Low Level Hell is a 1992 Vietnam War memoir by Hugh Mills that covers his first of three tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. The first two tours he flew OH-6A Loaches in the 1st Infantry Division and in the third he flew AH-1 Cobra gunships.
Then, the little alarm twitch in the back of my neck went off. Something about the group was just not right. I couldn't figure it out.
The author, in his first two tours as a scout pilot, "was shot down sixteen times, wounded three times, and earned numerous decorations for valor, including three Silver Stars, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, and three Bronze Stars with V devices."1 Additionally, the guy can tell a hell of a story.
"Make a circle and drop the bird on the dike just as close to that guy as you can. Then just hold her right there while I get out and get him."
I was gifted the book by a war nerd friend of mine, after a conversation about what I did and did not enjoy in books about military history. For example, I explained that if I had to remember the differences between Hill 937, Hill 488, and Hill 881, without any hints, to understand the point of a chapter, I'm unlikely to enjoy the book. If the book is about the movement of platoons or larger groups without any real people under the rank of General discussed, I probably won't care enough to get through it. If the whole thing is just gushing about gear, relative armor thickness, or rate of fire, I'm probably going to set it down and back away slowly. He told me he had just the thing. I think he was right.
Every time the man got up to run, Bob would turn his ship sideways in front of him, then rock the skids back and forth, slamming him into the man. Using the side of the skid like a boxing glove, Bob kept knocking the guy ass-over-appetite back into the water
The book isn't a Vietnam War book of the academic or the dryly historical type. It straddles the line between memoir and historical anecdote in exactly the way I like to absorb my history. It's as though Stephen Ambrose had taken a bullet to the calf and watched a guy try to eat a whole live frog. Many of the stories are his own, but quite a few are recountings of the experiences of other people when he wasn't there. The book does an excellent job of setting these up, so that you've been introduced to the person before there's a story just about them.
It turned out that he was the chief tax collector for that area, so he was able to tell interrogators where all the local and main force VC units in the area were located.
There's a decent amount of jargon used in the book. Quite a lot of the dialogue is in the form of radio-speak using a specific format. There's heaps of military terminology. For me, it was presented and built up in such that at the beginning you're not supposed to understand exactly, but it gradually builds up your understanding. You can intuit most things, and the things you're hazy on just aren't that important to the story.
...the thing that made the episode really unique was the fact that Calloway received this meritorious award for flying the OH-6...before he was even signed off in the Loach as a scout pilot.
It's a great read, alternating from honestly fun, to sad, to ultimately meaningful. It sails above the usual "and then we shot them, many times" aspect of many memoirs, without just being an introspective piece of maudlin sadness.
1: From the forward by Major General A. E. Milloy, U.S. Army, Retired.