Coming All the Way Home

Memoir of an Assault Helicopter Aircraft Commander in Vietnam


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About the Book

In 1968, twenty-one-year-old Fred McCarthy transitioned from the monastic life of a seminary student to that of a U.S. Army helicopter gunship commander in Vietnam. Despite preparation from a family tradition of decorated combat service, a strong sense of patriotism, a love for aviation, and a desire for adventure, he got far more than he bargained for. Written after 50 years of reflection, reading, and study, this memoir tells both a universal story about war, adventure, and perseverance and, also shares the intensely personal experience of the Vietnam War and its legacy for those who fought in it. McCarthy describes many of his missions, reflects on the nature of being a combat helicopter pilot, and processes the experience through his poetry, letters home, and reflective analysis.

About the Author(s)

Fred McCarthy served with the U.S. Army’s 121st Assault Helicopter Company at Soc Trang, as a warrant officer and helicopter pilot of slicks (Tigers) and gunships (Vikings). He later became a kindergarten teacher, private school principal, public school superintendent, small city mayor, college adjunct professor, director for development to the Whidbey Veterans Resource Center, and the author of two books. He lives in western Washington.

Bibliographic Details

Fred McCarthy

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 207
Bibliographic Info: 35 photos, glossary, appendix, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2021
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8470-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4357-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Military Terminology xi
Preface 1
1. Baptism by Fire 3
2. A Family Tradition 15
3. Basic Infantry Training 33
4. Primary and Advanced Helicopter Flight Training 42
5. Welcome to Vietnam! 65
6. Ash, Trash, and General Little Minh 78
7. Tet 1968: A Turning Point in the War 87
8. Combat Assault Reality Therapy 92
9. Stayin’ Alive in Soc Trang 99
10. Sisters, Orphans, POWs, and a Hospital 101
11. Helicopter Gunships 107
12. Kick the Tire, Light the Fire, and Go 119
13. The Magic Carpet Ride 127
14. Lead Gunship Goes Down 133
15. Bringing It All Together 141
16. Reflecting on Vietnam 148
17. Historical Lessons Learned 156
18. The Just War Theory and Vietnam 162
19. Memories, Legacy, Faith 169
20. Reunions and Memorials 174
Appendix: The Men Who Gave Their Lives 187
Author’s Service History 189
Bibliography 191
Index 193

Book Reviews & Awards

• “A superb memoir”—VVA Veteran

• “Had me glued to the screen—outstanding! Scary. I felt as if I was maybe on the verge of getting shot down right along with you.”—Bob Bogash, Iconic Aircraft Preservation Specialist for the Seattle Museum of Flight, retired Boeing engineer

• “Fred McCarthy’s account of his experience as a young helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War provides amazing detail before Vietnam, during, and after…the book portrays what life was like in combat but also describes happier times such as providing support to the local orphanage.”—Bart Kent, Viking 22, 121st AHC–Soc Trang, RVN–1967-68

• “The Vikings were good because we had good people both enlisted and officers. They were, as you noted, carefully selected from those who had already proved themselves in the 121st.”—Rev. Jerry Daly, Viking 26, highly decorated multi-tour Vietnam helicopter pilot

• “It was so good to see an in-depth analysis of the war from the point of view of a participant. During the war we seemed to forget about or ignore the dedication of our soldiers.”—Dave Sonnichsen, newspaper CFO and board member