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To the Limit: An Air Cav Huey Pilot in Vietnam

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During the Vietnam War, one out of every eighteen helicopter pilots never made it home alive. At age nineteen, Tom Johnson flew in the thick of it, and lived to tell his harrowing tale. Johnson piloted the UH-1 "Iroquois"-better known as the "Huey"-as part of the famous First Air Cavalry Division. His battalion was one of the most decorated units of the Vietnam War, and h During the Vietnam War, one out of every eighteen helicopter pilots never made it home alive. At age nineteen, Tom Johnson flew in the thick of it, and lived to tell his harrowing tale. Johnson piloted the UH-1 "Iroquois"-better known as the "Huey"-as part of the famous First Air Cavalry Division. His battalion was one of the most decorated units of the Vietnam War, and helped redefine modern warfare. This riveting memoir gives the pilot's perspective on key battles and rescue missions, including those for Hue and Khe Sanh. From dangerous missions to narrow escapes, Johnson's account vividly captures the adrenaline rush of flying and the horror of war, and takes readers on an unforgettable ride.


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During the Vietnam War, one out of every eighteen helicopter pilots never made it home alive. At age nineteen, Tom Johnson flew in the thick of it, and lived to tell his harrowing tale. Johnson piloted the UH-1 "Iroquois"-better known as the "Huey"-as part of the famous First Air Cavalry Division. His battalion was one of the most decorated units of the Vietnam War, and h During the Vietnam War, one out of every eighteen helicopter pilots never made it home alive. At age nineteen, Tom Johnson flew in the thick of it, and lived to tell his harrowing tale. Johnson piloted the UH-1 "Iroquois"-better known as the "Huey"-as part of the famous First Air Cavalry Division. His battalion was one of the most decorated units of the Vietnam War, and helped redefine modern warfare. This riveting memoir gives the pilot's perspective on key battles and rescue missions, including those for Hue and Khe Sanh. From dangerous missions to narrow escapes, Johnson's account vividly captures the adrenaline rush of flying and the horror of war, and takes readers on an unforgettable ride.

30 review for To the Limit: An Air Cav Huey Pilot in Vietnam

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I loved this book, and I have a feeling it will become a staple re-read throughout my life. The book is about the author's experiences as an Army 1st Cav Huey pilot in Vietnam. While covering these experiences, he also interjects stories of his time in flight school, which actually happened to be my favorite parts of the book. Different parts throughout will have you laughing out loud and other times bristling with apprehension at the fear and dread these men felt during dangerous missions. The I loved this book, and I have a feeling it will become a staple re-read throughout my life. The book is about the author's experiences as an Army 1st Cav Huey pilot in Vietnam. While covering these experiences, he also interjects stories of his time in flight school, which actually happened to be my favorite parts of the book. Different parts throughout will have you laughing out loud and other times bristling with apprehension at the fear and dread these men felt during dangerous missions. The author also gives a great feel to the complexities of flying Hueys. I highly recommend this to all helicopter pilots and anyone else interested in the subject

  2. 4 out of 5

    Philip Hollenback

    Good memoir of the experience of a Huey pilot in Vietnam.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    At Bob's 50th HS reunion (yes we're that old!) one of his classmates, also a Vietnam vet, told him about this book. In a thank you note to us for hosting the reunion in our backyard, he included a copy of the book for Bob. Since Bob and I visited the war sites in Vietnam in 2010, I, too, was very interested in reading it. Tom Johnson, the author, was a helicopter pilot for the 1st CAV Air Mobile Division, the division Bob was in. For all of Bob's transports, from base camp to jungle, to another At Bob's 50th HS reunion (yes we're that old!) one of his classmates, also a Vietnam vet, told him about this book. In a thank you note to us for hosting the reunion in our backyard, he included a copy of the book for Bob. Since Bob and I visited the war sites in Vietnam in 2010, I, too, was very interested in reading it. Tom Johnson, the author, was a helicopter pilot for the 1st CAV Air Mobile Division, the division Bob was in. For all of Bob's transports, from base camp to jungle, to another village or base camp, to a rice paddy to guard the harvesters, he and his unit were transported by Huey copters or huge Chinook copters. So we both were very interested in reading the former pilot's story. As I read it, I marked the various spots in the book and detailed Bob's similar or different experiences for our children. I'm mailing the book to Brian this week. I'm sure he'll be interested in it at some point. GREAT BOOK. Reads like a novel, but is factual. Tears me up that our soldiers go through so much in the name of freedom. Couldn't have a better cause.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tasha

