For the Reading List

November 2012


Last week, I read one of those books that is impossible to put down. I read it—devoured it is more like it—in about a night-and-a-half of reading instead of sleeping. That’s something I don’t do these days, but I had to finish it.

It was weirdly familiar and hard to read, and in many ways it resonated. It’s called After Action: The True Story of a Cobra Pilot’s Journey, and it was written by Dan Sheehan, a fellow Cobra pilot. It’s—sort of—a recall/analysis of his time in Iraq in the early days of OIF and a discussion of the aftermath. I haven’t flown since 2010, but while reading his book, it felt like yesterday. I could smell the cockpit like the blades had just stopped turning, could feel the switches and gauges under my fingertips again, and remember well the post-mission stupor exacerbated by the dull, strong whomp-whomp of the blades echoing up my back.

Dan is an acquaintance; we both served as instructors at the Fleet Replacement Squadron right before we each left active duty. I don’t know him incredibly well, but he’s got a stellar reputation and was exceedingly competent. But that’s not why I hope people read his book.

I hope people read it because what he writes about is important. Yes, flying is interesting, and he describes what that’s like so expertly and eloquently that it made me physically miss it (as if I didn’t miss it enough already). So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to fly and fight a Cobra, he’ll tell you. But the beauty in this book—if I dare use that word to describe the critical part of his story—is his ability and willingness to stand up and put a face to what so many veterans have experienced and continue to experience.

It’s a book that may not get a huge following, as it’s kind of in its own category. But if it doesn’t get widely read, then it’s a crying shame. Despite the fact that we’ve been at war for over a decade, less than 1% of Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan (yet many of those endured multiple deployments), and I find myself repeatedly surprised by how few citizens have a real awareness of just what has been happening since 2001. I want people to read Dan’s book, both those who have served and those who have not. Those who have might see traces of themselves in his story, and those who have not served need the perspective. Thank you, Shoe. Keep writing.


Posted by Jeannette Haynie in Aviation, Marine Corps

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  • vtbikerider

    I remember reading “Chickenhawk” by Robert Mason in college– fantastic book! Thanks for the recommendation– I will be sure to look it up and put it on my Xmas list!

  • BJ Armstrong

    It’s a challenge to come up with a list of really good rotorhead books, and like you said they’re not widely read. “Low Level Hell” is another classic (especially when I think of my buddy Dale Fincke and the skids kids reading it in Anbar as a tactics manual). For the early years I think that “Wonderful Flying Machines” is a “go to” volume, it tells the story of Frank Erickson and how the USCG pioneered military helicopters. “Leave No Man Behind” is also good, but it’s huge and covers the entire history of CSAR (mostly helicopters, but not all).

    • Jeannette Haynie

      I think I met Dale years ago. Also, did you guys read “Chickenhawk: Back in the World”, Mason’s follow-up? It’s a tough read because his life is wrecked but it’s still good. Thanks for the additions to the list–I’m looking them up today.

      • Jeannette:
        I never experienced Helicopter combat, but did a lot of training in Hueys, 47s and 53s during Medevac Exercises at Parris Island and Ft. Stewart, GA. Also, we did that on Submarine Sea Trials in 1967. All the pilots were amazing! They were mostly Marine. They would hover at about 100 feet, then when cleared, they dropped like a stone down to ground level, landing quite gently. The doors opened simultaneously and we had to hustle like hell to load/ unload “casualties”. A few times they took off with loaders still on board. After 2 days of this we were pretty damn good.
        Watched the Big Game! Go Navy!