The Blades Carry Me: Inside the Helicopter War in Vietnam, by James V. Weatherill and Anne Weatherill
Five out of five stars
The author pulled a tour of duty as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam while his pregnant wife went to college along with waiting and worrying. All missions were unpredictable regarding enemy action, sometimes they flew there and back and all was routine. Other times they went on short notice under enemy fire over their delivery site, they would take off knowing that the chances of surviving their mission was approximately 50/50. They watched some comrades load their gear for the journey home and they witnessed others dying a soldier’s death.
The style is largely in the form of a diary containing extended entries on the part of James with snippets from Anne explaining what she was doing. She struggled with balancing school, life and a newborn, fortunately she had close family to assist her. That part of the book is less interesting than the action in Vietnam.
In a war with no front lines, every mission was completely unpredictable and there were times when Weatherill landed a chopper when the engines were emitting their last puffs of exhaust. As is always the case in war memoirs, there is some significant internal military politics and incompetence, yet it all worked out fairly well. One of the advantages of fighting an active war is that stupid can be rotated into combat, which tends to solve the problem quickly.
Weatherill’s tour of duty was from November, 1967 to November, 1968, when the anti-war movement began to grow in strength. It was also the span when Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. The soldiers in Weatherill’s unit talked about these events and they did occasionally wonder about their purpose in fighting. Yet, like the practical men they were, they understood that their goal had to be to complete their missions and get out of country alive. If they spent too much time thinking about their purpose it could weaken their performance and be the difference between occupying a seat or a body bag on the trip home.
In the epilogue the author mentions that this book ends 40 years of silence on his part. Given the tensions in the country during the Vietnam War, it may have been impossible for him to write about this subject sooner. It is fortunate that he was able to write about his experiences, for there is no “super soldier” fantasy here, just some guys in country trying to do their job, survive it and then go home and think about it there.
This book was made available for free for review purposes