    A definite 5 star read. A gripping tale of one man's experience as an Air Cav huey pilot in Vietnam. His stories are full of the bravery, fear and challenges these brave men faced. A definite 5 star read. A gripping tale of one man's experience as an Air Cav huey pilot in Vietnam. His stories are full of the bravery, fear and challenges these brave men faced.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dkettmann

    Great memoir of a pilot that flew Hueys in Nam. Everything you would want in a book like this. It reads like it is based off of journals, and I liked that. I also liked that it appeared well researched, with footnotes giving a fuller picture of how people ended up after the war. Recommended for fans of the genre.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carl Rackman

    Sadly every book of this kind will be (unfavourably) compared to Robert Mason's Chickenhawk. You just can't help it as the latter is a classic in all war genres. I'm pleased to say that this is probably second best of the many similar books I've read. Johnson shares the same self-effacing character as Mason, but says more about the difficulty of flying his D-model Huey on challenging missions in the thin air of the Vietnamese Highlands. Overall there is less flying chat and more action than Chick Sadly every book of this kind will be (unfavourably) compared to Robert Mason's Chickenhawk. You just can't help it as the latter is a classic in all war genres. I'm pleased to say that this is probably second best of the many similar books I've read. Johnson shares the same self-effacing character as Mason, but says more about the difficulty of flying his D-model Huey on challenging missions in the thin air of the Vietnamese Highlands. Overall there is less flying chat and more action than Chickenhawk, rendered in an exciting and accessible style. Where Mason's baptism of fire occurs early on in the fierce fighting of the Ia Drang valley, Johnson's war was more of a grind, facing sudden death from night flying, collisions and accidents as much as from the enemy. Towards the end of his tour, Johnson is faced with one of the most unpleasant surprises of the war - when the 1st Cav tries to repeat its Ia Drang success in the wake of the Tet Offensive, they assault the A Shau valley to be met with devastating radar-guided heavy calibre AA which makes mincemeat of its Hueys. Johnson had the misfortune of being shot down, and his account of evading capture with his surviving crew and infantryman passengers is one of the most engrossing sections of the book. Johnson never shies away from admitting his fear and trepidation, and comes across as a more bolshy and decisive character than the more passive Mason. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Chickenhawk as a complement rather than a comparison.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Todd Kehoe

    I don’t want to spoil too much, however I did finish this in two days if that says anything. I think it does. The air mobile Cavalry divisions were in a large portion of the action in Vietnam. I have not read a lot of books from the helicopter pilot’s point of view. The whole book in some ways gives you the feel of the helicopter attack scene in ‘Apocalypse Now’ throughout most of the book throughout the story from the Huey pilot’s perspective. The book really keeps you on the edge of your seat.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fritz

    Decent accounting of one man's experience as a Huey "slick" pilot with A/229, 1st Air Cav. Each chapter is a different mission. Better than some other books of the same genre - does a decent job of describing the flight characteristics of the Huey UH-1H. The book is a bit light on unit tactics and doesn't really tell the larger story of the 229th's role in the war. As a personal memoir it's a good read. Decent accounting of one man's experience as a Huey "slick" pilot with A/229, 1st Air Cav. Each chapter is a different mission. Better than some other books of the same genre - does a decent job of describing the flight characteristics of the Huey UH-1H. The book is a bit light on unit tactics and doesn't really tell the larger story of the 229th's role in the war. As a personal memoir it's a good read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Flanagan

    I have read several books on Helicopter pilots in Vietnam and while this was an entertaining read for me it seemed to be lacking a certain spark to bump it up to a 4 star read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bill Seaby

    I've read a lot of 'Nam autobiographies and enjoyed them all. This is really one of the best written as to style, language and technical content (nicely detailed) balanced with the actual life experiences that set it apart. Surviving a year at the "point of the spear" as a Huey pilot is one thing, Johnson's last months are truly compelling considering the odds that quickly stacked up against him. The photos and maps are excellent in visually answering questions as to "who, what or where" without I've read a lot of 'Nam autobiographies and enjoyed them all. This is really one of the best written as to style, language and technical content (nicely detailed) balanced with the actual life experiences that set it apart. Surviving a year at the "point of the spear" as a Huey pilot is one thing, Johnson's last months are truly compelling considering the odds that quickly stacked up against him. The photos and maps are excellent in visually answering questions as to "who, what or where" without overwhelming or breaking up the line of the story. The photo of the M-2 carbine hanging on the left seat was perfect to make the point. Well done, Warrant Officer Johnson. Carry on!

