Reviewed by Harold "Farmboyzim" Zimmer
I enjoy reading immensely, so I thought I'd incorporate three of my favorite pastimes together, reading, writing and simming (the latter of which should also be taught in schools!). Needless to say, the books will have something to do with aviation, in some form or another. So, grabbing the first book off the shelf, let’s take a quick look at “Flying Through Midnight”, which has been around since 2005.
I'm a sucker for a good cover (does that mean I'm shallow?), and this one jumped right out at me, a C-123 from the Vietnam era. The author of “Flying Through Midnight”, John Halliday is a retired American Airlines Boeing 767 Captain. He served in the USAF for 26 years and retired as a Lt. Colonel. Earning many decorations, John logged more than 800 hours of combat time in Southeast Asia and the Gulf War. He decided to write this book after being prodded by his father and friends. Like most that have served, he was reluctant to share his story, but eventually gave in and put it all down on paper.
Now, being that this is my first book review, for the public that is not as homework (oh, so long ago!...), I have to be careful not to tell you too much of the story, but just enough to let you know if it would be an interesting read for any simmer. This book is certainly that, and is entertaining as well. “Flying Through Midnight” is one man's story about the time spent serving in the United States Air Force, during the early years of the Vietnam War. Halliday starts his story with his arrival in Thailand. As a 24 year old Captain, having the "book" drilled into him in training, he finds himself in a secret airbase, a stone’s throw from Laos, flying the stout Fairchild C-123. He was to take part in those secret missions into Laos, where the crews would take on the tasks of FAC (Forward Air Controller), or they would be deployed to do the job from which they received their nickname.
They were known as the "Candlesticks", owing the origin of the name to one of the squadrons' missions of providing illumination from flares that they would constantly drop for hours at a time, providing much needed, life-saving light for friendly forces that were on the ground. Other missions included flying down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, looking for supply convoys. There was no fancy radars mounted in these aircraft. What they had was a high tech piece of gear for the time, and that was the Starlite Scope. Get this...one of the crew, an officer, known over the aircraft intercom as "Scope", would assume the prone position on a mattress in the belly of the aircraft, and look down through a 3 foot hole in the floor with their Starlite scope, keeping an eye out for the trucks. Better not have vertigo if you have that job! All these missions take place inside of Laos, where, needless to say, the big-wigs swore that we had no involvement.
He tells his story in a very down to earth way, at times a bit corny, but you'll be pleased to know that it is not an "I love me" story either. He tells the stories of others that were both part of his crew and individuals that he encountered along the way. Some of the stories are just absolutely incredible. I have to be honest; having served in the military, one of the old jokes is that if any old Vet starts telling you a story that starts off with, "This is no B.S.", well, you may be in for a fish story, you know, the big one that got away. Even though you may find yourself wondering how any one man could rack up so much adventure in such a short time, remember that Halliday is representing what a lot of folks went through on a daily basis, and this is just one of their stories. There are many more out there. This story does not come with the preamble, "This is no B.S.", but then, we just have to judge for ourselves, won't we?
All Vets remember being the new guy, somewhere, at some time. It was inevitable, and just another part of surviving in the service. Halliday tells about be the new kid on the block, wondering, like most, just what the heck he had gotten himself into. He is befriended by his sponsor, who takes him under his wing, and shows him how to stay alive while flying the missions, and that's done by not paying attention to some of the rules. He was taught the right ones to break. This book brought back some of those "good old memories", like singing at the tops of our lungs, a group of us, trying to drown out the stereos that used so much power, they'd cause a brown out! These antics and others are told in this book. I suppose I should mention there is some profanity in the book, nothing too drastic. So, if you are a "young person", beware. There you've been warned.
The story is actually three stories...that of Halliday, his crew, and the aircraft. You'll get plenty of pages telling of the adventures that the crews of these C-123's went through. One of my favorites was that of a series of missions, where there was a Soviet helicopter parked on the trail, unloading heavy cargo. Both sides knew that the other was there, but the crew in the helicopter also knew that the C-123 circling overhead did not have any offensive capabilities. Needless to say, Halliday and his crew grew a bit annoyed at this fact and decided to employ some interesting offensive weaponry "scrounged" from the junk pile, namely chain. I'll leave it at that; don't want to ruin it for you!
The book probably won't win the votes of Oprah's Book of the Month Club, which means you'll probably enjoy it! Just kidding Oprah, if you're reading this! Flying Through Midnight is 468 pages long, but reads faster than War and Peace or Shakespeare. It sells for US $7.99 and in Canada $9.99 for the paperback version (as of this writing). Hardback version is also available for US $20.88, and can be found at Amazon.com, (as of this writing). I would certainly recommend this book for those of you that like a good adventure story and some amazing flight adventures as well. Reading this book, you may pick up a thing or two about some tricks to the fine art of aviating, and you may also come away with even more respect for the gang we call "Vets".
Have a great flight!