Steel Beach: My Life as a Naval Aircrewman

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9781592992614: Steel Beach: My Life as a Naval Aircrewman
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Finalist, 2007 Oregon Book Awards for creative nonfiction.

By late 1973 America s ground troops had left South Vietnam. But the South China Sea was still patrolled by the US Navy and its carrier battle groups, which continued to sail the coastal waters of Vietnam and the Tonkin Gulf. Caught in the restlessness of being in neither war nor peace, missions were flown, sorties counted, bombs loaded and missiles and rockets armed. The saga of Vietnam was not over yet and as America strained to put the war behind, the sailors of Task Force 77, known as the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club, continued their vigilance. Wedged between the withdrawal from Vietnam and confrontations with the Soviets in the Cold War, Task Force 77 faithfully plied the green waters of the South China Sea. The situation was best summed up by a popular phrase from that time: If you re not confused, you don t understand the situation.


Jeff Lee Manthos was a helicopter aircrewman during this period, deploying on aircraft carriers in the South China Sea, Tonkin Gulf, Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. The flight deck was the center of activity for him and the rest of the air wing. Given rare time off from long hard days and nights of flight operations at sea, aircrews and sailors would congregate on the flight deck for sun and relaxation. As a result, the flight deck was affectionately called Steel Beach.

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About the Author:

Jeff Lee Manthos has been writing since his collegiate days. His love of writing has been manifest in his numerous poems and short stories. In 1997 he visited Vietnam with a veterans group, producing his journal Crossing the South China Sea. Jeff was born the son a combat fighter pilot in the Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, hospital in 1953. As his family was stationed overseas and around the US, he spent much of his youth travelling. A decade after his father s retirement to their Wyoming ranch and after a move to Colorado, Jeff enlisted in the Navy. His deployments completed his travels around the globe. After his service he gained a B.A. in Philosophy and then pursued the art of violin making, attending the Violin Making School of America. He has been a professional violin maker for over 20 years. Jeff s service memoir, Steel Beach, is his most recent literary endeavor. He is currently working on two manuscripts, one on his life as a boy on a Wyoming ranch and one about his fight against non-Hodgkin s lymphoma. Jeff resides in the heart of Oregon s Willamette Valley where he enjoys cycling, gardening and the outdoors.

Review:

In Steel Beach, Jeff Lee Manthos doesn't tell us about his life as a Naval helicopter crewman in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, he shows us. He guides us along to the extent we're awash in the pungent odor of jet fuel, and know the heart-racing apprehension of flying far out over the expanse of unforgiving ocean. We struggle beside him in the classroom, and sweat alongside him through rigorous training to become a highly trained rescue crewman aboard the Navy's impressive Sea King helicopter. He places us among the high drama and tension on the dangerous carrier deck, and makes us feel the bone-jarring catapult in the cramped, stifling spaces below deck. And throughout his superbly written, masterful blend of personal insight, we share the exuberance of his youth, and his ride on the rollercoaster of young love. One does not have to be particularly fond of aviation or military life to become absorbed in Steel Beach; Manthos's love of writing is clearly evident, making his memoir appealing to all. Steel Beach makes the reader eager for more from the pen of Jeff Lee Manthos. --Wayne Mutza, military aviation historian and author

For everyone who thought a Navy seaman's job was simply swabbing the deck, Jeff Manthos can beg to differ, and he does so in great style. In his ship-shape and fine-tuned memoir, STEEL BEACH, Jeff takes the reader inside the world of Vietnam-era aircraft carriers and rescue helicopters with sailors risking their lives for each other and their country every day. I swear, I was tasting salt on my lips and smelling engine oil on my skin by the time I finished this book, but it was so much more than just that. Watching the journey of a boy becoming a man is an intense ride and a great read you won't want to miss. --Jody Seay, award-winning author; creator, producer, and host of the TV show Back Page.

It isn't often that one reads about carrier helicopter crew operations. Even more unusual is information about helicopter squadrons in the immediate Vietnam post-war era. Interestingly enough, aircraft carriers always deployed the helicopter as the first aircraft in the air and the last to land for serving in air operations as both plane guard and SAR for the fixed-winged community. Author Jeff Manthos was a helicopter aircrewman during this period. Deployed to the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf. The flight deck was truly the center of activity for him as well as the rest of the Air Wing. Given rare time off from long hard days of flight operations at sea, aircrews congregated on the flight deck for sun and relaxation. As a result, the flight deck was often referred to as Steel Beach. The new book by the same name tells of the author's years in the U.S. Navy, with an emphasis on his time as a member of Helicopter Squadron Four (HS-4), which earned the name Black Knights for achieving around-the-clock and all-weather ASW (antisubmarine warfare) capability. The bulk of Steel Beach was written from memory. Manthos also had memorabilia to draw on, but perhaps most valuable were his letters home, saved by his mother and not discovered until after her death. With more than 300 SAR, ASW, medevac and logistics missions in the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopter, Manthos's experiences are certainly worth relating. His is a remarkable journey. --Robert S. DeGroat, Flight Journal magazine, June 2008

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