Bear Cat by Raland J. Patterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have read several stories about the Vietnam War and Bear Cat by Raland J. Patterson is surprisingly different than the others. Instead of focusing on the action of the war itself, its focus is on Captain Johnny McKay's experiences in Nam as a maintenance officer giving very little detail on the 'action' of the war. This story is about the people during the war and not about the 'blood and guts' of the war itself.
I think Captain McKay character was well developed and I really connected with him throughout the story. The other characters were introduced and developed in accordance with their 'importance' (and I use this term loosely as everyone is important) in the telling of the story. By this I mean that if McKay only sees a person once in passing and says something to him, the author does not give a lot of detail about this person however if the person is one of McKay's men that appears throughout the story, much more detail is revealed about this person. In other words, the story is not bogged down with a lot of unnecessary details about people. In fact, it isn't bogged down with a lot of detail about places or events either. I found it flowed smoothly, was interesting and always had me wanting to turn the page to see what happened next.
The story begins with McKay's experience on the plane transporting him from Ft. Dix, New Jersey to Saigon where the significance of the exchange of words between him and the soldier seated next to him doesn't become evident until the end of the story. Once at his unit McKay tries to win his men's acceptance and learn the lingo and area. I found that because the author only gives a brief description but really does not go into a lot of detail about either of these (although the pictures helped) that having some prior knowledge about the Vietnam War helped me visualize the places as well as understanding that Charlie did not refer to an individual and what Tet was and why a repeat action was so feared. The story evoked a variety of emotions, I panicked, I laughed and I cried right alongside McKay. I never thought I would use the word "laugh" and associate it in any way with the Vietnam War however, the author taught me differently because laugh I did. I also learned some things about maintenance on helicopters as if I were one of McKay's men. Not only did McKay learned from those around him, he taught more than helicopter maintenance, he taught pride, compassion and giving credit where credit was due. He often remembered or quoted statements his flight instructor, grandmother, or father said which got him out of some really tight spots. I found the "Vietnam War Facts" and "Common Myths Dispelled" at the end of the book interesting. In fact, I found the whole book interesting.
Bear Cat is a unique story that I really enjoyed reading and totally recommend it.
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