Shoulda Played the Flute: An Army Helicopter Pilot's Year in Vietnam

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9781519614353: Shoulda Played the Flute: An Army Helicopter Pilot's Year in Vietnam

"Shoulda Played the Flute" is a memoir about the author's adventure in Army Aviation (1968-1971), including a year flying combat missions in Vietnam. Raised in the rural Midwest, the book describes Dick's path to joining the Army and becoming a helicopter pilot. As thousands of other young men did (some as young as 18), Dick went through rotary wing flight school as a Warrant Office Candidate (WOC). Each "WOC" had his own story of how he sought out and volunteered for one of the most dangerous missions of the War, the combat helicopter pilot. Most had failed lives or unfulfilled expectations, so, in their late teens, volunteered for Army flight school. They had no idea how drastically and quickly they would grow up. In the coming two years of flight school and flying combat missions in Vietnam, most would age about 10 years (if they came home). These relative youngsters were given unbelievable responsibilities in unpredictable circumstances, often against long odds. They responded with courage and usually without recognition, but they earned the respect of every grunt and ground commander who ever served in the field. This is the story of one such Army Aviator. Once in Vietnam, Dick and a group of his flight school classmates (Class 69-5) were assigned to the Americal Division in Chu Lai. Not all would return home. Within the Americal he was assigned to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and flew the OH-6A Light Observation Helicopter, or "LOH," living and flying off of LZ Baldy (south of Danang). As a 196th "Charger" LOH driver he flew probably the widest variety of missions of all LOH pilots in Vietnam. Through vignettes Dick describes these mission, sometimes mixed with Army Aviator black humor. Late in his tour Dick transferred to A Company, 123rd Aviation Battalion, the "Pelicans," flying off of Ky Ha in Chu Lai. There he became an Aircraft Commander in the iconic UH-1 Huey. Dick's story doesn't end with the day he returns to "The World." He concludes the book with his observations about Vietnam Veterans, PTSD, his proud Life Membership in the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA), a very interesting piece about his 2011 return trip to Vietnam and a chance meeting with a former Viet Cong foe (at LZ Baldy), and a closing piece expressing his views of the tragedy of the Vietnam War. This book will interest anyone involved with aviation during the Vietnam era and will appeal to those with family members who served in Vietnam. They will get a first-person account and perspective about the War. Dick explains that the main reason he wrote this memoir is so his kids and grandkids and the family members of other helicopter pilots will have a better understanding of the rigors of flight school and the risks and sacrifices of those who flew helicopters in Vietnam. This Vietnam memoir is different in that Dick has studied the history of the Vietnam War. His being an amateur Vietnam historian is evident with his use of Endnotes. They are interesting historical footnotes about the War and bring great perspective and a pause to his story. Very well written, Dick's writing style flows. The story moves, is interesting and engaging. Unlike some other Vietnam memoirs, you get the sense that his vignettes are not embellished. With Dick's self-deprecating style and humor you will chuckle while reading about some of his experiences (and saddened by others). The book is richly illustrated with six maps, 65 photos and four appendices. Oh, the book title you wonder. Dick played the flute in his high school band. While in Basic Training at Ft. Polk, LA the post band director made him an offer: He could fulfill his Army obligation right there, playing the flute in the Ft. Polk Army Band. He declined, opting to fly helicopters in Vietnam to "protect the free world from the spread of communism." There were missions in Vietnam when Dick remembered the offer!!!!! Hence, "Shoulda Played the Flute."

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About the Author:

Dick Elgin was raised in the quintessential 1950's family in the quintessential rural Midwestern Missouri town, participating in all which was good about small-town America: Family, community, school, church, scouting, the library and school activities. Following high school and then flunking out of engineering college, to escape the draft, Dick volunteered for the Army. As a Warrant Officer Candidate he went through helicopter flight school and received his silver Army Aviator wings. Less than a month later he was in Vietnam. Assigned to the Americal Division, he flew the Hughes OH-6A "LOH" and the iconic UH-1 "Huey." He flew unusual missions, survived crashes, was shot down and formed lifelong bonds with fellow Army Aviators. On returning from Vietnam he was medically grounded, never to fly again. Leaving the Army he received his BS and MS in Civil Engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla, MO) and his PhD from the University of Arkansas. From 1986 until 2008 Dick was the owner of a surveying and engineering company in Rolla, Missouri. Relative to surveying he has authored or coauthored four technical books, codeveloped surveying software packages, chaired national technical committees and authored hundreds of technical articles. He is a licensed engineer and surveyor in several states and has received awards from state and national technical/professional associations. Now semi-retired, Dick is an Adjunct Professor of Civil Engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. He and his wife enjoy RVing and international travel. They have enjoyed two trips to Vietnam as tourists. He rides a Moots bicycle and drives an Alfa Romeo GT Junior.

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