I do like a good aviation picture reference book, especially when it comes to nose art and this latest offering from Fonthill by John Brennan is a fine example. Whether you are into nose art or the Vietnam War or both this one is for you.
The book is packed with over 300 Vietnam War era photographs collected from Army aviation veterans. A lot of the pictures, many not published previously, show the helicopters with their pilot or other crewmembers standing next to their mounts.
The book isn’t just about the ubiquitous UH-1 Huey although you might think of it as synonymous with the Vietnam War. While the majority of images depict the Huey, the book includes several other helicopter types. A good example is “The Magical Mystery Tour”, an AH-1G serving with D Company of the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, Bearcat, in 1972. (I’m sure most WHO followers are well aware the helicopter takes its name from the 1967 album by The Beatles). This particular AH-1 was piloted by Jack Jordan who is seen with it in a picture from his own private collection.
Most of the captions give a brief history of each helicopter. We learn the aforementioned “The Magical Mystery Tour” survived Vietnam from October 1970 to January 1973 compiling 1,603 flight hours and surviving in D Company from October 1970 to July 1972.
The book starts with the AH-1 Cobra and continues with the CH-47 Chinook. We see the OH-6A Cayuse and OH-23 Raven observation helicopters before delving into air ambulance, command and control, maintenance and smoke versions of the UH-1 Iroquois, more affectionately known as the Huey. A good look at the classic utility version leads us to chapter 7 and the UH-1 Gunships.
Against a backdrop of censorship, political correctness and military directives to the contrary, in-country Army helicopter nose art flourished in Vietnam and the failure to acknowledge this archetypal convention in any study of Army aviation history demonstrates the lack of respect for the personal cost of conflict.
Although “Iron Butterfly” might not be as well known as “Memphis Belle” or “Enola Gay” from World War II, it nonetheless carried its crews into battle with just as much passion for life and sense of duty as its predecessors. We all know the ugly politics of the Vietnam War but these pictures show us the human side of it.
For the record, the official and unofficial wartime markings that were painted on Army helicopters from 1962 to 1973 have never been fully documented or made available to the public in published form by the American government. These pictures would remain unseen and probably forgotten about had it not been for people like John Brennan who have managed to compile them into lovely books like this.
I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did and I’m already hoping that John Brennan will bring out a second volume of long forgotten photos depicting the colourful side of green.
Reviewed by Paul Theobald for War History Online
VIETNAM WAR ARMY HELICOPTER NOSE ART
By John Brennan
ISBN: 978 1 62545 035 7