Life on a $5 Bet, by Linda Swink & Maj. General E.J. Mechenbier

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MWSA Review

Life on a $5 bet is the story of MG Edward J. Mechenbier’s Air Force career, from before he lost a $5 bet with his father about his chance to get an appointment to the Air Force Academy, to his retirement from the Air Force as a pilot with 40 years of service.  Written with Linda D. Swink, it nevertheless is written in the first person, which gives its tale a gritty and humorous reality, letting us get to know MG Mechenbier as a person.

The book is not a chronological history, but starts with how he wound up as a Vietnam Prisoner of War, being shot down after bombing a railroad yard, and continues for the next 15 chapters on his thoughts of his life to that point while undergoing numerous incidents of torture and his life as a prisoner.  He reminisces about his birth family and the circumstances that led to his entry into the Air Force, his marriage to the love of his life Jerri, thoughts of his kids, , and his friends in the Air Force and numerous antics that determined his life as “the best fighter pilot”. After his release, the stories were still interesting as it described his life as an Air Force pilot. The last part of the book describes his life “after Air Force” as a retiree with his wife of many years, Jerri.

I really liked his outlook on life; even when at his lowest points, he managed to pull himself up and remain true to his integrity. I especially liked his description of the antics he and his fellow POWs used to surreptitiously thumb their noses at their Vietnamese captors, while appearing to be model prisoners.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of history, military memoirs, the Vietnam era, and just a plain good story.

Reviewed by: Darlene M. Iskra, (2013)


Author's Synopsis

When Ed Mechenbier retired from the United States Air Force Reserve in June 2004, he held the distinction of being the oldest former Vietnam POW and Air Force general still in uniform on flying status.
One of eight children made attending college financially difficult. When his father bet him $5 that he could get an appointment to the Air Force Academy, Ed accepted the challenge. That decision set the course for a career that lasted forty years.

During those years, Ed went from being a high-spirited fighter pilot full of hopes and dreams to a prisoner of war, held in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He lived through hell at the merciless hands of prison guards and tortuous interrogators, but never lost his sense of humor or duty to his country.

Life on a $5 Bet tells how he survived those dark days and went on to become a general officer by holding to values learned at the Academy: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.

Ed gives the reader a glimpse into his zany life as a test pilot, lobbyist, squadron commander, spy, member of the Reserve Forces Policy Board, golfer, syndicated television air show commentator, sales engineer with major aircraft companies, devoted family man, and pilot of the C-141, dubbed the Hanoi Taxi, on a repatriation flight to Vietnam in 2004. And the world's greatest fighter pilot