  11. 5 out of 5

    David Chabot

    This book is a definite YES for every Vietnam war enthusiast. Johnson doesn't boast about his superhuman skills like other memoirs authors, he simply tells it as it is. We feel his fears, enjoy his reliefs and everything else in a real page turner. These guys were the true definition of courage and the book is a must read to understand what the average slick pilot had to endure. Just the chapter on his crash and 3-days survival in triple canopy is worth the book in itself! This book is a definite YES for every Vietnam war enthusiast. Johnson doesn't boast about his superhuman skills like other memoirs authors, he simply tells it as it is. We feel his fears, enjoy his reliefs and everything else in a real page turner. These guys were the true definition of courage and the book is a must read to understand what the average slick pilot had to endure. Just the chapter on his crash and 3-days survival in triple canopy is worth the book in itself!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nathanael Keeler

    Incredible This book is incredible and I was constantly surprised by the events related in such a fantastically down to earth manner. There is less focus in this book on the mental impacts of combat beyond the sense of loss and fear than other books but a valuable perspective and worth reading. My appreciation and respect to the author and those who serve.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joe C Sledge

    Praise from a fellow 1st Cav pilot. A well written and realistic description of the time living in Vietnam and the experience of being a helicopter pilot. One of the best books about helicopter combat in Vietnam. I’ll recommend to fellow pilots and Vietnam veterans.

  14. 5 out of 5

    C. Rolf Milton

    Gripping Took this old 67N crewchief right back to 1967. Terrifyingly real! Very well written. Just once, though, I'd like to see greater acknowledgement to the guys that had to "go along for the ride" Gripping Took this old 67N crewchief right back to 1967. Terrifyingly real! Very well written. Just once, though, I'd like to see greater acknowledgement to the guys that had to "go along for the ride"

  15. 4 out of 5

    Riki Urabe

    A good memoir by a Huey pilot during the Vietnam War without too much technical description but still does a good job conveying the story. It also helps to have maps so you'll get a general idea where they are flying to or fighting. A good memoir by a Huey pilot during the Vietnam War without too much technical description but still does a good job conveying the story. It also helps to have maps so you'll get a general idea where they are flying to or fighting.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Richard Pierce

    Five star book which I will keep on my shelf to read again in a few years. Well written story worth the read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Helen Bonanomi

    Outstanding account of one man's experience in the height of the Vietnam war. Outstanding account of one man's experience in the height of the Vietnam war.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Arnold Krause

    Tom was a 1st Lt pilot in the Air Cav and served with the 2nd Sqdn 229th AHC in I Corp. He was in country from June 67-June 68 and is a detailed book about his experiences in learning to fly a Huey in combat, and later becoming a air commander. For a grunt reading this novel, is does give me insight about the life of a pilot both from the cockpit to the after hours down time they used to unwind from the tension they felt flying their missions. The book lays it all out from the screw ups to Johnson Tom was a 1st Lt pilot in the Air Cav and served with the 2nd Sqdn 229th AHC in I Corp. He was in country from June 67-June 68 and is a detailed book about his experiences in learning to fly a Huey in combat, and later becoming a air commander. For a grunt reading this novel, is does give me insight about the life of a pilot both from the cockpit to the after hours down time they used to unwind from the tension they felt flying their missions. The book lays it all out from the screw ups to Johnson getting shot down in the A Shau Valley and how his crew and passengers escaped to fight another day. After meeting the men from the 116th AHC in April of 2015 and listing to them talk about the pride they felt looking after the 11 Bravo's, I never felt that sense of determination or caring come across in the book from Johnson. Still, it's a good read and there are plenty of stories Tom tells of his exploits and how difficult it was learning to fly a helicopter. He details his entry into pilot's school all the way to completing his tour of duty in Vietnam

