There's not much difference between Missions of Fire and Mercyand other combat memoirs. Bill Peterson decides to drop out of college and join the Army in 1967. He must explain his decision to worried parents. His father is a World War II veteran and understands Bill's need to find himself as a warrior. His girlfriend of four years may or may not understand -- but he feels her support and knows that she will wait for him. So, eager to do the right thing, Bill signs up for helicopters, goes through training, makes close friends, and volunteers for Vietnam. The Army accepts Bill's offer and off he goes on the first real adventure of his adult life.
I've read the same story a thousand times...in fact, I can't stop reading these stories. These were the friends of my youth and each time one left, I watched them go with a combination of anger, fear, and frustration. Why was it that as the daughter of a combat veteran, I began grieving the day they left for basic training?
However, there's something about this rendition that's especially heart-rending. Maybe it's Bill Peterson's considerable talent as a writer. Perhaps it's because I can remember exactly what I was doing on the days that he was risking his life to insert and extract other grim young soldiers in and out of hell. The throbbing beat of the Rolling Stones blend with the whop of helicopter rotors in the ears of my generation like a rock and roll anthem of confusion, pain, bravery, anxiety, and good intentions. Bill's year in Vietnam played out against societal chaos where right and wrong no longer seemed so pristinely white and black--only Bill saw it all up close and personal while I heard about it from boys with the eyes of old men.
As the tale unfolds in Missions of Fire and Mercy, Bill allows the reader to watch as his innocent eagerness melts away like a Hershey bar in the back pocket of my jeans. Perhaps because he is up front about his fear and horror, we understand why he is compelled to fly day after day. Bill and the other helicopter crews flew long after it was no longer fun. They flew not because they were ordered to. They flew not even because they were brave -- although they were most assuredly that. They flew because their friends and comrades relied on them. The wounded needed them. Those under fire needed them. No, they flew because they knew they must--and other young men are alive today because they did.
And after it was all over, some came home and others didn't. Families and friends grieved for those that were lost. However, for most, life went on. Some things changed and others didn't. The worst that could have happened never did, and bad things we never dreamed of came to pass. No one knows if it was right or wrong, worth it or not -- but we do know that these young men were magnificent like their fathers before them. It's impossible to read Bill's book and not know this.
Reviewed by: Joyce Faulkner (2010)
Memoir of my Vietnam tour with C/227th AHB, 1st Air Cavalry in 67-68 as a Huey crew chief/door gunner. This book relates both missions of fire and missions of mercy. This will put the reader in the crew chief seat and take him/her on the ride of their life that they can't possibly experience anywhere else. "White Robe Six" (the aircrew's call sign for God), is given praise often as He protects the flight crews from almost certain death. The subject of PTSD is touched on and highly recommends that Vets seek the free help that is out there. The purpose of Missions Of Fire And Mercy is not only to reach Vets and assure them that they need not have the guilt complex that many have. In addition, it teaches the loved ones of the Vet what they not only experienced, but what they are still haunted with in so many cases.