A US pilot touches up the number on a McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom jet aboard the aircraft carrier Constellation, which is patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam. (Photo by Terry Fincher/Getty Images)
The guys who made it home from Vietnam were often very poorly treated, and Bruce Cowee’s book, Vietnam To Western Airlines, tells the stories of 36 Vietnam era pilots who came home and went to work for the commercial airlines, living normal, productive lives. Little did passengers know they were flying around the country on commercial airliners with at least one, often two, and sometimes three Vietnam veterans in the cockpit.
In Vietnam to Western Airlines, Cowee presents 36 oral histories from pilots of the air war in Vietnam who all had one thing in common—after returning from Southeast Asia and separating from the service, they were hired as pilots by Western Airlines.
I was especially interested in talking to Bruce, as my own dad was a pilot in Vietnam, but stayed on for a 28 year career in the Navy. The similarities amongst these pilots and my dad are amazing. Including their resistance to talking about their time in Vietnam and their ‘war stories.’ Fortunately for us, Bruce Cowee is the guy that these pilots open up for, and we are especially luck to be privy to these conversations. (Listen to my interview with Bruce at the top of the page.)