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tena

    READ THIS INSTEAD OF CHICKENHAWK!!! I read "Chickenhawk" before I read this but wished I had found "To The Limit" first. What did I like most about "To The Limit"? Tom Johnson's moral character, relatively clean language (especially compared to other Vietnam books), and INCREDIBLE stories. Tom Johnson seems like a solid guy with some solid morals. He promised himself that he would remain faithful to his wife before going on tour and held true to that promise and did not have relations with any ot READ THIS INSTEAD OF CHICKENHAWK!!! I read "Chickenhawk" before I read this but wished I had found "To The Limit" first. What did I like most about "To The Limit"? Tom Johnson's moral character, relatively clean language (especially compared to other Vietnam books), and INCREDIBLE stories. Tom Johnson seems like a solid guy with some solid morals. He promised himself that he would remain faithful to his wife before going on tour and held true to that promise and did not have relations with any other women. Robert Mason (Chickenhawk), on the other hand includes quite a detailed account (I only read the beginning of it before I realised just how descriptive he was going to get before skipping) of him being unfaithful to his wife while on his tour. I appreciated the relatively clean language of the book. It's not 100%, but compared to other books dropping f-bombs every where, this book is much cleaner. Some people have grown up learning to keep their language fairly clean and I appreciated Tom Johnson's effort to keep this book a bit cleaner. But the real praise is for the stories. Amazing. Towards the end of the book I'd read some of the stories and kept thinking "well, he's only got a few weeks left on his tour. There's just no way it can get crazier than that." Wrong. There are some flashbacks that slow things down a bit, but I found they provided some interesting insight into Tom's background and thinking. He does get a bit technical and talk about the actual controls of the helicopter (which I found fascinating as I am interested in taking helicopter flight lessons) but I don't think it would cause any confusion for those who have no knowledge of helicopters. To The Limit was written in a way that made it easy to read and hard to put down. I greatly appreciate the service of all the men who have honorably served in the military. To The Limit is the strongest example I have seen of good moral character in the military with simply incredible stories and will most likely remain my favorite book for a long, long time.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ben Ronis

    To the Limit is a true story about a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. Tom A. Johnson is highly decorated pilot due to his service in this war. This book tells his most extreme stories in a way to keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat. From From medical rescues, to being stranded in the jungle, and more, Johnson will make you want to keep reading and reading. PROS: Johnson keeps the reader interested from Chapter 1 through the last chapter. The writing is very descriptive and paints To the Limit is a true story about a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. Tom A. Johnson is highly decorated pilot due to his service in this war. This book tells his most extreme stories in a way to keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat. From From medical rescues, to being stranded in the jungle, and more, Johnson will make you want to keep reading and reading. PROS: Johnson keeps the reader interested from Chapter 1 through the last chapter. The writing is very descriptive and paints a lucid picture in the reader's head. This book keeps your heart beating through the whole book, even in the slow parts, Johnson is able to build anticipation for what is to come. He has a way to make the reader angry when he is angry or sad when he is sad, etc. CONS: Honestly, I don't think there were any cons. I've read this book a couple of times now. RECOMMENDATION: Go out and read this book! I'd let you borrow my copy, but it's my favorite book and don't even trust my parents with it. If you are looking to read an enticing thriller, are interested in the Vietnam War, or like aviation novels, this book is for you.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    It's fair to say that I've read more than my share of pilot bios across generations, but its also fair to say that Mr Johnson is a better writer than most of his survivor friends! While I can cite other Vietnam chopper jocks with crazier tales (Chickenhawk, Low Level Hell, Snake Pilot, etc), only Johnson (for example) can take a simple lakebed crash rescue story and turn it into a vivid 30 page 'nail biter' or take an 'antiaircraft guns got us so I auto-rotated near some trees and we ran into VC It's fair to say that I've read more than my share of pilot bios across generations, but its also fair to say that Mr Johnson is a better writer than most of his survivor friends! While I can cite other Vietnam chopper jocks with crazier tales (Chickenhawk, Low Level Hell, Snake Pilot, etc), only Johnson (for example) can take a simple lakebed crash rescue story and turn it into a vivid 30 page 'nail biter' or take an 'antiaircraft guns got us so I auto-rotated near some trees and we ran into VC and fought our way out' tale into such amazing detail and terror that you know he lived it in true fear and competent & lucky effort for survival against all odds. So, he tells of less insane situations, but tells the story so vividly that it's more gripping, and hilarious, as his honest critique of friends and himself makes the tale so humanly realistic. The fans of classic 'Chickenhawk' would call this the saner honest man's better written version of Vietnam Huey experience, but without Mr. Mason's quirky insanity of Chickenhawk.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael Alexander

