Danny", a pilot. Mason is told by Danny that he was approached by 2 guys that offered him $10,000 to simply test drive a new DC-6. If Danny liked the plane, they will pay him another $90,000 to fly in contraband from South America. Danny test drove the plane, accepted the 10K from the 2 men, and went home to discuss the story with his wife. The next day, he returned the $10,000 to the 2 men and told them "no deal" (something Mason points out he wished he did in his ill-fated boat ride to Colombia). A year later, Danny was arrested and convicted of conspiracy. He received 5 years. The 2 men were D.E.A. agents and Danny's crime was that he failed to inform the authorities about the offer the 2 men made. Finally, there is the bone chilling story Mason tells of "Johnson" the Navy Seal and professional assassin, who wouldn't say why he was at Eglin, but tells Mason that he almost strangled his wife to death, has no friends, likes to kill, and that his "employer" (the U.S. Government) will be getting him out any day, because there is a "job" coming up. Mason listens to Johnson's stories of personal assassinations in Viet Nam that he carried out as part of the infamous "Phoenix Program". This was a program the U.S. Government undertook in conjunction with the Navy Seal Team and plotted in the U.S. by the "Rand Corporation". Communist Viet Cong elders, teachers or leaders were kidnapped, interrogated for intelligence and ultimately murdered. Mason relates how Johnson claimed that the Government was going to get him out in 2 days so he can "execute" a job that has come up. Sure enough, 2 days later, Johnson was out! Scary! There are many stories like this and I found this book very enjoyable to read! An excellent sequel to his first book!
Profile Image for Gerry.
246 reviews34 followers
May 12, 2015
I had read “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” in December of 2012; I found this accounting of both Landing Zone X-Ray and then Landing Zone Albany of the Vietnam War riveting and flush with detail. I had appreciated that Mr. Joe Galloway added to the near end of his experience in Landing Zone X-Ray paid tribute to Dickie Chappelle as she was killed stepping on a landmine while the battle raged elsewhere for the men of “X-Ray”. The book by General Hal Moore and Mr. Joe Galloway should be a book read first prior to reading “Chickenhawk” – I for one am happy it just happened this way for me. The accounting of these battles in the Ia Drang Valley by Moore and Galloway give credence to the brave efforts of young soldiers on the ground and the pilots and crew members of the many slicks that fed the battle with dust-offs, re-supply, and fresh incoming troops.

Mr. Mason’s memoire captures an accounting of the Vietnam War first through the eyes of young exuberant American boy who simply wanted to fly. In a very short but descriptive fashion we read of his training, early assignment to Ft. Belvoir – Alexandria, VA; and, then-sooner-than-hoped reassignment to the First Cavalry Division (Air Mobility). Reading through this torrential hell of the many valleys and outposts in Vietnam we the readers see the deep truth to the cynicism behind the events as they occur. Books by authors who write of their accounts of History and as they perceive it to have been all have this common thread in each of their books; Mr. Mason spent a lot of time recounting all of this and I can speculate it was for his own sanity later.

Occasionally along the way we witness an honest caring side of Mr. Mason for the local Vietnamese people; he becomes amazed with their own ability of survivability and their engineering techniques that are considered (then) by most to be primitive; Mr. Mason acknowledges how important this is to the farmer of Vietnam. The book “Street Without Joy” is referenced along with Dr. Bernard B. Fall three times at various stages and based on conversations he recalls at the time. A revelation occurs when Mr. Mason acknowledges that neither JFK nor LBJ used Dr. Fall’s experience nor his books to better understand the Vietnamese as a people – Dr. Fall had embedded with the French in the early 1950’s and wrote a Historically significant accounting of the differences of the Vietnamese people and of how the French were losing the effort. This is something that became lost in my view with regard to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of August 1964. Mr. Mason wrote a truthful and outstanding book of his experiences. I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t reveal when he actually received the DFC. In no way does this diminish the significance of the book.

I most certainly appreciated the new “Afterward” Mr. Mason inserted some 20+ years later after the first edition of this book. To all the Vietnam Veterans who served and believed they were doing good (regardless of your personal views later and regardless whether those views are “for” or “against” the war) I thank you – God Bless you! Welcome Home!

Semper Fidelis,
Displaying 1 - 30 of 607 reviews

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