HIGHEST TRADITIONS

Reviewed by Joni Bour


I recommend this book to anyone who visits this site. The book is small in size and weighs in at well under 200 pages but it will not disappoint you. As a matter of fact, you may find, as I did, that when you reach the end, you are wish the author had more to tell. He doesn't leave you hanging in the sort of way that you suspect the author intends to frisk you for more money for the sequel. The words he uses to express his coming home leave you thinking: "I hope he is okay. I hope he found a nice girl and settled down I wonder what he does for a living now. Did he ever fly helicopters after the war?"

Whump! Whump! Off we go in 626. It's a good thing it is his story and not mine because there would have been some serious hurling and screaming and maybe some embarrassing passing out involved when we fly low level over rice paddies. I don't even want to imagine the up and down and side to side evasive maneuvers. I am not nave enough discount just how dangerous his missions were. But I used to ride on the back of a fire engine, so I can also relate to how exciting it must have been to be a door gunner on one of those ships. Wow! No doubt it was a dangerous job. I read once that the average life expectancy of a door gunner in a hot LZ was about 20 seconds. That can take some of the thrill out of your job - or add to it, depending on your perspective. Living with fear and danger every moment of your mission must take even ordinary thoughts (if you bothered to have them anymore) and twist and stretch them, leaving them mangled and worthless on the floor of your hootch long before lift-off. I can understand how things like creased fatigues and a clean shaven face would seem trivial compared to things like living or dying. I have such respect for the men who did this job. They either had nerves of steel or no nerves left at all.

I was moved several times throughout the book by his candor. I was also very touched when he spoke of a time near Christmas when he began to receive Christmas cards - nearly 100 of them - from people he didn't even know. He received all sorts; some store-bought with only a signature, some homemade or hand drawn by small children. Some included letters. And they were all from people who just wanted to write to a soldier to wish him a happy holiday from home. They had received his name from a local radio station. It was proof that people really did care. He was not forgotten. He saved those cards and wrote back to each of people who had remembered him on their Christmas list. He tells us that he still has those cards saved in a special scrapbook. I am a member of a group called Operation Soldier Support and we do the same thing - write and send care packages to soldiers far from home. It meant a lot to me to hear how much those cards had meant to him back then and how much I'm certain they still mean to a soldier now.

It's a great ride when you go along with Mr. Lazzarini but don't be misled; he will scare the pants off you, too. Despite his humor and light heart throughout the book, he does not cover up the fact that there was death all around him that he was powerless to stop. He cannot hide the fact that young men cannot go to war and be unaffected by it - whether they are on the ground fighting an enemy eye to eye, or flying in a jet or a helicopter. You will gather from his memoir that the author was many things: a wannabe pilot, a damn good door gunner, a jokester, a soldier, but most of all a survivor. Little bits and pieces of his story will lead you to believe he was scarred just as every other veteran was. He may not bear scars on his body, but his heart and mind were clearly wounded. I found it particularly eloquent when near the end of his book he says, "What I did not realize was it would be years before I would ever have deep feelings about anything again. A silent coldness and anger would replace everything. Everything." Another part that sticks with me is at the very end of the book when he speaks of returning home and how it wasn't long before his friends prior to Vietnam no longer wanted to be around him. No one could relate to him at all. And worst of all were questions like, "Did any of your friends get killed?" He would answer in words that could not have been spoken more truly: "All the people who were killed were my friends". There is a truth and reality in those words that all veterans can understand.

If not for courageous men like this author, the real history of how real men and women survived would be lost. We cannot trust history to be told from text books or Hollywood movies. Sadly, truth is often lost to either political correctness or "better action, sex and drugs" - stuff that sells. We need to read it and hear it from veterans like Mr. Lazzarini and other men and women who have their books listed on this website. They were really there. For many of them, parts of their souls or spirits are still there in Vietnam. The author says about himself that he was not a hero or a coward. I disagree. He was and is a hero. Many of us speculate about how we might react in situations that call for bravery and action under pressure. But many of us have never been tested. Our author has. And when you read this book, you know he did just fine.


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Posted 1/16/04