To the Limit: An Air Cav Huey Pilot in Vietnam
By Tom Johnson, A/229th AHB., 1St Air Cavalry Div.
Publisher: Potomac Books, Inc.
Released Date: July 2006
Iím neither a book critic nor a stranger to Tom Johnson. You must know that I flew as Tomís gunner on several missions in Vietnam and I can attest to his flying skills. Etched into my mind is the morning he reclaimed the controls when a new peter pilot put us into a tree on lift-off. We survived but my M-60ís flash suppressor looked like a tropical plant arrangement. With this in mind I felt a little uneasy when asked to provide you with a review of his book. But I can assure you that my comments shall remain unbiased.
Tom Johnson, who lives near Atlanta, Ga. learned to fly when he was just 14 years old. Heís now president of Johnson Electric Motor Shop, JEMS Computer System and JEMS Equipment Co. For his actions in Vietnam he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal (w/five Silver Leaf Clusters), and the Bronze Star.
To the Limit takes you along from Tom Johnsonís June, 1967 arrival in Vietnam to DEROS, a year later. You will follow him as a NFG in An Khe to an experienced aircraft commander and safety officer in the Bong Son plains (LZ English), the move North to I Corps, Camp Evans and beyond. During this journey youíll find yourself in places with familiar names, like the An Lao Valley, the battle of Song Re Valley, the Tet Offensive, Khe Sanh and the A Shau.
His style of writing makes you feel as if you were sitting between the front seats as the Huey yields to the pilotís commands. But these birds are unforgiving when pushed beyond their limits. Tomís words bring together the tension and stress of flight under fire, to complete the mission, to get the grunts into or out of a hot LZ, to take the bird and the man to the limit and return.
There is a question as to the accuracy of some of the events as depicted in the book. Iím not a historian and I didnít participate in the actions of the latter part of the book so I must give him some latitude. Mr. Johnson does reflect in his authorís notes that he endeavors to be as accurate as possible from the first page to the last. ďI have described all events as I saw and remember them and as described in letters to my wife. If there are any inaccuracies, they are due to the passage of many years and the responsibility for them is mine alone.Ē Despite this, I found the book very well written and hard to put down once picked up, reminiscent of Chickenhawk, by Bob Mason.
As I mentioned above, I was aware of Tomís flying abilities, but amazed by his writing style and skill. His words flow smoothly and quickly with a hint of southern verbiage. The absence of profanity to express his emotions is refreshing. I found my eyes welling up in one chapter and then laughing in the next. Itís not a historical book and not meant to be one. I think youíll find To the Limit an adventure worth reading.