A book about military masculinity and flying the A-10 Warthog
Heartbreak, heroism, and finding God in the grind
Every January when I put together my reading list, I never know which ones will make the best-of list in December. Frequently I’m surprised by the finalists and more often than not I end up with non-fiction dominating the selection.
One week into 2023, I found a book that was good at the beginning, interesting in the middle, and really made it home in the end. Buck Wyndham wanted to fly the A-10 Warthog ever since he saw one as a kid. He made it into the Air Force and got his dream assignment right before the Gulf War, and soon ended up flying real combat missions over Iraq and Kuwait.
His memoir here is a combination of things. It’s a series of journal entries. It’s a lot of technical details on his favorite fighter plane. (Can you really call the A-10 a ‘jet’?) It’s an on-the-ground history of Operation Desert Storm. All of those things are good and interesting on their own.
What makes this book a best-of title is the way Wyndham captures the psyche of a young American man, enduring all of the things that come with his turbulent twenties. He’s learning how to live on his own, he’s falling in love, he’s navigating an all-male (or primarily-male) space, and he’s figuring out how to endure true hardship.
Even during a string of initially successful combat flights, he started having nightmares and didn’t know why. War was an incredibly anxious theater for him (as it would be for most men) and while he wasn’t showing that anxiety outwardly, it was manifesting in other ways, surfacing when he slept.
The ways in which he learned to cope with his troubles, all while planning to woo a female officer who had become his best friend, but was romantically committed to another man, took me back to the speed bumps of my own mid-twenties. Some of the biggest pieces of Suck hit me in those years, yet I also had moments that were the best of my young life, and they were all tied together. It’s a psychological and emotional tornado of a time, and Wyndham captured that feeling in his writing.
He also talked about how men “found God” in their own way, whether during the difficulty of actual combat, or just the mind-numbing grind of ordered military life. It reminded me of Gary Paulsen’s WINTERDANCE (also a best-of book when I read it) when he described the spiritual transformation of running the Iditarod.
If nothing else, I need to keep better journals. You should too.
Also, the A-10 is pretty awesome.
Check this book out. Content warning for language. In the military, they all speak Vulgarian.
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