    What a great book, and quite astonishing really. The things that soldiers go through, in any war, sometimes defies belief. Many of the events depicted in this book are the kinds of things you would find in big budget summer action movies, only that they really happened and the men experienced them multiple times. One example of this is when the author, Tom Johnson, is shot down with his crew in the A Shau Valley. They spend the next three days moving through the jungle, being followed by NVA sol What a great book, and quite astonishing really. The things that soldiers go through, in any war, sometimes defies belief. Many of the events depicted in this book are the kinds of things you would find in big budget summer action movies, only that they really happened and the men experienced them multiple times. One example of this is when the author, Tom Johnson, is shot down with his crew in the A Shau Valley. They spend the next three days moving through the jungle, being followed by NVA soldiers and getting in firefights before being picked up by friendlies. Four hours after being picked up he is strapped into another Huey flying another combat mission. Craziness.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nikolas

    I found this book to be a quick and easy read, suitable for anyone that's interested in military aviation. I didn't find it as excellent as Ed Macy's "Apache" - for me, the book already climaxed with the first chapter and only managed to bring back that kind of tension with the last chapter again. That doesn't mean the chapters inbetween are bad, far from it, but don't expect the book to go on as exciting as it is in the first chapter. It's an interesting insight into the daily life of a helicop I found this book to be a quick and easy read, suitable for anyone that's interested in military aviation. I didn't find it as excellent as Ed Macy's "Apache" - for me, the book already climaxed with the first chapter and only managed to bring back that kind of tension with the last chapter again. That doesn't mean the chapters inbetween are bad, far from it, but don't expect the book to go on as exciting as it is in the first chapter. It's an interesting insight into the daily life of a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam and offers yet another insight into how horrible wars are and how pointless the lives of the KIA really were.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    This is a good memoir of a 1st Air Cav Huey Pilot's 13 month tour in Vietnam. WO Johnson tells his story and does and effective job communications the joy, sorrows, and frustrations of his tour. What keeps this book from getting 5 starts and being a great book is Mister Johnson's writing style. This book cries out for a rewrite with a professional writing partner or many more round trips to the editor. This is a good memoir of a 1st Air Cav Huey Pilot's 13 month tour in Vietnam. WO Johnson tells his story and does and effective job communications the joy, sorrows, and frustrations of his tour. What keeps this book from getting 5 starts and being a great book is Mister Johnson's writing style. This book cries out for a rewrite with a professional writing partner or many more round trips to the editor.

  25. 4 out of 5

    John

    This book was awesome-The chapters about resuing a special operations team in Laos and he and his crew/passengers surviving a shootdown in the A Shau valley were espcially good. Additionally, I appreciated his sparse usage of explatives-too many book today seems bent on getting as many expaltives in a sentenance as possible. I you are interested in reading about helicopter warfare in Vietnam-this is your book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    OUTSTANDING!!!!! An excellent book about Huey pilots during the Vietnam War. The author who is from Carrolton, Georgia flew the UH-1 "Iroquois" Huey in the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion with the First Cavalry Division from June 1967 through June 1968 during the Vietnam War. He describes the battles who flew into and the dangers of being a Huey pilot. OUTSTANDING!!!!! An excellent book about Huey pilots during the Vietnam War. The author who is from Carrolton, Georgia flew the UH-1 "Iroquois" Huey in the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion with the First Cavalry Division from June 1967 through June 1968 during the Vietnam War. He describes the battles who flew into and the dangers of being a Huey pilot.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel

    Amazing book! There was never a dull moment reading this one. Johnson clearly and sufficiently describes the horrors of war from the perspective of a Huey pilot in Vietnam. This is a must read for any pilot, veteran, war buff...ANYBODY! Easily 5/5 stars.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Carl Bailey

    Good book if you don't want the PC fluff Very good memoir of one pilot's Vietnam experience. Having spent some years in an AVIM guard unit, it is nice to hear about heroes and birds instead of politics. Good book if you don't want the PC fluff Very good memoir of one pilot's Vietnam experience. Having spent some years in an AVIM guard unit, it is nice to hear about heroes and birds instead of politics.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chris Craig

    I am a big Vietnam War (conflict) buff and make it my goal to read anything and everything that I can get my hands on about it. I'm especially interested in non-fiction and helicopters. This book did not disappoint. I am a big Vietnam War (conflict) buff and make it my goal to read anything and everything that I can get my hands on about it. I'm especially interested in non-fiction and helicopters. This book did not disappoint.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Noël Walstra

    The first non-WWII military memoir I read as a teenager, so it holds a special place. An action-packed and informative look into the life and times of a Vietnam War era helicopter pilot that definitely helped spark my interest in the period.

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