Chickenhawk (book)

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Author Robert Mason
Country United States
Language English
Subject Vietnam War, Helicopter
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date
August 1983
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
ISBN 978-0-14-007218-1

Chickenhawk is Robert Mason's narrative of his experiences as a "Huey" UH-1 Iroquois helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. The book chronicles his enlistment, flight training, deployment to and experiences in Vietnam, and his experiences after returning from the war.

Writing, publishing, and reaction[edit]

Mason was encouraged to write his Vietnam memoir by Knox Burger, the editor of an author-friend of Mason (Bill Smith, better known as Martin Cruz Smith). He began writing Chickenhawk on May 17, 1979 while living in Florida. The first chapter written was what became the fifth chapter in the finished book. By February 1980, Mason had a 200-page partial manuscript (about one-third), and an outline of the rest of his memoir. Knox agreed to shop the book to publishers.

While waiting to see whether Burger could sell the book, after several rejections (it is good but no one wants to read about Vietnam), Mason was running a paper route each night, 100 miles on back roads, and his car blew up. He decided to take a job sailing as a deckhand on a 30-foot boat to Colombia. As he puts it "I found out I could be bought."[citation needed] In January 1981 he was arrested with a boatload of marijuana from Colombia in a creek in South Carolina.[1]

In early 1981, while awaiting trial on the criminal charges, Mason learned that Viking Press had purchased Chickenhawk and started work on finishing the book. He didn't tell Viking about the bust. He wrote steadily submitting each third of the manuscript on time.[2]

By Christmas of that year, the manuscript was finished. Editing was completed by June 1982.

In the meantime, in March 1982, Mason was convicted on the smuggling charges. In August 1982, he was sentenced to five years in a minimum-security prison, but was allowed to remain free on bail pending an appeal of his conviction.

In early August 1983, Chickenhawk was published. Early reviews were positive, including a glowing review in The New York Times.[3] He was booked for an appearance on The Today Show and was interviewed several times. A film version directed by John Carpenter was announced but never made.[4] In the midst of this, Mason's appeals were exhausted and he learned that his incarceration was set to begin on August 19, 1983. The Today Show appearance took place August 15, and sales of the book benefited from the author's own ongoing drama as well as his widely praised writing.

Mason was released on May 17, 1985. While he was imprisoned, Chickenhawk had become a hardcover and paperback best-seller. He was unable to write while in prison.

Mason has subsequently published two novels, Solo and Weapon, as well as a second memoir, Chickenhawk: Back in the World.

Structure and story[edit]

Chickenhawk deals chronologically with Mason's training and his experiences in, and immediately after, Vietnam.

Chapter one, "Wings", covers the period June 1964 to 1965 and details Mason's training at the Army's Primary Helicopter School at Fort Wolters, Texas. After graduation in May 1965, most of Mason's classmates were sent to Vietnam. Mason thought he had avoided the war but, in late July, learned that he would be going overseas.

The second chapter, "August Cruise", describes Mason's trip to Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) aboard the USS Croatan, in August 1965.

"Setting Up Camp", the third chapter, tells the story of the Cavalry's deployment to An Khe, in central South Vietnam, and Mason's first combat experiences in September 1965.

Chapter Four, "Happy Valley", covers October 1965 and describes, among other things, Mason's first R&R in Saigon and an episode in which he accidentally shot out the instrument panel of his own helicopter with a .45-caliber pistol.

Chapter Five, "Ia Drang", describes the increasingly hectic pace of the fighting in November 1965, during the Battle of Ia Drang.

December 1965 is described in chapter six, "The Holidays". Mason and a similarly experienced pilot, Resler, who became one of Mason's closest friends from Vietnam, began flying together.

The seventh chapter, "The Rifle Range", describes the events of January 1966, in which Mason crashed his Huey on landing, causing moderate damage but escaping without injury.

Chapter eight, "Bong Son Valley", written about the events of February 1966, contains Mason's description of a Vietnamese village and the bars of Qui Nhon.

In chapter nine, "Tension", Mason details his R&R in Taiwan in March 1966 and his decision to volunteer for a transfer out of the "Cav" to another helicopter unit.

"Grounded", chapter ten, deals with Mason's grounding due to illness and his relief at being able to fly again in April 1966.

By May 1966, Mason was a short-timer, with his year-long tour in Vietnam winding down. Chapter eleven, "Transfer", describes his transfer out of the Cav to a unit nicknamed The Prospectors and his surprise at learning, a few weeks later, that Resler had also transferred to the same unit.

Chapter twelve, "La Guerilla Bonita", contains Mason's experience with unwilling ARVN soldiers in June 1966 and the side-business of The Prospectors: delivering ice around Vietnam, in exchange for various commodities and favours. It also contains the first hints of the post-traumatic stress disorder problems Mason would experience more seriously after the war.

"Tell Me You're Afraid", chapter thirteen, covers Mason's last months in Vietnam, July and August 1966.

In an epilogue, Mason sketches out his activities upon returning to the US, including his incarceration for smuggling.


Mason's post-Vietnam activities were expanded upon in Mason's sequel, Chickenhawk: Back in the World, published in 1993.


  1. ^ Chickenhawk:Back in the World
  2. ^ Chickenhawk:Back in the World
  3. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (4 August 1983). "No Headline". The New York Times. Retrieved November 6, 2009. 
  4. ^ Prendergast, Mark The Redemption Of Robert Mason',' South Florida Sun-Sentinel June 23, 1985

External links[edit]